Does He Who Pays the Piper Really Call the Tune?

I love Forbes.com. Not because they put out a nice article on our previous work a couple of years ago (although it did make a refreshing change) but because of the following quote in a Forbes blog post by Trevor Butterworth:

Yes, the topic of industry funding of scientific research is tantalizing for journalists because it implies corruption, but the reality is that most universities depend on their science departments to bring in research grants from private as well as government sources (35 percent or more is taken by the university as “overhead”). Grants for research on Shakespeare do not, a university’s upkeep, pay for. More to the point, scientific research is good if it is done well, not simply because the researchers doing it are independent.

Picture the scene, just as it has occurred so many times. I’m at the end of a conversation with a journalist, during which the interviewer seems to genuinely “get” that improving productivity and efficiency in livestock systems has beneficial environmental and economic effects, just as it does in any other industry.

Just one last question,” says the interviewer, in a casual tone, “Where do you get your funding?”

Why, the livestock industry.” I answer.

Stunned silence. I can almost hear the crackling and hissing as the interviewer’s hair spontaneously combusts. Surely that simple 2+2=4 math that we just discussed is now biased! Flawed! Bought and paid for! This “impartial” University researcher is nothing but a pawn of big ag! An industry zombie!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming that my research is flawless. Any mathematical modeling work is only as good as the data that goes into it and our models are evolving all the time. However, I am really tired of the old adage that industry dictates the results of scientific, peer-reviewed research. If anyone has a bright idea as to who will fund applied livestock research aside from industry, send me a link to the call for proposals and if mine gets funded I’ll laud you to the heavens in the acknowledgements section.

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2 thoughts on “Does He Who Pays the Piper Really Call the Tune?

  1. Enjoyed your presentations in NO. Have you or anyone looked at “food-chain wastes” versus “feed-chain wastes”? It seems to me that we use feed chain wastes (hulls, byproducts, etc.) much more efficiently than the human food chain (outdated products, spoilage, discarded prepared food, freezer waste, etc.).

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    • Thank you! As far as I know, nobody has looked into feed chain vs.food chain waste, though it’s a huge issue. Estimates of “food” waste approach 25% globally and 30% for the USA, with up to 50% for meat – definitely something that needs to be investigated.

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