The Editor’s Pick for our December 2013 issue is “Institutionalizing Dissent: A Proposal for an Adversarial System of Pharmaceutical Research,” by Justin Biddle.
In this paper, Biddle extends the discussion of the structural and contextual forces that can make biomedical research ethically problematic by shifting our attention to systemic distortions at the level of epistemic practices. He argues that, given that scientific practices and inferences always proceed under conditions of uncertainty, private interests ineliminably shape scientific methodology; furthermore, in an age in which for-profit companies play an enormous role in funding and directing pharmaceutical research, this shaping raises special ethical risks.
Biddle develops a concrete policy proposal for how to address these epistemic and ethical distortions. He outlines in detail an “adversarial” system of FDA review, in which we give up the pretense of interest-free science and instead build dissent and debate into our institutional organization, thereby enabling “organized skepticism” about the claims of pharmaceutical research. Biddle insists that focusing on the institutional environment of research (as opposed to individual researchers’ greed or dishonesty, for instance) is the best way to understand the ethically significant epistemic pitfalls of this research and the best way to compensate for them.
Justin B. Biddle, PhD, is Assistant Professor in the School of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His primary research interests are in philosophy of science and bioethics, especially concerning the role of values in science and the epistemic significance of the social organization of research. His recent work has focused on the epistemic and ethical implications of current intellectual property and licensing policies in biomedical research and in agricultural biotechnology.