Mark Robinson and the Privatization of Neuroscience

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Mark Robinson, a visiting scholar at the Science, Technology, and Society Center at UC Berkeley, has an important post over at Somatosphere. The Privatization of Neuroscience: The University, the State, and the Moral Aims of Science examines how universities, private industry, and the government are pushing translational neuroscience, the commercialization and application of basic neuroscience into patents, products, and interventions.

Translational neuroscience aims to move beyond the theoretical advances of basic neuroscience and to focus on creating applications such as– drugs, medical devices and diagnostics. While industry-university collaboration has a long history, translational science makes its patent-aspirations and corporate entanglements explicit by sidelining concerns about objectivity and undue influence. But the emergence of this kind of academic work is more than merely a product of the intermingling of academic knowledge and market logics.

Robinson places this transition in historical context, including the Bayh-Dole act allowing universities to patent inventions whose discovery came with support from public money. The money now at stake means that knowledge production is no longer just about knowledge.

Neurotechnology (brain-based devices, drugs and diagnostics) is projected to be a $145 billion industry. Thus, translational neuroscience requires and invites a way of thinking about neuroscience in relation to its capacity for translation into other agendas… University neuroscience has become envisioned as a space of market discovery. Encompassing everything from obesity to depression, the widening scope of what is considered a ‘neurological disorder’ has meant an explosion in the market potential of neurotechnologies.

For more, see Robinson’s full essay, The Privatization of Neuroscience: The University, the State, and the Moral Aims of Science.

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