This is a follow up blog to this one I wrote about a week ago before I headed off on a five day Rite of Passage with my Stepson:
I came home last night to find that the blog has had north of 18,000 visitors, and a few comments asking for more support for some of the statements I made in the original blog. I am happy to provide more information, but have a life and will not spend days in a comment string debating with individual commenters, and especially not on a blog that has drawn so much attention.
What I am happy to do is blog about the essence of where the comments were coming from.
Before I address specific issues though I want to say this is a blog. It is not a submission to a peer reviewed journal like Science or Nature.
A blog by definition as per Merriam-Webster is:
‘A Web site on which someone writes about personal opinions, activities, and experiences.’
The blogs do contain opinion, judgements, and conclusions reached by me. That said I am a person of 53 years life experience and 34 of business experience.
Not everything in a blog needs to be referenced to someone else’s research. When one has deep experience, in the context of a blog its OK to come to a conclusion based on one’s own experience.
My expertise and experience
There was some questioning of my expertise to comment on the issue of vaccination, a fair question.
I did state in the original blog:
“It is a subject to which I bring quite deep industry experience having worked as a senior commercial executive in medical science for 12 years and in other sciences for another three. I’ve been involved in TGA and FDA approval processes, clinical trials, medical manufacture, medical product R&D, and in commercial relationships with universities.”
I don’t profess to be a vaccine expert, but I do bring very valuable insight to the issue as someone who has variously been a CFO, COO, and VP for Point of Care Diagnostics and intimately understands the business of medicine and science. For 15 years I have been in the board rooms of the companies I worked for as every significant strategic decision was made, including how markets are penetrated and how the companies should go about changing medical practice to create product adoption.
Not all questions are answered by science itself. There are other forces in the world, and an understanding of how commercial drivers influence, the practice of medicine, public policy, and politics is essential if you are to truly understand how the whole system functions.
As to science, having worked with scientists and engineers, PhDs, MScs and more, I have necessarily acquired quite a deep understanding of science, the scientific method, and issues that are vital to understanding scientific studies and applicability of science through issues like Outliers, Sensitivity and Specificity. It doesn’t make me a scientist, but it gives me plenty of understanding to be able to debate conclusions, strategy around science, and the limitations of science.
A point I do want to make is that unlike many people on Social Media, all of my social media activity I undertake under my own name, backing myself and my professional reputation.
The rare commodity of Science untainted by commercial drivers
There was some questioning of two of my conclusions, as follows:
- “One of the key things to know about science today is that there is increasingly less and less science that is untainted by commercial drivers.”
- “Even absent specific studies, most University Professors have consulting contracts with commercial parties, from which they personally benefit,”
These are my own conclusions based on quite extensive personal experience, and I am happy to share the basis of those conclusions.
I have been involved in upwards of 200 Scientific Studies with multi-party funding and with a vast majority drawing public money such as Australian Research Council grants, NHMRC grants, Cooperative Research Centre funds, Centre of Excellence funds. I am struggling to recall more than a couple which had no commercial party contracted as a participant. Most competitive grant criteria today encourage the securing of commercial parties, because the government want to encourage the translation of research into commercial outcomes and hence economic activity.
Commercial parties can participate in university, CRC or CoE research in a number of ways. Sometimes they are members of a CRC or CoE, sometimes they contribute cash to projects, and sometimes they make ‘in-kind contributions’. In kind contributions are the provision of resources the company was already paying for to a project, like some time from an expert staff member, use of laboratories, equipment or infrastructure.
There are always contracts that govern the projects, and in return for their contributions the companies get commercial rights and often rights to provide representation to Project Advisory Committees. This gives the commercial parties a voice in all the things a PAC oversees including study design and how to deal with grey areas in study results like outliers. How much a commercial party can influence a study result away from where it might have landed absent their presence depends primarily on the strength of character of the people on the PAC and the Project Leaders and Principal Investigators, and to a degree the proportion of the budget funded by the commercial party.
University Commercialisation Offices
A fact of life in the modern university is the University Commercialisation Office.
I have dealt with most of the universities in Australia and can vouch that all of them I dealt with had an Office of Commercialisation. Universities are very much businesses today, an education business and a research commercialisation business.
From what I have seen of Universities, and from discussion with the many professors I have dealt with across the universities I dealt with most of those professors decried the lack of pure research funds available from the university to fund research.
The Professors with significant research portfolios source most of their funds externally, and are then subject to the encouragement by the funders to bring commercial parties, and by the University Office of Commercialisation to create royalty streams on research.
The other factor at play is that the Universities achieve another of their objectives via Offices of Commercialisation. Universities achieve public standing and reputation through having prolific researchers as Professors and through high profile publications. In a world of globalised commercialisation Professors can easily be attracted away from the university by offers to join companies where their skills will create great value. The way the universities retain them is by allowing them to participate in arrangements with commercial partners, by way of royalty sharing or consulting. This allows the universities to hold prolific researchers while not funding all of their earnings through off-loading some of that cost onto commercial partners. I can speak of the existence of these contracts as I have negotiated many of them.
Whether ‘most’ was the right word for how many Professors in researching faculties consult or benefit commercially we can debate. By the definition ‘almost all’ perhaps not, by the definition of ‘the majority’ (i.e. greater than 50%), I would say “absolutely and plus some” based on my extensive experience with universities and commercialisation.
Of the Professors I worked with I have high regard for almost all of them. There is only one from a US based university that left a bad taste in my mouth who was all about ego and what was in it for them. I don’t suggest that all science should be ignored because of commercial relationships, but I do very strongly argue that it is a factor and I know many good researchers that argue it is a concern to them.
The real concern is the scale of the numbers when you get to the top end of town. I worked in relatively small companies where the values at stake were not big enough for people to compromise themselves seriously. When we start to talk global companies with billions at stake and CEOs and executives with multi-million dollar bonuses or share and option packages riding on outcomes and big budgets to allocate to creating outcomes it becomes critically important to understand the potential for tainting of science by undue pressure.
In my experience, most commercial people are loathe to publicly discuss commercial motives. I am more than a little bit different. Despite a financial background my greatest drivers have always been values and people, which is something anyone close to me in my career would affirm loudly.
My passion now in life is bringing greater consciousness to business, which is something I now do in my work as a Business Coach, mixing good business outcomes for businesses with good outcomes for the communities they exist to serve and the community that constitutes their workforce.
I find myself very concerned by the level of influence of ‘Too Big To Fail’ global corporations on the political process. They make donations to both side of politics and control the game no matter who is in office, and the donations are a pittance against the tax they avoid through global tax structuring, and the politicians are heavily influenced by them. Anyone who doesn’t see that is not paying attention. For a clear example look at the rampaging fracking industry which should never have got out of the gate on public safety and environmental grounds, and yet is expanding at a staggering rate.
What I bring to the debate is analysis and conclusions on this highly emotive subject based in deep experience of the business of medicine, and a lot of life experience that has brought me to a place of seeing the futility of choosing sides and pushing positions.
I respect people who elect to vaccinate unilaterally or selectively. I respect people who choose not to vaccinate. My issue is with people who portray the issue as black and white, and who regurgitate propaganda. Further my issue is with public policy being driven by propaganda campaigns initiated by a media empire with motives worthy of investigation, and a Prime Minister who announces the policy with the title of the media campaign.
Ura P Auckland
Social Entrepreneur and Business Coach
Authegrity Pty Ltd