This is a joint seminar together with the Organisation cluster.

Stuart Kirsch, Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan

Corporate Science

This presentation examines how corporations mobilize scientific authority to limit critique. Scientific research sponsored by the tobacco industry has been thoroughly discredited. Yet given the ethical responsibilities associated with research on human health and medicine, it is surprising to learn that recent studies of the pharmaceutical industry identify similar concerns. This suggests the need to consider whether the tobacco industry is really the outlier and exception rather than the pioneer and paradigm for corporate science. Many of the same strategies have been adopted by the mining industry. Mining companies strategically manage the politics of time to delay recognition of their environmental impacts. This includes attempts to naturalize their impacts through inappropriate comparisons. They make systematic measurement errors by ignoring background rates and presenting averages that conceal significant variation. They also make use of misleading demonstration effects. Drawing on the literature from organizational studies, I show how these strategies are institutionalized and legitimized. The examples discussed in this presentation suggest that the problems associated with corporate science may be intrinsic to contemporary capitalism rather than restricted to particular firms or industries. In conclusion, I argue that the strategic manipulation and deployment of science has become a central feature of the relationship between corporations and their critics. 

All seminars in the series.