[Ip-health] NYTimes.com: Billionaires With Big Ideas Are Privatizing American Science

Jamie Love james.love at keionline.org
Mon Mar 17 19:38:17 PDT 2014

There is a very long (about 5700 words) story in the New York Times, by
William J. Broad, on the role and consequences of billionaires funding
science in the United States.    I have some excepts below.  Jamie


A version of this article appears in print on March 16, 2014, on page A1 of
the New York edition with the headline: Billionaires With Big Ideas Are
Privatizing American Science.

"For better or worse," said Steven A. Edwards, a policy analyst at the
American Association for the Advancement of Science, "the practice of
science in the 21st century is becoming shaped less by national priorities
or by peer-review groups and more by the particular preferences of
individuals with huge amounts of money."


As the power of philanthropic science has grown, so has the pitch, and the
edge, of the debate. Nature, a family of leading science journals, has
published a number of wary editorials, one warning that while "we applaud
and fully support the injection of more private money into science," the
financing could also "skew research" toward fields more trendy than central.


Fundamentally at stake, the critics say, is the social contract that
cultivates science for the common good. They worry that the philanthropic
billions tend to enrich elite universities at the expense of poor ones,
while undermining political support for federally sponsored research and
its efforts to foster a greater diversity of opportunity -- geographic,
economic, racial -- among the nation's scientific investigators.

Historically, disease research has been particularly prone to unequal
attention along racial and economic lines. A look at major initiatives
suggests that the philanthropists' war on disease risks widening that gap,
as a number of the campaigns, driven by personal adversity, target
illnesses that predominantly afflict white people -- like cystic fibrosis,
melanoma and ovarian cancer.


Public money still accounts for most of America's best research, as well as
its remarkable depth and diversity. What is unclear is how far or fast that
balance is shifting, since no one, either in or out of government, has been
comprehensively tracking the magnitude and impact of private science. In
recognition of its rising profile, though, the National Science Foundation
recently announced plans to begin surveying the philanthropic landscape.


Eli Broad, who earned his money in housing and insurance, donated $700
million for a venture between Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology to explore the genetic basis of disease. Gordon Moore of Intel
has spent $850 million on research in physics, biology, the environment and
astronomy. The investor Ronald O. Perelman, among other donations, gave
more than $30 million to study women's cancers -- money that led to
Herceptin, a breakthrough drug for certain kinds of breast cancer.


In the recent interview, Dr. Collins of the N.I.H. acknowledged that the
philanthropists were "terrifically important" for filling gaps and taking
advantage of new opportunities. The science, he emphasized, "has never been
at a more exciting moment."

Still, he and other experts are quick to add that the private surge is far
too small to replace public financing.

The N.I.H. budget alone runs to about $30 billion -- half for basic
research. At least for now, said Dr. Press, the board chairman of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science, private giving is
"still a drop in the bucket."


The issues are considered social as well as intellectual, and so, in their
own grant-making decisions, federal agencies strive to ensure that their
money does not flow just to established stars at elite institutions. They
consider gender and race, income and geography.


In the meantime, Fiona E. Murray, a professor of entrepreneurship at
M.I.T., has taken a different tack, studying not the donors but the
recipients -- particularly the nation's research universities.

To simplify the task, she looked at the 50 leading universities in
science-research spending, places like Columbia and Stanford, Duke and
Harvard, Michigan and Johns Hopkins.

What Dr. Murray found sheds light on the scope of the phenomenon, as well
as questions about who benefits. Private donors now account for roughly 30
percent of the schools' research money, she reported, adding that the rise
of science philanthropy may simply help "rich fields, universities and
individuals to get richer."

The new patrons are responsible for one of the most striking trends on
these campuses: the rise of privately financed institutes, the new temples
of science philanthropy.

In Cambridge, Mass. -- home to M.I.T. and Harvard -- they include the $100
million Ragon Institute for immunology research, the $150 million Koch
Institute for cancer studies, the $165 million Stanley Center for
Psychiatric Research, the $250 million Wyss Institute for Biologically
Inspired Engineering, the $350 million McGovern Institute for brain
research, the $450 million Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and
the $700 million Broad Institute for genome research.

"If I'm a rich person, I'm going to give to a leading institution -- to
Harvard or Princeton," Dr. Murray said in an interview. That pattern, she
added, "poses big issues" for the nation.


Many of their efforts are rooted deep in personal or family trauma.
Sometimes, by sheer force of genetics and demographics, that impulse may
risk widening historical racial inequalities in health care and disease
research, disparities that decades of studies have shown to contribute to
higher rates of disease and death among blacks, Hispanics and other
minority groups.

A review of these campaigns finds that, as with cystic fibrosis -- which mainly
strikes people<http://www.lung.org/assets/documents/publications/solddc-chapters/cf.pdf>of
Northern European descent -- a significant number are devoted to
that disproportionately affect white people.

Ovarian cancer strikes<http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/ovarian/statistics/race.htm>and
kills white women more often than minority women. In 2012, after his
sister-in-law died of the disease at age 44, Jonathan D. Gray, the head of
global real estate at the Blackstone Group, the private equity firm, gave
the University of
million to set up a center to study female cancers.

Melanoma, the deadliest of skin cancers,
<http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/statistics/race.htm>also strikes and kills
whites preferentially. Debra Black, wife of the financier Leon Black,
survived a bad scare. Soon after, the couple teamed up with Michael R.
Milken, the former junk-bond financier, whose charity FasterCures gives
advice on how to accelerate research, to found the Melanoma Research
Alliance. It quickly became the world's largest private sponsor of melanoma
research, awarding more than $50 million for work at Yale, Columbia and
other universities.


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