Science, Technology and Global Capitalism

Does anyone think that given the relentless march of global capitalism, continuing depletion of natural resources, and enormous social injustice facing [insert percentage here] of the worlds population, that the abuse of science to make profit and exploit people under this system is unacceptable?

Large companies having the means to research and develop technologies and using these to further their own aims, exploiting the masses and driving their opponents to the wall - is this good science? Look at the pharmaceutical companies; it is forseeable in the near future that the combined fruits of the big drugs companies will be able to completely eradicate all disease, but for one catch - profit.

Furthermore the question of patents and copyrights arises (as the prepostorous case of the human genome showed), can important scientific and medical advances be allowed to remain in the hands of a few rich men?

Even more infuriating I think is that because corruption is so rife in most governments (euphemistically called “links with business”), avenues of scientific research can be denied or approved funding depending on the financial/publicity interests of the government fat-cats.

I feel that at this point in time any real scientific/technological advances have been stifled and abused by the modern global capitalist economy in order to make profit. Why do we allow it to continue?

papertiger, You make a good point. I have seen more than a few people justify destruction in the name of progress and civilization. Recently on this board some have voiced the opinion that a peoples lack of will to develop and exploit their land is enough to consider those people somehow less human and less intelligent. One poster claims that the blacks in Africa aren’t smart enough to industrialize their own nation so the white people just have to take over and do it for themselves and the black people. Another posters cites that Israel is righteous in its cause because their people are willing to build something out of the desert. It is the same reasons used to nearly eradicate the native populations in the Americas.

Freeway through a reservation
make way for a brand new nation
big ideas, brand new plans
heaven knows we need this land
we’re gonna build, big, high and wide
city streets through country sides
chemicals and pesticides
this land is our land

Todd Snider (From “Our Land”)

No. I also think this is a completely inaccurate representation of the state of things.

You seem to be missing the even bigger point, “miracle” drugs would not be invented at all if there was not a profit motive. It is extremely expensive to research these drugs. If the companies were not allowed to charge enough to recoup their research expenses, there would be no new drugs at all. Not only do they have to recoup the cost of developing that drug, but have to cover all the dead end research as well just to stay afloat. The owners of these companies don’t have bottomless pockets to pay researchers forever and then sell the discoveries for the cost of manufacture. This doesn’t even mention the cost of getting a potential drug through the regulatory process. Drug companies only have their patent period to recoup this money. After that, generics can be sold to everyone for the price of manufacture plus a reasonable mark up. You also are ignoring the fact that many drug companies sell their drugs that are still under patent for greatly reduced prices to areas of the world that can’t afford the high price, if it is considered important to health. For example, there is no need to discount acne or impotentency medication for the third world.

Since the whole sequence will be published next year by the Human Genome Org, this argument is moot.

This statement can only show one thing. You don’t truly understand how the system works. The system is not perfect, as the people in it are not perfect. It is still working admirably well.

The amount of real science being done is staggering. The pace of advancement is almost beyond what many people can keep up with. The average life span has increased all around the world, even in the third world. Various diseases have been eradicated or nearly so around the whole world. Infant mortality is down everywhere. Clearly, the developed world has benefited the most. The greatest benefits have been given to the areas of the world that has embraced democracy and capitalism. None the less, everyone has benefited.

Your argument indicts the whole system and suggests dumping the whole thing. I suggest a better course would be for us to further embrace the freedoms we have, and be a more informed public. That is how we can best keep a watch for abuses to the system. Then, we can maximize the good and minimize the bad. It seems the largest danger to good of the world is an apathic populace.

Concern is a great place to start.


Uh, you mean this “technology” their developing is only benefitting them and not the consumer?


I guess we could sit this one in our magical future possibility box. I don’t realistically see something like this happening very soon.


They have a right to profit from their research. As you pointed out the human genome thing was preposterous. However it seems to me that if someone spends millions on developing a product they should be able to profit from it. That means giving them exclusive rights to what they came up with for X number of years.

You may feel that way but you really haven’t offered any evidence that this is the case. I haven’t seen a lack of growth in technology.


