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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

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March 12, 2009

Greedy Biotechs?

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Posted by Derek

Smack in the middle of the biotech district of Cambridge, at one of the busy intersections, is a whopping billboard. It’s one of those that rotate vertical segments between three faces, and for some weeks now, all three of them have proclaimed loudly “Stop Biotech Greed!” Variations on the theme include how much money biotech companies make, how the state should stop trying to encourage the industry and spend its money somewhere else, and so on. I’m sure the folks at Biogen enjoy seeing this thing switching between messages all day long; it’s right across from one of their buildings.

I wasn't at all sure who was funding this, because that billboard would presumably take more cash to lease than many activist groups have on hand. I do see occasional hand-made flyers against a proposed biological lab that Boston University wants to build, an issue that’s been fermenting around here for some time, but this was the first blast of anti-industry sentiment that I’d noticed. A quick look around provided the answer, though: the message is from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and the bottom of the dispute seems to be that several building project are going on that employ non-union electricians. And since a significant amount of the new construction in this area has to do with biotech and associated fields, well. . .

I suppose that they figured that attacking "biotech greed" will play better than a billboard saying "Hire Our Members Or We'll Insult You Again".

Comments (25) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Current Events | Why Everyone Loves Us


COMMENTS

1. HelicalZz on March 12, 2009 10:58 AM writes...

So the greed is really from the REITs that operate in this area (ARE, BMD)? The last thing a biotech company wants (or is capable of) is to manage real estate.

By the way, how much electrical work gets outsourced overseas these days anyway??

Now, if you want to dispute the states biotechnology finance programs, perhaps an argument can be made about whether that is prudent use of 'local' tax dollars.

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2. anon-e on March 12, 2009 11:23 AM writes...

Ah yes, Massachusetts: one of the last bastions of the union labor movement.

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3. toxchick on March 12, 2009 11:41 AM writes...

Yes, out here at my biotech in the western burbs of Mass we've been graced by labor protestors with a 20 foot inflatable rat. That is much more entertaining than a billboard. They should be back soon now that the weather is getting better.

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4. Dallas on March 12, 2009 11:52 AM writes...

Biotechs are greedy. But they'll all be going to China soon, so it was a waste of an advertisement.

Now if scientists were to put up a billboard and proclaim-

Biotech Execs are Outsourcing Our Lives!!

That would be news...

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5. Hap on March 12, 2009 12:06 PM writes...

It seems ironic that in the places where unions don't make much sense (electrical/carpentry/plumbing firms are likely to be smaller businesses less able to use egregious force and collusion against their workers, significant gov't licensing and inspections regulations), they are likely to have the most power. In those businesses, unions don't seem to guarantee anything for the recipients of their members' labor other than higher prices. I guess when that's the case, and reason's out the window, you have to haul out the rat.

I think the appropriate response be to ask what we would lose without union electricians and without biotechs, and which is the greater. I don't think IBEW wants an honest answer to that, because the answer's kind of obvious (we have nonunion electricians, after all, and unions don't seem to guarantee quality from their members, while lots of drugs would not have existed without biotechs - recombinant insulin, epo, etc.). I assume they also don't want any sort of answer to the question of whether biotech tax breaks are worth it to MA, for the same reason.

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6. Dave C on March 12, 2009 12:37 PM writes...

Biotech's might be greedy, but not enough to make a profit. An article ~3 yrs ago in the WSJ reported on a study by Ernst & Young. They examined the profits & losses all the publicly traded biotechs since 1979. Conclusion: The biotech industry was the most money losing industry ever (at that time, the airlines were 2nd).

They also concluded that industry was kept afloat by boundless investor enthusiasm. Since they didn't include the many biotechs that fail before they become publicly traded, the actual losses were far greater.

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7. Chemjobber on March 12, 2009 3:42 PM writes...

At my former employer in San Diego, a couple of guys would park out by the curb (way, way off company property) with a huge banner that said "SHAME ON [COMPANY]". They never seemed angry, just bored, which kind of took away from the protest aspect.

It may be unfortunate, but I think a lot of union language is lost on today's generation (the rat, shame, etc.) In addition, a lot of these issues are definitely real, but buried in incredibly internecine squabbles between contractors, subcontractors, non-union workers and the local union folks. When you need a map to draw the relationship to the company that's being SHAMED, someone's falling down on the marketing side.

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8. CMC Guy on March 12, 2009 4:05 PM writes...

Before I read the second paragraph I was thinking it was just Harvard Med Students expanding their desire to rid the world of the influences of "evil pharma".

While I may be sympathetic that underlying situation is analogous to "outsourcing" of chemists jobs (and apparently CEO pay inequity) when one considers how much "union money" goes into lobbying politicians (plus noted cost of the billboard/PR) the loud complaints against the Pharma Lobby/donations seem hollow (Lawyers/Law Firms have everyone beat anyway).

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9. JC on March 12, 2009 5:37 PM writes...

What are these 'Unions' people are talking about?

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10. SRC on March 12, 2009 8:33 PM writes...

Unions? They are aware that it's 2009, not 1909, right? The lack of hoop skirts should have tipped them off.

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11. Tyrosine on March 12, 2009 9:10 PM writes...

