Guilt by (Industry) Association?

Recently, the New York Times ran an article on the new dean of Weill Cornell Medical Center, Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher.  The article implied - or at least strongly hinted - that some impropriety or at least suspicion should attend her appointment because she has "strong ties to the pharmaceutical industry."

The new dean, Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher, 60, who has ties to the pharmaceutical giants Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb as well as to scientific and biotechnology companies, said she wanted to use her experience to forge partnerships with both the public and private sectors.

Dr. Glimcher, an immunologist with a strong interest in osteoporosis, defended her outside interests, saying they presented no conflict as long as they were transparent. She said she wanted to "leverage the strengths of everyone," whether scientists, pharmaceutical companies or biotechnology companies. "There should be no silos between all of these different strengths," she said.

The tragedy is that Dr. Glimcher has to defend her involvement with "outside interests" who bring lifesaving new treatments to patients. It is imperative that academic and industry scientists collaborate in the process of translating new basic science discoveries into innovative new treatments for patients.

Impugning the integrity of scientists who collaborate with industry is the equivalent of saying that the pursuit of the profit motive by academic scientists is inherently corrupting. Corruption is a fact of human life - no less in the pursuit of tenure, NIH grants, or publishing in leading scholarly journals. Transparency is needed to help reduce the potential for inappropriate self-dealing on the part of firms and individuals, but the collaboration itself should be applauded because it is in service to the improvement of human life.

That highly talented researchers and administrators will be sought out by industry for their advice and expertise is no more surprising than the New York Times or any other organization seeking - and paying - top dollar for outside consultants to improve their products. To try and purge academics of their involvement in "outside interests" would be to segregate them in an intellectual ivory tower, and we'd all be the poorer for it.

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