Volume 93, Issue 34

Friday, October 29, 1999


Editorial Board 1999-2000

Buyers beware

Editorial Cartoon

Buyers beware

Can you really get money for nothing?

Last May, the Advisory Council of Science and Technology released a report with recommendations to universities for conducting research. Among these suggestions was that post-secondary institutions should look increasingly towards commercial funding for research projects.

Under these guidelines, independent companies could pay students and faculty to research topics the company desired.

For instance, if company X wanted research on the benefits of cola X on a student's education, they could, more or less, commission the appropriate faculty at Western to look into the matter.

Sounds easy and harmless enough, but as we all know by now, nothing involving universities and corporate sponsors is that easy.

Using the same example – what are the chances that the students involved in the research would come back to company X and tell them that cola X damages students' brains and causes lower scores on intelligence tests? It's safe to assume no student or faculty member, out of concern for future funding, would ever feel comfortable releasing the results of an experiment which yielded such results.

The imaginable implication is that research would have to be slanted to agree with what the company hoped the study's conclusions would be. Students would therefore be wary of irritating those providing the cash.

For this reason, the push towards corporate funded research is completely misguided. Instead, universities should look towards other independent, non-partisan sources for the almighty dollar.

This is where the government, hospitals and other publicly funded groups must step in. It is these bodies who have both the money and the unwarranted interest, for the most part, which is needed if research is to flourish.

Proponents of corporate funding argue it is a necessary evil when trying to combat the threat of "brain drain" to the South, where there are more companies who are willing to throw their money around and maintain Canadian universities as a viable source of research and discovery.

But even if Canada's best and brightest are encouraged to stay in our native land, their expertise would be wasted on tainted and improperly influenced research. Rather than preserving the innovational arms of a university, corporate funding will essentially chop it off, making it merely a tool of the companies and advertisers.

To prevent this end, the government must step in to save university research from an untimely demise. Public funds are needed if we want to see accurate and important discoveries coming out of our top schools.

Can you get money for nothing? No, you always have to do the research to see the funding, but better that research be accurate and unprejudiced than just another advertisement telling us to drink cola X.

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Copyright The Gazette 1999