Lessons from the vioxx debacle: What the privatization of science can teach us about social epistemology

Social Epistemology 21 (1):21 – 39 (2007)
Abstract
Since the early 1980s, private, for-profit corporations have become increasingly involved in all aspects of scientific research, especially of biomedical research. In this essay, I argue that there are dangerous epistemic consequences of this trend, which should be more thoroughly examined by social epistemologists. In support of this claim, I discuss a recent episode of pharmaceutical research involving the painkiller Vioxx. I argue that the research on Vioxx was epistemically problematic and that the primary cause of these inadequacies was faulty institutional arrangements. More specifically, the research was organized in such a way as to allow short-term commercial interests to compromise epistemic integrity. Thus, the Vioxx case study, in conjunction with numerous case studies developed elsewhere, provides strong reasons for believing that the privatization of the biomedical sciences is epistemically worrisome, and it suggests that the primary response to this situation should be a social, or organizational, one. What kind of organizational response would be most beneficial? I briefly discuss two prominent social epistemological proposals for how scientific research should be organized - namely those of Philip Kitcher and Helen Longino - and I suggest that they are incapable of dealing with the phenomenon of privatization. I then draw upon the Vioxx episode in order to outline an alternative suggestion for reorganizing certain aspects of pharmaceutical research.
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Justin Biddle (2013). State of the Field: Transient Underdetermination and Values in Science. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 44 (1):124-133.
Torsten Wilholt (2009). Bias and Values in Scientific Research. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 40 (1):92-101.

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