Mar 20 2017

The Need for Publicly Funded Science

Trump-ScienceThe American scientific community is in a bit of a panic over Trump’s first proposed budget. The budget calls for an 18% decrease ($5.8 billion) for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). There are deep cuts in energy research and Earth science as well.

The reaction of the scientific community has been consistent – such cuts would be disastrous.

It probably comes as no surprise that science is expensive. This is despite the fact that scientists are generally paid very little, especially when compared to their years of training. Science is a career of passion. But maintaining a lab or conductive field research can be very expensive. Research often requires expensive equipment and materials, lab space, support staff, and lots of time.

Research is not just something that scientists do – it requires extensive infrastructure. That infrastructure needs to be maintained mostly with one-off grants. The vast majority of scientific research will not directly generate profits for the researchers, the lab, or the supporting institution. Keeping a lab going is like keeping plates spinning, the researchers are constantly applying for grants and weaving together the funding they need.

You might think that an institution can support a lab through lean times, but this is rarely the case. In fact, the money flows the other way. Labs support their institutions by giving them a percentage of their grants (usually around 30%). This pays for the basic overhead, like keeping the lights on, maintaining an institutional review board, shared administrative staff, and rent on the space.

In order to maintain funding scientists have to demonstrate the value of their work and that they are making progress by regularly publishing their results.

Funding is like water in the desert, life will bloom wherever there is water, and will wilt and die without it.

A sudden and dramatic cut in funding, such as an 18% decrease for the NIH, is a disaster for our biomedical research infrastructure. Some analysts say that this cut will essentially mean no new grants awarded in 2018, as the remaining budget is already earmarked for funding existing grants. This means that a lot of plates will start to fall.

Scientists cannot easily reduce their costs by 20%, or survive through a year without new NIH grants. New scientists may not be able to start their career, and are likely to disproportionately suffer from such a decrease. Labs may have to fire technicians, abandon ongoing research, or even close completely.

Think about it this way – money for research is like food. You need a reliable supply of it. You can’t just average out how much food you have access to over a year, you need food every single day. Any significant disruption in the food supply causes famine, with resulting sickness and even death. Trump’s budget would cause a science-funding famine with long term damage to our research infrastructure. Even if you think (for some reason) that we need to tighten our scientific research belts, you don’t diet by not eating for a few months.

Not only that, but scientific knowledge is like a delicate chain of individual and institutional memory that requires continuity. The Soviets famously gutted their genetics research infrastructure when they supported Lysenkoism for ideological reasons. Russian genetics has never recovered, and still lags to this day. Why do certain countries lead for decades in some research areas? Because they are maintaining an infrastructure and continuity of knowledge and skills that cannot be easily replicated.

Some may argue that scientific research is better funded by the private sector. In fact, private sector scientific research has increased from 40% in 1960 to 65% today. Privately funded research is a good thing, but it does not replace publicly funded research. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and one does not replace the other.

Private research is good for translational research, taking scientific knowledge that final step to a specific application. Companies, of course, want to make a profit from such research. They need to develop a product.

Even charitable organizations, however, often want to fund research with tangible results, like curing a disease. This may distort the research in a bad way, however. Remember, life follows the water. This kind of funding shifts the balance of research from basic science to translational research. This balance, however, needs to evolve organically. If you put your thumb on the scale you will likely end up wasting a lot of time and resources trying to discover something that we are just not ready to discover, meaning that we lack the basic science knowledge to translate.

Goal-oriented research has its purpose, but it depends a great deal on basic research that just follows the ideas of scientists trying to understand how things work. We cannot really predict which basic science discoveries will translate into specific applications.

Shifting the focus too much to applied science is like eating your seed corn. We may see a pulse of applications emerge, but then the well of basic science will dry up and overall scientific advance will slow.

If something like Trump’s budget gets passed, there will be immediate negative consequences for the scientific infrastructure in the US that will have negative effects for years, and even decades. The worst effects, however, may not be felt for decades, as that is the time scale of reaping the benefits of basic science.

America’s dominant economic position in the world is based largely on our robust support for scientific research and advance. I’m not sure how gutting our scientific infrastructure is supposed to make American great.

46 responses so far

46 thoughts on “The Need for Publicly Funded Science”

  1. CW says:

    I wonder if the defense department will have to divert a larger percentage of their research budget to basic science (and other NIH-type) research? I have read/heard that the defense department benefits from basic science research that comes from NIH and other public institutions.

