The more I look at the management of the University of Oxford, the more I begin to wonder about the philosophy informing policy. Is it objective, all round research and education, or is it promoting big ideas and corporate interests which enhance the reputations of those making the proposals ? [750 words]
Yesterday the University of Oxford announced that it is launching [or looking to launch ?] a new Pandemic Sciences Centre. Taken alone, that appears to be a very good idea. But when we consider the overall context, then questions arise which require honest answers.
Under the leadership of Louise Richardson, the University joined the race to produce a viable vaccine against Covid 19. The University took £1 million from reserves to support the initiative at a time when serious financial pressures were going to arise because of pandemic counter measures.
Oxford then looked for an appropriate enterprise both to manufacture and market the vaccine. The University stipulated that the vaccine must be produced at cost, in accordance with the academic world’s preconception that private profit must be suspect. The vaccine was subsequently marketed at a fraction of the price charged by the suppliers of other vaccines.
Did Oxford’s insistence on producing at cost impact the efficacy and the marketability of the product ?
We know that the AstraZeneca vaccine had to change name in order to salve its reputation in response to issues around blood clotting. In fact yesterday, a 44 year old BBC radio reporter, Lisa Shaw, died a week after receiving the Oxford/AZ vaccine.
Now, it may or may not be the case that risk of death from Covid 19 is higher than the risk involved in receiving the AZ vaccine. There may also be a political agenda to rubbish the Oxford vaccine following Brexit. But even so, there are serious questions to be asked and there are lessons to be learned.
Has the University learned those lessons ? Or is the University pushing ahead regardless – indeed looking to move the agenda on beyond the doubts about its vaccine ?
In view of the emerging picture about Covid 19 and questions about received scientific wisdom, there is a particular question to pose.
What do Oxford researchers actually (a) know and (b) believe about the origins of Covid 19 ?
Do they believe that the virus leaked from a Virology research laboratory in Wuhan ? Or do they believe it arose naturally in a nearby food market ? Have Oxford scientists questioned the Orthodoxy around Covid 19’s origins, or have they simply accepted what is presented as the general scientific consensus about its origins in the market at Wuhan ? What do they make of these ‘revelations’ in yesterday’s Daily Mail ?
Given all that has happened, and given the way in which the Chinese government has behaved over the last 18 months, I suspect that the Daily Mail ‘revelations’ may well be on the right track. If it is true – and it demands attention – then major questions arise:
- did researchers at Oxford know what is now revealed in this latest study outlined at the Mail online ?
- if they did not know of such research, then why did they not ? To develop a vaccine they must surely examine the original virus and ask how it came into existence ?
- has the University maintained a closed mind on the origins of the virus, accepting that it was animal derived and transmitted, giving little or no credence to the hypothesis that it may have emerged from the Wuhan laboratory ?
- what philosophy will guide Oxford’s proposed Centre for Pandemic Science ? Indications from studies listed on the university’s excellent new Covid research list hub suggest that a definite worldview has already been taken about the importance/necessity of vaccination; people who are opposed to [Covid 19?] vaccination are viewed as having to be persuaded otherwise, rather than as having a legitimate concern and a perspective on life to be respected and understood.
- Or has the role and the legitimacy of a natural herd immunity view already been dismissed ? On what scientific and philosophical basis has dismissal taken place ? Assumption, or impartial investigation ?
- is it the role of a university to engage itself as a major actor and player in business operations and in matters of public policy ?
- Or should not a University maintain an impartial approach and completely open mind towards all developments undertaken by governments and by other actors in order to arrive at a more realistic and helpful assessment ?