Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Collaborating with industry on publications and climate solutions

The article Geoengineering: The Inescapable Truth of Getting to 350 from online hybrid magazine / academic publication The Solutions Journal appeared in my inbox today.

We can argue back and forth about the societal and ecological implications of geoengineering. That's not the point of this post. What struck me as unique in this particular article is the focus on "bioenergy" solutions, namely 'The Case for Algae', out of all the many possible geoengineering proposals. It turns out the article is written by two academics along with the chief technology and science officer of Cellana. From the Cellana website:

Cellana was established in 2007 as a joint venture between Shell and HR BioPetroleum to develop technology for the sustainable and commercial production of biofuels and animal feed from algae

Let's be clear. Developing and implementing solutions to climate change will require working with industry. We live in a capitalist system; it is willful blindness to ignore the efforts of profit-seeking outfits. So there's not necessarily anything unethical about working with industry - there certainly are cases where it will be unethical, but it is not absolute guaranteed ethical violation. Having worked on the ecological impacts of biofuels, I've certainly encountered academic scientists who consult with algae companies, because the scientists concluded algae is a far better feedstock than corn.

Does the same apply to publishing peer-reviewed articles? Is this a good example of academics working with companies to find solutions, or of a journal bridging the gap between the ivory tower and the real world? Or is this article example of "the literature" being sullied by industry influence?


John Mashey said...

In general, this kind of thing is more likely to be good than bad, if it is done right, and people identified.

It's actually less troublesome than some other cases where the authors are academics, but money came via less obvious ways from industry.

I live near Stanford (which connects very well with industry), have worked for several computer companies often intertangled with academe, attend events at Stnaford that mix academe/industry.

This intersection, if handled openly and carefully, can be incredibly productive. It is not relevant to all fields, and in some (such as medical/drug issues), one has to be very careful. But on the whole, I think well-run industry/academe interactions benefit both sides, as well as the public.

Simon D said...

True. Upon seeing the name of an energy company in the author list, the first instinct is to cry foul. Maybe that's not the right reaction in many cases.

EliRabett said...

The real issue is whether the company holds the right of veto on anything being published. It can get very very sticky if that is the case. OTOH if it is not the case and something is published the company objects to there goes the collaboration.

I would say that in many respects it would be better to have such collaborations as delivery of something to the company for cash with no expectation of publication