A broad assault on the business of doing science in America, which, the author argues, prizes profit and professional advancement over knowledge.
That emphasis, science journalist Greenberg holds, regularly yields ethical lapses in violation of the spirit of science, which is supposed to value critical inquiry and the search for truth. Reagan’s science advisors, for instance, knew that the Star Wars missile-defense program was based on flawed assumptions that would make its implementation all but impossible, but they kept their mouths shut. Rushing to cash in on the human genome bonanza, University of Pennsylvania researchers took a few experimental shortcuts that led to the death of a human subject—not an isolated instance. Greenberg writes, provocatively, that “the scientific gold rush left behind a dead body and revelations of indifference to ethical safeguards and deep concessions to the money chase.” In the Eisenhower era, scientists cooked up tales of Soviet scientific supremacy, touching off a massive wave of federal spending, despite evidence that funding had declined in the USSR. And so on. The irony of it all, Greenberg observes, is that there has never been a shortage of federal money available for scientific research, even in times of austerity and libertarian rumblings from the likes of Newt Gingrich and his Republican-radical cronies; in the late 1990s, that funding soared, amounting to grants of more than $25 billion in 1998 alone. Still, he suggests, the scientific establishment has become so used to fat budgets and the absence of accountability that much of its effort is devoted not to research, but to lobbying for still greater access to the public trough. Greenberg urges increased oversight of science at all levels—and a more critical approach to its claims made by the media and government.
Sure not to please deans or development officers, Greenberg’s heavy-handed but well-reasoned attack on the big-science machine merits attention.