Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Blood on our labcoats

It always sucks when you discover an organisation you're associated with is not quite what it seems. Particularly if the hidden side isn't one of which you approve.

I strongly feel that universities should be apolitical institutions with respect to their governance. Not that students and academics within them shouldn't argue for or against various political concepts and ideals - rather that the institutions themselves are free from the sway and trends of politics, as might be imposed on their operation.

Working from within that framework, I find it both disappointing and disturbing to discover just how many UK universities have shares in arms companies. What place does arms dealing have in what is supposed to be a climate of academic thought, learning and research? It's somewhat disconcerting to realise that the tuition I sought to try to make a positive contribution to society was indirectly supported by an industry whose products maim and kill. 'Disconcerting' is probably not the word to describe the sensation experienced by those on the receiving end of such 'products'.

It gets worse (and more bizarre). Reed Elsevier, a major force in scientific journal publishing, also run arms fairs such as DSEI, which attracted protest today. I cannot begin to fathom what kind of board meeting resulted in that decision:

"Right, ladies and gentlemen, we need to do something to increase our revenue. Any ideas?"
"How about we become pioneers in Open Access publishing, thus benefiting the academic community and perhaps society as a whole?"
"No, not profitable enough. Any other thoughts?
"Well, we could run arms fairs and invite military from around the world to come shopping?"
"Excellent idea!"
As it happens, Reed Elsevier have decided to sell off this enterprise at the end of the year due to criticism from a number of sources. I'm glad of this, as boycotting KitKats because Nestle are evil bastards is one thing, but trying to avoid Reed Elsevier's publications whilst simultaneously trying to make a reasonable stab at this 'cancer research thing' is rather more problematic. It's a strange old world where civilian war casualties are somehow linked to cancer patients in peaceful nation states, but such is the complex web that underpins commercial enterprise. Whatever my purist ideals about working in academia and not industry, I'm becoming increasingly aware of my need to get to grips with commerce and economics if I want to try to live an ethical life.


Anonymous said...

One of the first sections of the paper I read is the Business section. Not only is economics interesting to me, it does as you rightly point out, talk about what businesses are up to. Increasingly also in a positive light regards investment in 'environment' related ventures (e.g. renewables).

This link will keep you eternally grateful ;)



Anonymous said...

Oh and I meant to say that I also found out that my council has 70,000 shares in an arms company for the pension fund. This thoroughly pisses me off! I've been meaning to vent my spleen to someone at the council but I'm not sure who/where!

There is an organisation that tracks this and I'll try to find it for you. Think I posted on this via The Coffee House.


Ginger said...

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade have looked into local authority arms investments. See here for more: http://www.caat.org.uk/campaigns/clean-investment/

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