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No Faustian Bargain

The devil is in the details for two authors who belabor the decline of the American research university.

Goethe's Faust begins in heaven, where Mephistopheles is haranguing the Lord about the learned professor Faust. “He wants from the sky the fairest star, and from earth the highest joy thatís to be had,” he complains. “Yet everything near and everything far can never satisfy his deeply stirred desire.”1 Later Faust agrees, in a blood pact, that Mephistopheles will provide him with every earthly whim, and in exchange, when Faust is completely satisfied, he will die and the devilish messenger will take his soul.

Sheldon Krimsky, professor of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University, argues in his newly released Science in the Private Interest: Has the Lure of Profits Corrupted the Virtue of Biomedical Research? that the U.S. biomedical research university has, like the tragic physician Faust, bargained its soul and is well on its way to hell. Dr. Krimsky writes that the arrangements between corporate America and the ivory tower have so undermined the mission of the university that academe has lost its moral bearings and has been “overtaken by money managers and academic entrepreneurs who are looking for financially lucrative research.” He has spent a fair portion of his career investigating the internal machinations of universities, where billions of government research dollars have been spent for more than half a century, and his conclusion is that the modern research school exists in a dark world of crass commercialization and filthy lucre. In the worst cases, the very trajectory of publicly funded science has been hijacked by worrisome bargains with U.S. corporations. Dr. Krimsky argues that academic research institutions, once bias-free establishments in which disinterested pursuit of small, arcane, and seemingly inconsequential scientific questions could proceed without worry, have become instead slaves of corporate CEOs.

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» No Faustian Bargain

Building a Better Brain

New and Noteworthy

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SCIENCE IN THE PRIVATE INTEREST
By Sheldon Krimsky
Roman and Littlefield Publishers
264 pages, $28
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UNIVERSITIES IN THE MARKETPLACE
By Derek Bok
Princeton University Press
256 pages, $23
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1  Goethe, J.W. [1831] (1949) Faust. Translated by C.F. MacIntyre. New Directions:3.

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