When good results are had results?Professor Ballistico is scratching his head. Looking at the results of last month’s series of experiments makes him feel a bit uneasy. He has been sitting in his office for hours now trying to analyse the spreadsheets from every possible angle—but without success. He even had an argument with his research assistant, accusing her of having prepared the results incorrectly—but she had been right all along. Not that Ballistico is particularly unhappy about his project. It is actually quite a successful piece of research looking at the various side effects of food additives in frozen food. The two-year project has already produced some very good publica-tions; he has even been invited several times to give interviews on the television and in the press about the results. However, this time round he has a strange feeling. The thing that is making him feel uneasy is that according to the results of the latest tests, two substances involved in the study, called ‘Longlife’ and ‘Rotnever’, appear to quite significantly increase the risk of human allergies for long-time consumers of the addi-tives. And however he turns and interprets the results, his assistant really seems to have delivered solid work on the data analysis. Normally such surprising results would be good news. Solid results of this kind would make for sensational presentations at the next conference of the World Food Scientist Federation. On top of that, ‘Longlife’ and ‘Rotnever’ are very common addi-tives in the products of the large food multinational Foodcorp, which is the market leader in frozen food in his country. His results could really make big headlines. There is one little problem though: Professor Ballistico is director of the Foodcorp Centre for Food Science at BigCity University. Three years ago, the food company donated €2.3m to BigCity University in order to set up the research centre and to fund its activities. The company felt that as ‘a good corporate citizen we should give something back to society by funding academic research for the benefit of future generations’: They also had signalled that they saw this as a continuous engagement over time . . . and Ballistico is only too aware that the decision about the next €2m funding will be imminent three months from now. Professor Ballistico has a major dilemma: if he publishes his results, Foodcorp might get into serious trouble. He also knows that this will be quite embarrassing at the next meeting with his sponsor, and it will most certainly influence the company’s decision to further fund the centre. And he hardly dares to think of his next meeting with the president of the university, who is always so proud of BigCity having such excellent ties to companies and scoring highest in the country in terms of its ability to secure external funding. Should he therefore just tell Foodcorp privately about his results so that they can take appropriate action to deal with Rotnever and Longlife?Questions 1 What are the main ethical issues for Professor Ballistico here? 2 What options are open to him? How would you assess these options?3 How should Ballistico proceed, and what can he realistically do to prevent similar problems arising in the future? 4 What are the wider ethical concerns regarding corporate involvement in funding universities and other public institutions? 5 In the light of this case, give a critical assessment of the potential as well as the limits of corporations stepping into roles often played by governments, such as the funding of higher education.
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