Derek, I know you're new to Massachusetts but those electrical workers play dirty. For years they have been distributing pamphlets in the subway, issuing press releases, and launching websites smearing specific biotech companies in the area. Biogen was a popular target during their construction and it's probably no coincidence that the ads are on a billboard that more or less used to have a permanent Biogen ad on it. I'm not really sure what they're trying to accomplish, but it's sad to see hard earned union dollars wasted. While I'm not a huge fan of the unions, I think their ad campaigns portraying high quality and legal work are more effective.

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12. money for nothing on March 13, 2009 9:19 AM writes...

Mass really should stop giving tax payer money to this industry though. It's unlikely that those that lost basic jobs will be able to retrain for "work in biotech". Also, Pharma, biotech companies are ruthless when it comes to outsourcing. How about no money or tax breaks for companies that send their work offshore.

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13. TW Andrews on March 13, 2009 12:31 PM writes...

Ah yes, Massachusetts: one of the last bastions of the union labor movement.

And we've got the shitty public works to prove it!

Permalink to Comment

14. Hap on March 13, 2009 1:03 PM writes...

Come to OH and we'll show you crappy public works (though our road design can't possibly keep up with PA). Even better, you can pay almost as much in income and sales tax living here (as in MA) to enjoy them. Not much in the way of unions, or worker protection, either.

Though our city hall probably actually works (the building, anyway).

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15. SRC on March 13, 2009 3:13 PM writes...

Aw, MA and OH are pikers.

If you really want to see pigs with their snouts in the trough, come see the public service unions and Democratic state legislators (representing gerrymandered districts) doing the do-see-do as they rub each other's ...uh...backs (this is a family site, after all). There's a good reason we're going bankrupt.

Permalink to Comment

16. cottus on March 15, 2009 2:46 PM writes...

On the contentious issues of union/non - union, pork and 'stimulus' especially in relation to Public Works let me perhaps introduce you to the concept of Davis - Bacon wages*.

No discussion of this issue is complete with out it.
Pork - by any name - so wasteful, so damaging, so confidence - destroying.

*Needless to say Wikipedia is not too helpful - just let me summarize - Government contracts require you pay union wages. Nobody pays union wages. Nobody competitive.

Permalink to Comment

17. SDN on March 15, 2009 3:59 PM writes...

Actually, Helical, no electrician work is getting outsourced to anywhere; we really don't have robot arms that can hook up wiring from India.

Which would have been obvious to anyone who gave the matter 2 seconds thought.

Permalink to Comment

18. Andy Freeman on March 15, 2009 4:18 PM writes...

> Actually, Helical, no electrician work is getting outsourced to anywhere; we really don't have robot arms that can hook up wiring from India.

Actually, a lot of construction is being offshored.

Go to your local home improvement store. Notice what you can do today that would have required an electrician 20 years ago. Look at the packages of the goods that allow you to do that work.

Permalink to Comment

19. furious on March 15, 2009 6:39 PM writes...

In fairness to Electricians' Unions, they do turn apprentices into journeymen through their training programs, and, as the bumper sticker says:

Wiring is not a hobby

You really don't want your home's wiring outsourced to India.

Permalink to Comment

20. Jonadab the Unsightly One on March 16, 2009 9:35 PM writes...

I would be hard-pressed to name a segment of our society that is greedier, on the whole, than the labor unions.

Personal-injury lawyers, perhaps, but I'm not entirely certain they count as part of human society.

Such was not always the case, of course. Labor unions played an important role in creating decent working conditions, so we don't exactly want to do away with them or anything. But man, they sure do go too far sometimes.

Permalink to Comment

21. Ryan on March 17, 2009 7:44 AM writes...

I see that sign as I walk to my office everyday. I'd be interested to see how many new Mass jobas have been CREATED by the union, as compared to the biotech industry. I guess creating sustainable work for 1000s of Mass residents is greedy?

Permalink to Comment

22. William on March 17, 2009 3:54 PM writes...

POWER, GREED AND REPUTATION

How disappointing is it when you have this incredible product that works, but are unable to bring it to the market, because power and greed overruled your ethics. This product has been well tested over the years, this new technology has the capability for you and your prospective buyers to view or control it from a distance. Their excitement over your product is overwhelming for you at times, but your thoughts always return to your reputation within the scientific community, because you forgot a few important details, called consent and foreknowledge!

Permalink to Comment

23. William on March 17, 2009 3:55 PM writes...

POWER, GREED AND REPUTATION

How disappointing is it when you have this incredible product that works, but are unable to bring it to the market, because power and greed overruled your ethics. This product has been well tested over the years, this new technology has the capability for you and your prospective buyers to view or control it from a distance. Their excitement over your product is overwhelming for you at times, but your thoughts always return to your reputation within the scientific community, because you forgot a few important details, called consent and foreknowledge!

Permalink to Comment

24. milkshake on March 17, 2009 4:40 PM writes...

I think a rather equivalent counterexample would be a poster "Stop Mafia Unions Now!" and "Organized Labor Without the Organized Crime"

(not that I would suggest to encourage these aggressive trolls, they are best avoided like herpes)

Permalink to Comment

25. dell equallogic on March 8, 2012 8:43 PM writes...

I really love your blog design, did you make this yourself or hire someone else to design it?

Permalink to Comment

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