You’re starting with a false assumption. It’s comparable to opening an argument with “given that Pokemon sales will lead to an inevitable rise in Demonic Possession, should children have their fingers cut off so they can be protected from this insidious practice?” Whatever “enormous social injustice” is facing some percentage of the world’s population, is it better or worse than, say, 200 years ago? If you think things were better then, you should do some more reading about 19th-century disease and infant mortality rates. Sure, an Asian peasant in 1804 might be less likely to be replaced by a machine, but since he only had an expected lifespan of 35 years, did it matter one way or the other?

Scientific research may need financial support, but that doesn’t make science and finance equivalent. No amount of money is going to magically discover a new wonder drug. You can put a trillion dollars in a room; it won’t morph into a cure for cancer. The money is just a way to give scientists access to better resources, and to motivate them to work harder and to encourage more scientists to enter the field. Without those resources and motivation, the scientists may eventually cure cancer, but it will take a lot longer. From the investor’s point of view; without the strong possibility of profits they may contribue money toward this goal, but with greater reluctance and in smaller amounts, in the manner of charitable donations. If you want to force people to support this research, then you’ll need to raise taxes significantly or go completely communist (anyone who talks about “exploiting the masses” quite possibly has this last goal in mind - with himself as Party Chairman).

As scotth pointed out, the results of the genome research will be published. The knowledge itself is often widely available (scientists publish because they love to be famous), though if you want to use that knowlege, you may have to pay the person who first discovered it. Without that reward system, why would anyone put as much effort into discovery?

If the research can be denied public funding, then why take steps to strangle private funding? There are a great many promising ideas that go to waste, I’ll admit, because public funding is unavailable and private funding is disinterested, but there are also a great many promising ideas that turn out to be worthless crap.

Hmm, you’re sitting at a computer, accessing the internet. That alone should blow huge hypocritical holes in your argument. The Soviet Union was the most technologically advanced communist state in history (China in 2002 may be further along in tech than the USSR in 1989, but it’s due largely to western discoveries and inventions) and they weren’t likely to allow the free exchange of ideas and information promised by the 'net. The flaw in your reasoning is simple enough:
[li]Left to their own devices, people will act in ways that suit their best personal interests.[/li][li]If you judge their personal interests to be unduly selfish or exploitative, you would have to take control and mandate their actions.[/li][li]Once a system of control is in place, your enforcers (being human) will naturally discover that the way to suit their “best personal interests” is to protect their positions in your government.[/li][li]They will naturally resist anything that may challenge those positions.[/li][li]New ideas are challenges and must be supressed.[/li][/ul]

Is that what you want? If I have misinterpreted you, please feel free to elaborate.

Does anyone think that given the relentless march of global capitalism, continuing depletion of natural resources, and enormous social injustice facing [insert percentage here] of the worlds population, that the abuse of science to make profit and exploit people under this system is unacceptable?

  1. Relentless? I hope so. With all its deficits, capitalism is proving itself to be the best system ever devised yet for improving the standards of humanity.

  2. Continuing depletion of natural resources? There are arguments that this is not the case (I’ll see if I can find some cites). Can you provide cites supporting your claim?

  3. Hi, Opal!

  4. Social injustice? Are you linking the social problems of (say) Zimbabwe with the use of science to advance humanity’s standard of living? Does not compute, as they say…

  5. And please name a percentage. Since we will NEVER live in a perfect world, there will ALWAYS be some level of injustice; especially since injustice can be defined in different ways, by different people, for different purposes. It’s almost a null term anymore.

  6. Abuse of science? Cite, please. Or are you just saying that science isn’t being used as YOU want it used?

And that’s just in the first paragraph…sigh

How does the existence of large companies’ R&D budgets “exploit the masses”? Every improvement of people’s lives, from the Green Revolution in the 1970s to cell phones, the Internet, and MRIs have come from the drive to create profit. There is a reason that no worthwhile innovations have ever been created in a scommunist nation.

Sorry–even if every pharmaceutical gave away its products to every disease-ridden, Third World pesthole, diseases will never be completely eradicated. Microbes mutate, they hide in non-human hosts, they develop resistance to drugs. Sorry, but that’s how it is. Diseases will always be with us.

