It’s a special kind of PR exercise to defend yourself in the court of public opinion without mentioning the crime you’re accused of. Today’s lesson comes from the CSIRO after it’s alleged dodgy dealings with a pharmaceutical company were exposed late last week.
According to a Fairfax investigation published late last week, CSIRO and a company called DataDot worked together to create what they purported to be a top-secret anti-counterfeiting technology that drug companies could put in their medicines to prevent organised crime syndicates or even rival companies from reverse engineering and copying the substances. These syndicates in particular rebrand placebos and dump them on the market for cheap to get cash fast. The DataDot/CSIRO “invention” was meant to be like an encryption of sorts to prevent a drug being copied.
CSIRO worked with DataDot to sell this industry trade-secret technology — known as DataTrace DNA — to a company called Novartis who wanted it for the protection of its injectable Voltaren ampules. Little did Novartis know that the “top-secret” gear that the CSIRO and DataDot had sold was allegedly a mixture of cheap chemicals that the two had reportedly bought from halogen tube manufacturers in China.
Nobody’s disputing that the technology did what it was meant to, what Swiss-based Novartis has an issue with is that this “top-secret” technology is reportedly available from several vendors around the globe, meaning it can be easily cracked, rendering the DataTrace DNA product as easy to crack as typing “password” into a stupid person’s bank account field.
CSIRO took to its blog to defend itself against the accusations over the weekend, but did so without actually mentioning what it had been accused of.
If you didn’t know what was going on or didn’t have the initiative to go and read the original story, you’d come out the other side with raised eyebrows, but still with the idea that the CSIRO haven’t done a damn thing wrong. There’s no proof that it even did do something wrong at this point, but it’s doing the best it can to deflect these allegations.
Here’s an excerpt of the post:
For 87 years, CSIRO science has been supporting Australia’s national growth. CSIRO has not done that by standing still, and over a decade ago a radical transformation of the way we deliver our science was undertaken.
To remain relevant to the nation and to answer the complex questions for society, we needed the courage to transform. For example it is no longer enough for farmers merely to have the best crop varieties. For the next level of productivity they need the best farming systems, the best sensors, the best water efficiency and soil knowledge. They need all of these answers delivered in a connected way.
CSIRO provides these answers through its flagship program, multidisciplinary challenge-focussed groups that bring together the best minds and research. Was this the right decision? Yes it was, and others around the world agree with us: the Grand Challenges program in Canada and the INRA metaprogrammes in France are just two examples of similar responses. But to maintain the solutions focus requires a balance with science excellence.
We hold ourselves accountable to those who are passionately committed to quality science, our former employees, our clients and the Australian public and I agree with those who demand science excellence. How do we do this? We subject our experiments, our papers, our fields of research, our output and our operations to rigorous scrutiny.
And blah, blah and blah.
It goes on like that for a while before finally…
We do have areas to improve. We have had claims of unacceptable behaviour made by former employees and I have addressed those directly. A number of internal actions are in place as well as an independent external review which is underway. CSIRO has been criticised by some for being silent on this issue but we must respect the privacy of all involved and it is not appropriate to discuss or defend details of alleged cases in public.
World’s greatest smokescreen right there.
Read the full post on the CSIRO blog. [CSIRO]
Drugs image via Shutterstock