Accepted Paper:

University-industry commercial collectives? The shifting meaning of 'responsibility' in biomedical research  


Matthew Herder (Dalhousie University)
Kelly Holloway (St. Michael's Hospital)

Paper short abstract:

Interviews with health researchers at a Canadian university reveal an appetite for sustained university-industry collectives. Participants articulated a ‘responsibility’ to commercialize research; we query the implications for what/how research is pursued and researchers’ critical thinking capacity.

Paper long abstract:

Through much of the twentieth century, academic scientists were vocal participants in debates on the merits of commercializing university-based research. As governments and academic institutions increasingly embraced the importance of commercializing research scientists generally receded from that active role. We seek to relocate scientists' contemporary understanding of the role of academic science in this commercially oriented environment. We present findings based on 30 semi-structured interviews with health researchers from different career stages at a medium-sized university in Canada about patenting, presenting at conferences, creating a company, applying for funding and interacting with industry. In general, participants indicated that commercialization is a normal and mundane aspect of university research. They identify tensions in the shift to more commercialized health research, but stress that it is beyond their control. There was a consensus among most participants that commercialization is the only way to bring innovations in health research to patients; further, it was a responsibility. Much of the work in STS has not been able to deal with how different structural features of the economy have accommodated and paid for different forms of scientific research. We reflect on the dialectic between the political apparatuses of the Knowledge Economy that have worked to propagate and 'normalize' commercialization and the lack of debate about this context amongst the people who are 'doing' science. We outline the implications of health researchers' stated responsibility to commercialize for what and how research is pursued as well as researchers' own critical thinking capacity around commercialization.

Panel T033
Who is in, who is out? Exploring collectives in health research