As has already been pointed out,profit is the engine that drives creativity and initiative, Witbout the profit motive, there would be no funds to create new medicines and new technologies in the first place.

The OP would do well to stop by his local library and pick up a primer on economics and a layman’s guide to biology.

The greatest advance science could do is invent the way for children to be born being already 25 years old and having a job.

science is the acquisition of knowledge about reality, but science does not decide what to do with itself.

in 1940 any moron with a machinegun could have killed albert einstein. just because a person uses technology developed by someone with brains doesn’t mean they have brains.

corporations hire people with brains then do what they want with the results. throw a few crumbs to the brains.

we need a nerd revolt.

Hackers of the Universe unite.
You have nothing to loose but THE SUITS.

uh oh, time to clean the foam off my keyboard.

Dal Timgar

When you read posts like tigers, do you get the feeling that extreme left wingers see no value in ideas? As if “Since I can’t hold it in my hand it is not something you can own. You did not create anything, you just happened to think of this and have no more right to that Copyright for your [music, invention, design, etc.] then you do to the Pythagorean theorem”.

scotth, not sure what field you are in exactly, but the truth is (to add to your point, not to go against it) that there are tremendous bottlenecks in the drug development process. Science can’t keep up with itself right now. They can manufacture millions of molecules a year, but only a few hundred of these ever get studied in detail (at best) simply because of the time (and as a consequence, money) it takes to study these drugs.

Companies like the one I work for are trying very hard to speed up the discovery process. So much time is wasted studying drugs that end up being useless, ineffectual, or otherwise unfit for consumption. One company, that shall remain nameless, was working on a weight-loss drug. A very powerful one, at that, and they had tremendously positive results with it in rat studies, except the rats were acting sort of strange in the process. Turns out the drug, even though it wasn’t in the family, created opiate-like effects in the rats. They were getting high and losing weight! Tell me they aren’t keeping that one on the back shelf for a less drug-free society :wink: A drug like that would go great with the munchies!! :smiley:

But, seriously, there is not much doubt in my mind that large corporations often act in ways that are less than optimal. But a corporation’s size is not an indicator of its ethics. We generally like to assume that people are innocent, honest, and willng to do good things before we steal their inventions and plop them into the public domain. The money for research has got to come from somewhere, and severely damaging patent laws could very well stagnate growth as venture capitalists and corporations would seek more “safe” options. If it weren’t for patents I know my company’s research output would rapidly approach zero, as would our profits, since the bigger corporations could easily beat us in pricing (we are small). In this case, a strong patent law really helps the “little guy” (admittedly not an implication of how normal this is, something I just don’t know).

Ok, first of all, it doesn’t matter which way a society is organized, it is going to deplete resources. A technologically growing society—however economically aligned—is going to deplete them faster. You want to consider that capitalism, and the quest for patented science, adds a great inefficiency to this use of resources. Ok, I’ve considered it. Now what are you proposing we do about it? The same technology that eats up such resources also makes the use of those resources more and more efficient by reusing waste, reducing waste, using less to accomplish more, and so on. The impetus driving our society to accomplish these things is pretty much unadulterated greed with a slight environmental/ fiscally liberal group of pundits trying hard to keep things in check.

The same profit that got your local grocier into business—or don’t you want to consider that?

this sort of corruption seems like a necessary consequence of getting the government involved in research. We, as a company who uses no government grants for anything, have a very hard time trying to keep up with those who get this “free” money. But even at that, it isn’t just the big guys who get their research subsidized by those fat cats in Washington. AFAIK, any money spent on research at all can be considered deductable from corporate taxes, and plenty of little guys can petition for funds just as well as the big ones. That’s how many of the smaller pharmaceuticals got their start.

IMO, and I remember I said this recently in another thread, our government has set up corporate taxes in such a way that basically forces the companies to give up 50% of their gross profit (could be more, could be less, but the percentage is kind of incidental to my point). Now, they can also reduce their tax burden by buying up companies who are severely in the red (tax holes), funding research, and other ventures. In this, we actively encourage businesses to grow as large as they can, because if they are going to lose that money one way or the other, why not put that money to work for them?

