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Book and Media Reviews
June 18, 2008

Science for Sale: The Perils, Rewards, and Delusions of Campus Capitalism

JAMA. 2008;299(23):2800. doi:10.1001/jama.299.23.2800

In Science for Sale, renowned US science policy journalist Daniel Greenberg provides a superb account of the current status of US academic science and its connections with industry. Greenberg gathered the material for his book by conducting extensive taped interviews, visiting 20 universities and interviewing 200 academics and nonacademics engaged in different aspects of commercializing the results of university research.

In the first section of the book, “The Setting and the System,” Greenberg provides the background to the differences between senior academics in US universities and the unstable, uncertain working conditions of young scientists faced with many problems in becoming independent. He explains the history and current situation of research spending in universities, and how industry support has remained relatively small in recent years for no apparent reason. “[A] contributing factor may be corporate wariness of academe's growing sensitivities and regulations regarding industrial money,” Greenberg argues. In fact, the entrepreneurial involvement of universities expanded in the late 1970s and early 1980s, at a time when government spending skyrocketed. This was the time of the “spin-off syndrome,” the phenomenon of professors starting their own companies. These events paved the way for a desirable normalization of campus capitalism, reflected by the inclusion of technology transfer (eg, autonomous technology licensing offices) and entrepreneurship in current university spending plans. Yet “[the] penetration of entrepreneurial goals and values . . . is markedly uneven across academe,” Greenberg points out. He then discusses the apparent conflict of entrepreneurship with the idealized concept of science as a “noble, public-spirited enterprise” and devotes 2 chapters to conflicts of interest.