Ralph Nader Speaks Out Against KGI

From a speech given at Bridges Auditorium, Pomona College, October 20, 2000

(note: the following text is transcribed from a recording of the speech, and is verbatim except for pauses, speech fumbles, and one unclear spot)

'A brief comment on a local issue here - which is the KGI Graduate Institute. You have to be very careful here when you develop a graduate institution so close with an industry, in this case the biotech industry. It is very tempting for administrators of a college. After all it's the thing to do - MIT's doing it, Stanford is doing it - why not other colleges? Biotechnology is an industry whose technology has way outpaced the science that must be its governing discipline. Beware a technology that is ahead of its science. Beware a technology that is commercialized for short-term, quarterly, rates of return by the company, without paying attention to the unanswered scientific questions that it has to pay attention to if it's going to control the potentially horrendous risks and the irretrievable consequences for the genetic inheritance of our planet, and if its attempts to maximize whatever benefits that it thinks it can advance. The Council for Responsible Genetics in Cambridge, something you should tap into if you want to evaluate this Graduate Institute proposal: it was founded by MIT and Harvard scientists who were very concerned that genetic technology, or genetic engineering, was moving at an accelerated pace without legal or ethical framework. Without public discourse; it's not even being discussed by Bush or Gore, other than "ra, ra, ra!"

'We now know that they're making fumbles in genetically engineered seeds; that they're beginning to lose control of where these seeds are going. And . . . they don't like to do research on questions like the migration effect of genetically engineered plants. Here you have a Bernard Field, 80 acres of land, and you're developing a tight relationship with a number of companies like Du Pont, Genentech, Bayer, Allergan, founding members, board members, CEOs of these corporations are on KGI's board of trustees - watch out! Watch out when you corporatize an educational institution. [applause] The traditions of the academy and the public purpose of non-profit education institutions are not the same as the traditions of corporations and what they pursue as their objectives. Who is gonna dominate? When the confidentiality agreements get signed with professors and graduate students, that means they can't talk about what they're researching and discovering with other professors and other graduate students. Rupture number one: the free exchange of scientific information and peer group review. The second thing that happens is that the corporation begins to distort the research priorities that might be not profitable, but very important for human beings. The third thing that happens is that the results of these research are held secret as well, as they are moved into production market outlets.

'But there's something else that happens. Just ask yourself - who is likely, in this partnership, to be more seductive, more aggressive, more determined, and have more stamina - the college, or the corporation? It's not a contest. Not a contest. Ask yourself whether all of the agreements between the college and this corporation are being made public on the college web site. Are you able to get them? Are you able to discuss them? Ask in many other ways what you're gonna have to do as students here - are you gonna start saying, "Well, you know, my professor's working in this area of biotech - I'd rather do this kind of thesis, or this kind of paper. No . . . she wants me to do this kind." Pretty soon, the academy becomes a subsidiary of the corporation.

'What's sad about all this, is it is so predictable, it has happened so often in the past. When the land-grant colleges submitted to the pesticide and chemical fertilizer industry, that's what they did for research. They didn't do research on organic farming; they did research for pesticides, and herbicides. Then they discovered that we're losing as much of a percent of our agricultural output as we did in 1962, when Silent Spring came out. Even though we're applying ten times the volume of pesticides and herbicides. Then they discovered, "oh, look, the resistance factor on all these bugs, the mutation factor, the Colorado beetle, what are we gonna do? Do research for more virulent pesticides, more virulent herbicides." We're in a rat-race now. In the meantime, the organic farmer community, which has now proven its salt in the small scale, gets no research from most of these land-grant colleges.

'The same thing happened with the auto industry - its technology got ahead of its science; the external costs have been horrendous. Pollution, deaths, land use abuse, the shoving aside of personalized mass transit alternatives. And so it goes. So I suggest that the students convene some open forums, if you haven't convened them. Ask for the documents and materials to be put on file, and on the web, and start talking about this. You'll all be gone by the time this thing really kicks in. But you have a legacy. You've got to consider the students who come after you, and you should try and do that, as part of your education. 'Cause you're gonna meet this kind of corporate power everywhere in your life - you might as well get a little exercise and experience while you're here, as students.' [applause]

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