For Safety or Profit? How Science Serves the Strategic Interests of Private Actors

The forthcoming article “For Safety or Profit? How Science Serves the Strategic Interests of Private Actors” ( by Rebecca Perlman is summarized by the author below.
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In 2002, the chemical corporation, Syngenta, sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to ban a pesticide that it claimed posed too great a risk to the environment. The catch? Syngenta had previously been the patent-holder and sole-seller of the product. What would lead a company to suddenly disavow its own invention? Was this simply an example of corporate responsibility? 

The paper, “For Safety or Profit? How Science Serves the Strategic Interests of Firms,” shows that companies routinely seek to use public interest regulation to eliminate their own current and discontinued products. The motivation is less altruistic than strategic. By acquiring regulations that ban older, out-of-patent products, innovative companies can make room for their more expensive, patented alternatives. 

Using data on U.S. agrochemical regulations across two decades, as well as data on company-level petitions for regulatory change, the article demonstrates not only that regulations have routinely become stricter on older, less lucrative products but also that companies have actively lobbied for stricter standards on their own less profitable products. An investigation of the history of pesticide regulation in the United States reveals that in addition to requesting stricter standards on a case-by-case basis, innovative companies historically sought regulatory institutions that—while seemingly intended to protect the public from dangerous pesticides—also made it easier for these companies to eliminate the generic competition on a more systematic basis.

About the Author(s): Rebecca Perlman is Assistant Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. The research “For Safety or Profit? How Science Serves the Strategic Interests of Private Actors” ( is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.

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