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The Guardian view on scientific progress: stifled by the profit motive | Editorial

The technology behind the promising Covid-19 vaccine was not of serious interest to big pharma until huge sums could be made from it. That is not a way to advance science

In his 2008 book Scientific Freedom, the scientist and author Donald Braben claimed, somewhat controversially, that the 20th century had been transformed because scientists were free to explore the boundaries of their respective disciplines, unhindered by the need for short-term results and the deadening process of peer review. Prof Braben argued that science had been shackled in recent decades, leading to a decline in the rate of technological progress. He quoted a Nobel prize winner as saying “innovation comes only from the assault on the unknown”. His point was that scientists today were not only fighting with their hands tied but often in battles not worth winning.

The intriguing question is whether the glimmer of light that is the new vaccine in the dark tunnel of Covid-19 is evidence that proves Prof Braben’s thesis right, or confounds its predictions. The public health emergency requires immediate life-and-death decisions where speed, rather than efficacy, is the overriding concern. Regulators have allowed the normally distinct phases of a drug trial programme to occur at the same time. Scientists are not waiting to publish work in journals, opting instead to share their work online without it being peer-reviewed. (Even with peer review, the Lancet retracted a Covid-19 paper after iffy data came to light.)

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Read the original article at The Guardian

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