Jeffrey Epstein’s Harvard Connections Show How Money Can Distort Research

I rarely comment on ongoing political scandals because they are a “flash-in-the-pan” event. However, the focus is increasingly on the academic culture in the Universities (especially the “ivy-league”) which have established their virtuoso presence through sheer dint of marketing, some luck and riding on the coattails of few exceptionally talented individuals. Here’s an interesting insight from Scientific American:

Academic life is tough in part because researchers with good ideas have to compete for funding. When peer review operates properly, it identifies the best ideas to support, usually by using panels—not individuals—to see to it that a range of views is represented. The process is imperfect, but women, people of color, young scholars, investigators at nonelite universities and individuals promoting ideas that challenge conventional wisdom at least have a chance. But more than two thirds of Epstein’s donations—$6.5 million—went to PED director Martin Nowak.

Jeffrey Epstein’s Harvard Connections Show How Money Can Distort Research – Scientific American

Here’s more troubling aspect:

Scientists might claim that Epstein’s money in no way caused them to lower their standards, but we have broad evidence that the interests of funders often influence the work done. The New York Times concluded that in this case it led researchers “to give credence to some of Mr. Epstein’s half-baked scientific musings.” True or not, it should trouble us that a corrupt man was making decisions affecting research at a major U.S. university. He had no academic competence—yet he effectively made choices about which research initiatives were interesting and promising.

I have been rallying about the specificities of “cancer research”- we don’t need more of what we don’t know- we need to know more of what we claim that we know. Basic research in labs doesn’t translate in the clinic and I feel that its the clinicians who need to lead the research from the front. Research shouldn’t be agenda driven, but a goal-oriented enterprise.