Unfortunately I do not know much about corporate tax laws—for example, how progressive they are, if they are progressive at all—but I think adjusting the corporate tax code and workers demanding better wages would go a long way to cure whatever mental anguish you have over this.

sailor, believe me, somewhere someone is thinking about that. :smiley:

First to correct a misconception. Celera, the company that actually performed the Human Genome Project was NOT trying to patent the human genome. They were applying for patents on the technology that they developed during the project.

Secondly, at the moment a patent lasts 17 years from the date of issue (in the US anyhow). The logic behind patents is to HELP society. The logic is threefold:

1 - provides an incentive to create by granting inventer exclusive rights for a fixed period of time (17 years). As many have stated previously, this is the motivation for corporations or individuals to come up with new technologies. So it is about profit (for a fixed time), but so what. If it takes the prospect of money for someone to develope the artificial heart, then offer them the prospect of money, damnit.

2 - once the patent expires, the information becomes public proterty. Basically what this means is that after the patent expires anyone can use whatever technology is in it, for whatever purposes they want. Now this doesn’t mean that once the patent for Oxycotin expires people will be able to make it in their basements and give it away for Halloween. But it would allow for what scotth mentioned, cheaper drugs.

3 - an exitsting patent can be “deisgned around” and a new patent granted to whoever designed around it. Once a patent is granted it can be viewed by anybody. So a crafty inventer, invents something, discovers that someone else already patented it. No problem, he changes his design slightly (usually for the better) and patents his idea. The two patents may accomplish the same goal, but are different. This provides for the productive evolution of technology.

And just to point out the “few rich” men that hold patents are usually, not rich, and certainly not few. A patent is given to whoever is the inventer, NOT what corporation they work for (granted in many contracts the inventer assigns their patent to a company, but that’s the individual’s choice to accept a deal like that).

papertiger it seems to me that you’re impatient. You want all the technology and you want it now. And you don’t want it in the hands of the “Fat-cats.” You ask why do we let it continue. The answer is we let it continue so that we can take what we want from it.

Due to planned obsolescence I’m sure it was high time to replace that keyboard anyway.


…well technically, we’re business casual but I digress.

What “nerds” often fail to realize (and by nerd, I assume you mean the engineers who invent stuff) is that there is a complicated chain of events between the development of any new technology and the end result of people actually using it. When you invent a better mouse trap, it doesn’t just magically appear in everyones home. Marketers have to figure out who would want to use it. Salesmen have to convince people that the new trap is better. Theres an entire army of people who have to build better mouse traps and there are more people like managers and accountants and IT and ops people who help everything run smoothly.

So wear does your nerd revolution lead? To a bunch of geeks building stuff in their basement that no one will ever use.
papertiger - There is nothing scarier than an idealist who doesn’t really understand the position he’s taken. Without science and the “relentless march of global capitalism” the entire world would be living in similar conditions to Rwanda or Afghanistan. Third World countries are not poor because they are exploited by the wealthy nations. They are poor because they have not developed to a point where they could manage the same level of infrastructure. Do you think the US would be as successful if say, the goveror of New York was constanly waging his personal war against New Jersey? Around WWII, most asian countries were underdeveloped. Now places like Hong Kong, Kapan, Singapore, and Taiwan are right up there with Western industrial nations. Why? Partially because they have the advantage of being able to immidiatly access technology that has been perfected in the West of the course of the past 100 years.

Well, it looks like the score is:

Technocratic Capitalism, 50.
Neo-luddite Communism, 1.

Because every alternative that’s been thought up doesn’t work nearly as well. Show me one example of a non-profit driven society advancing as fast as a profit-driven one in technology, across the board. Ever.


Hungary and Yugoslavia both grew faster than Tanzania, Ethiopia, Nepal, Mali, India, Peru, Jamaica and Chile from 1965-1990. Source: 1992 World Development Report. I couldn’t find data on other Commy countries.

But you said technology. Hmmm. That’s trickier; I suppose total factor productivity might be measurable.

Big picture: I agree, but note that there are many ways to muck up the growth process.