Sheldon Krimsky, who had warned against the profit motive in science, died at the age of 80

Sheldon Krimsky, a leading environmental ethicist who has explored issues at the link between science, ethics and biotechnology, and who has warned of the dangers of private companies that underwrite and influence academic research, died on April 23 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Hey what 80

His family said he was in the hospital for testing when he died and they didn’t know the cause.

Dr Krimsky, who taught at Tufts University in Massachusetts for 47 years, warned extensively about the growing conflicts of interest universities faced when their academic researchers accepted millions of dollars in grants from corporate entities such as corporations. pharmaceutical and biotechnological.

In his book Science in the Private Interest (2003), he argued that the lure of profit was potentially corrupting research and in the process undermining the integrity and independence of universities.

But his extensive public policy work has gone far beyond pointing out the dangers inherent in the commercialization of science. Author, co-author or editor of 17 books and more than 200 journal articles, he has delved into numerous scientific fields – including stem cell research, food genetic modification, and DNA privacy – and sought to identify potential problems.

“He was the Ralph Nader of bioethics,” Jonathan Garlick, a stem cell researcher at Tufts and a friend of Dr. Krimsky, said in a telephone interview, referring to the longtime consumer advocate.

“He was saying, if we didn’t slow down and pay attention to the important checkpoints, once you get the genius out of the bottle, there could be irreversible damage that could persist for many generations,” said Dr. Agile added. “She wanted to protect us from irreversible damage.”

In Genetic Justice (2012), Dr. Krimsky wrote that DNA evidence is not always reliable and that government agencies had created large databases of DNA that posed a threat to civil liberties. In “The GMO Deception” (2014), which she edited with Jeremy Gruber, she criticized agriculture and the food industry for changing the genetic makeup of foods.

His latest book, published in 2021, was Understanding DNA Ancestry, in which he explained the complications of ancestor research and said that the results of different genetic ancestor testing companies may vary in their conclusions. More recently, she was starting to explore the emerging topic of meat with stem cells, meat made from animal cells that can be grown in the laboratory.

In fact, Mr. Nader had a long association with Dr. Krimsky and wrote the introduction to some of his books.

“There was really no one like him: strict, courageous and prolific,” said Mr. Nader in an email. “He has tried to convey the importance of democratic processes in open scientific decision making in many areas. He criticized scientific dogmas, saying that science must always leave options open for revision ”.

Sheldon Krimsky was born on June 26, 1941 in Brooklyn. His father, Alex, was a house painter. His mother, Rose (Skolnick) Krimsky, was a clothing worker.

Sheldon, known as Shelly, received his BA in Physics and Mathematics from Brooklyn College and graduated in 1963. From Boston University, he earned a Master of Arts in philosophy in 1968 and a doctorate in philosophy of science in 1970.

He met Carolyn Boriss, who was an artist and teacher and later became a playwright and author, in Cambridge in 1968. They married in 1970.

He survives, as well as a daughter, Alyssa Krimsky Clossey; a son, Eliot; three grandchildren; and a brother, Sydney.

Dr Krimsky began his association with Tufts in what is now called the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning in 1974 and has helped build it over the decades. He has also taught ethics at Tufts University School of Medicine and has been a visiting scholar at Columbia University, Brooklyn College, New School and New York University.

He began exploring conflicts of interest in academic research in the late 1970s when he led a team of students on an investigation to see if chemical company WR Grace had contaminated drinking wells in Acton, Massachusetts.

Dr Krimsky said that when the company learned it would release a negative report, the the wells were later designated as the Superfund site – one of its top executives asked the president of Tufts to bury the firm and fire him. The president refused. But Dr. Krimsky was troubled that the company tried to interfere and this prompted him to start studying how companies, regardless of whether they made financial contributions or not, tried to manipulate science.

“He told the truth to power,” said Dr. Garlick said. “He wanted to give voice to skepticism and to give voice to skeptics.”

Dr Krinsky has been a longtime advocate of what he called “organized skepticism”.

“When claims are made, you have to start with skepticism until the evidence is so strong that your skepticism disappears,” he told the Boston Globe in 2014. “In science you don’t start by saying, ‘Yes, I like this assumption and it must be true. ‘”

He was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and led its committee on scientific freedom and responsibility from 1988 to 1992. He was also a member of the Hastings Center on Bioethics and served on the editorial boards of seven scientific journals .

When he wasn’t working, he enjoyed playing guitar and harmonica. He divided his time between Cambridge and New York City.

“Shelly has never given up hope for a better world,” Julian Agyeman, a professor at Dr. Krimsky’s department and its interim president, would have said in a Tufts obituary. “He was the consummate activist-lawyer-scholar.”