Corporate versus public control of science and technology: Forging a framework for the 21st Century.

“Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, ” Louis Pasteur wrote in 1876. Today it would be more accurate to say that science belongs to the corporations and investors that have the money, power, and savvy to secure patents and bring new developments to global markets, a change that threatens human and planetary health. Nicholas Freudenberg writes  in STAT that the pandemic and the cascade of other global public health crises, including the climate emergency, increasing deaths of despair,  and the growing burdens of chronic diseases and mental health problems demand a new accounting of the costs of the corporate control of science and technology in the 21st century. 

And an upcoming event….  Nicholas Freudenberg discusses Modern capitalism and the future of health: assessing the costs and charting alternatives,  Tuesday April 20, 12:30- 1:30 pm ,  Australian Eastern Standard Time, Australia National University, register here

The Commercial Determinants of Three Contemporary National Crises: How Corporate Practices Intersect with the COVID-19 Pandemic, Economic Downturn, and Racial Inequity

The United States finds itself in the middle of an unprecedented combination of crises: a global pandemic, economic crisis, and unprecedented civic responses to structural racism. While public sector responses to these crises have faced much justified criticism, the commercial determinants of these crises have not been sufficiently examined. In a commentary in The Milbank Quarterly, Maani et al. examine the nature of the contributions of such actors to the conditions that underpin these crises in the United States through their market and nonmarket activities. On the basis of their analysis, the authors make recommendations on the role of governance and civil society in relation to such commercial actors in a post-COVID-19 world.

To protect health, rein in Big Tech: Influential companies must take responsibility for effects


Big Tech is finally getting the scrutiny it deserves. The Federal Trade Commission and 46 state attorneys general are suing Facebook for anti-competitive conduct; the Department of Justice has brought a case against Google, challenging its dominance in search engines; ten Republican attorneys general are suing Google over its ad technology practices. These are important efforts to rein in Big Tech’s economic advantages, but the global technology giants’ increasing harm to our health has not yet attracted the attention it warrants.

Continue reading To protect health, rein in Big Tech: Influential companies must take responsibility for effects

Beyond ‘AI for Social Good’ (AI4SG): social transformations—not tech-fixes—for health equity

Many Artificial Intelligence for Social Good (AI4SG) initiatives are shaped by the same corporate entities that incubate AI technologies, beyond democratic control, and stand to profit monetarily from their deployment. Such initiatives often pre-frame systemic social and environmental problems in tech-centric ways, while suggesting that addressing such problems hinges on more or better data. They thereby perpetuate incomplete, distorted models of social change that claim to be ‘data-driven’.

Continue reading Beyond ‘AI for Social Good’ (AI4SG): social transformations—not tech-fixes—for health equity

At What Cost: Modern Capitalism and the Future of Health

In AT WHAT COST (Oxford University Press; on sale March 16, 2021; hardcover; $29.95), CUNY Distinguished Professor Nicholas Freudenberg examines how globalization, financial speculation, monopolies, and control of science and technology have enhanced the ability of corporations and their allies to overwhelm influences of government, family, community, and faith. It describes the ways that our current political and economic system has made it more difficult for ordinary people to get the food, health care, education, work, transportation, and social connections — what the book calls the six pillars of health — they need to maintain their health.   

At What Cost argues that the world created by 21st-century capitalism is simply not fit to solve our most serious public health problems, from the covid pandemic and the climate emergency to opioid addiction and deaths of despair. Moreover, capitalism and systemic racism intersect to amplify the harms of each and widen stark inequities in health. However, author and public health expert Nicholas Freudenberg also argues that human and planetary well-being constitute a powerful mobilizing idea for a new social movement, one that will restore the power of individuals and communities in our democracy.

At What Cost is available from Oxford University Press as a hardcover or e-book and from other online and independent book sellers.

Watch the book launch where Freudenberg discusses his new book with Professors Marion Nestle and Mary Bassett and read this interview with Freudenberg in Salon. Visit the At What Cost section on this website here.

Developing a cohesive systems approach to research across unhealthy commodity industries


A new report in BMJ Global Health explores the links between unhealthy commodity industries (UCIs) such as tobacco, alcohol, unhealthy food, and gambling; analyzes the extent of alignment across their corporate political strategies, and proposes a cohesive systems approach to research across UCIs. The authors conclude that UCIs employ shared strategies to shape public health policy, protecting business interests, and thereby contributing to the perpetuation of non-communicable diseases. A cohesive systems approach to research across UCIs is required to deepen shared understanding of this complex and interconnected area and to inform a more effective and coherent response. 

Continue reading Developing a cohesive systems approach to research across unhealthy commodity industries

Draining the Big Food Swamp: A Recipe for Human and Planetary Health

“Draining the Big Food Swamp”, a new report by Feed the Truth  and Maplight looks at the size and political clout of one powerful industry that has long dominated Washington politics: Big Food. Big Food is a $1.1 trillion a year industry dominated by a few, highly-consolidated corporations that influence everything from how our food is grown and how we treat essential workers to the health of our children and our ability as a nation to achieve greater racial, gender, and social equity. The report recommends:

Continue reading Draining the Big Food Swamp: A Recipe for Human and Planetary Health

Moving Upstream To Advance Understanding of and Ways To Address The Commercial Determinants of Health

How can public health professionals and researchers best address the commercial determinants of health, defined by Anna Gilmore as “the ways in which corporations influence human health and inequalities”? At a recent session at the World Congress on Public Health, a panel of researchers discussed this question.

Continue reading Moving Upstream To Advance Understanding of and Ways To Address The Commercial Determinants of Health

COVID-19 and Big Pharma: Tracking the Impact

The COVID-19 pandemic has harmed people and organizations around the world. For the pharmaceutical industry, however, it has been a more contradictory experience. On the one hand, the pandemic has interrupted supply chains, diminished contact with customers, and threatened stronger government regulation. On the other hand, the virus has created new opportunities for windfall profits, Continue reading COVID-19 and Big Pharma: Tracking the Impact

Mapping of food industry strategies to influence public health policy, research and practice in South Africa


To identify the corporate political activity (CPA) of food industry actors in South Africa, Mélissa Mialon and her colleagues, writing in the International Journal of Public Health,  studied the CPA of ten different food actors in South Africa using a systematic approach to collect and analyze information available in the public domain, including material from the industry, government, academia, and civil society. They found that food industry actors in South Africa established multiple relationships with various parties in and outside the South African government. In addition, the food industry-sponsored community programs, with a focus on poverty alleviation, undernutrition, and food industry actors who influenced science, were directly involved in policymaking and helped frame the debate on diet and public health in South Africa. They concluded with calls for increased transparency, disclosure, awareness of industry strategies, and stronger mechanisms to address and manage industry influence within South Africa.