Attentive readers of "How the World Works" may recall a posting I made shortly before Christmas about bio-piracy -- a term used to describe the patenting, by corporations in the developed world, of genetic data of plants and animals indigenous to developing nations. In my posting, I quoted one Susan Finston, the executive director of the American Bioindustry Alliance, who claimed that A) there wasn't a problem, and B) even if there was, the World Trade Organization wasn't the place to discuss it.
I expressed some skepticism about Finston's statements, but looking back, I should have been nastier. My gut reaction when spokespeople for industry alliances make claims is to not trust a word they say -- and if they happen to say, as Finston did, that there is no problem, then I tend to believe, even without evidence, that something is fishy.
Well, guess what, there is a problem, and it happens to be Susan Finston. An illuminating New York Times article published just before Christmas noted that Finston had authored "opinion pieces" in the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal on the topic of patent protection.
But she identified herself merely as a "research associate" for the Institute of Policy Research, a conservative think tank based in Texas. There was no mention at all that in August she had been registered as a lobbyist for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or her service as executive director of the American Bioindustry Alliance.
Even though it might be hard to summon up the requisite outrage for the business-as-usual spectacle of paid lobbyists masquerading as "research associates" or "analysts," it's still our duty to do so. And it may be one more reason to thank super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff for all he's done to expose the inner workings of the seedy intersection between industry and government. The Times started paying attention to Finston after it was revealed that Abramoff was paying stipends to "analysts" at think tanks such as the Cato Institute.
Now everyone is getting a harder look. Thanks, Jack! We owe you!