Who Owns Molecular Biology?


Like much of our society, the American university is increasingly scrutinized through an economic lens. The value of academic research is largely determined by its commercial potential or fundraising capacity. Much has been written about the corrosive effects of this point of view on the humanities, but it has transformed academic science and engineering as well. As Benjamin Ginsberg describes in his book The Fall of the Faculty (2011), universities have been flooded with administrators who view 'faculty research mainly as a source of revenue' and 'research projects as instruments that generate income.' Yet even the most application-driven universities have always aimed for something beyond enriching their endowment. MIT, for example, declares in its mission statement that it is 'committed to generating, disseminating, and preserving knowledge, and to working with others to bring this knowledge to bear on the world’s great challenges,' doing it all 'for the betterment of humankind.' The recent discovery that the CRISPR-Cas system could be used for genome editing illustrates the tension between the corporatization of the university and the pursuit of basic, publicly funded research.

Boston Review (2015)

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