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Is corporate funding steering research institutions off track?

As a senior researcher defends his involvement with both Enron and ImClone, we assess the conflicts of interest that can attend corporate funding of research.

Dan Ferber(ferber@nasw.org)

URBANA, ILLINOIS — Cancer researcher John Mendelsohn, president of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, has come under fire in the past month for sitting on the corporate boards of both Enron and ImClone while directing the medical center. As corporate funding for university research rises, so do financial conflicts of interest, and ethicists and officials alike are scrambling to keep corporate funding from eroding public trust in research institutions.

In December 2000, the University of Nottingham accepted $5.3 million from British American Tobacco, a multinational tobacco company, to establish Britain's first 'International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility'. At the time of the award, the company was battling several lawsuits alleging among other things that it knowingly caused fatal diseases to smokers. It was also under investigation for aiding tobacco smugglers.

Throughout Britain, the reaction came like a swift kick in the pants. Within a...

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