  2. Atlantean Idol says:

    There’s no reason why non-profit NGOs can’t fund basic research. Government funded research has too great a tendency to produce politically correct results. Private sector research can produce such results also, but in a free market of ideas the truth wins out in the end.

  3. MaryM says:

    @Atlantean Idol: Some NGOs do fund research. If it doesn’t go their way, they sometimes close up the project and run away from it. It will also be narrowly aimed at their specific issues. Although the public grant system isn’t perfect, at least we have a record of what people proposed to get done, and they have to report back on their progress. And there is a breadth to it that companies or NGOs don’t care about.

    Before there was government funding, there was some philanthrophy–but as Steve says, it often goes to a specific disease issue or a pet topic. It’s also not broad and basic research.

    In addition, this public system of funding science trains the next generation. It’s a second level of “eating the seed corn” to make that harder as well.

  4. bend says:

    “There’s no reason why non-profit NGOs can’t fund basic research.” Except that, for the most part, there’s no reason non-profit NGOs would fund basic research. When the research is so big and the (potentially enormous) payoff so distant, private enterprises have neither the means nor incentive to supply funding. What we see is the Vannevar Bush model being turned upside down. Government funding for science that delivers products within the lifetime of the project is exactly the kind of funding that could and would be supplied by private industry and non-profit NGOs. Basic science, risky from an investment perspective, but with transformative possibilities, is best funded publicly.

  5. hardnose says:

    When conservatives try to cut federal science funding, it is not necessarily because they hate science. What they hate is letting the federal government grow without limits. They believe in following the constitution, which specifies the central government’s role (national defense, and anything that has to be inter-state).

    I agree with conservatives on some things, and this is one of them. There is no good reason to have unquestioning faith in an enormous impersonal bureaucracy, such as the US government. Many things can be done better at smaller, more manageable, local levels.

    Progressives never understand this. They think the central government is their all-knowing, loviing parent.

    No, just because we voted for them does not mean they’re our loving friends or parents. The central government’s central goal is to continue growing and providing for itself.

    National defense is different — states (or tribes) often have no choice but band together for defense.

    Interstate highways, commerce, air travel, etc., etc., also require central control.

    Conservatives want to take as much as possible away from the federal government.

    Progressives interpret this to mean conservatives hate science and the arts, and want poor people to die.

    No, conservatives just want these things to be controlled more locally, or privately if possible.

    Giving states more control over funding for science, art, social programs, etc., would result in healthier competition between states.

  6. SFinkster says:

    hardnose “Conservatives want to take as much as possible away from the federal government.”.

    When you consider that it is the Constitution of the US (and NOT state constitutions) that protects the rights of minorities, you can see why ‘conservatives’ would like to take power away from the federal government.

  7. Beamup says:

    (Being a boundless optimist that perhaps there’s value to addressing hn’s points on THIS topic…)

    Surely if the intent is to transfer responsibility for funding basic research from the federal to the state level, there should be an agreement and plan to do so ahead of time? If states had concrete plans to pick up the slack, that would be a much more reasonable argument than a scenario where not only are there no such plans, but it would take many years to build the state-level expertise and institutions to pick up the ball. Are we to allow the practice of science to disappear while states figure it out, then rebuild from scratch once they do?

    I see that argument as similar to modern-day “fiscal conservatism” – if only entitlement spending were cut dramatically, big tax cuts and increases to defense spending would be affordable. But even the conservative voter base won’t acquiesce to such entitlement cuts (one might note the age distribution of conservative ideology), so let’s just do the tax cuts and spending boosts anyway. To which I say you should get agreement on the entitlement cuts FIRST, and only then try to do the bits which those cuts are meant to fund. Similarly, cutting federal science spending in favor of the states could be reasonable once the states are in position to take the baton, but not before. Get the replacement system set up before wrecking the existing one, please.

    Trying to impose one bit of a desired end state by fiat, without addressing the much harder and more complex bits which would be needed to make that desired end state work properly, is grossly irresponsible.

  8. There are some things that are better handled at state and local levels. There is absolutely no reason to think that funding scientific research is one of those things. This has nothing to do with a progressive ideology.

    Funding research is an investment on the future, it makes us competitive. There is a difference between spending and investing. Research is investing.

    Further, as I said, even if you think we need to reduce overall federal support for scientific research, a drastic 20% cut all at once is a stupid and reckless way to do it. It is based on ignorance of how the science infrastructure works, and how funding works (or recklessly no caring).

    Further, the budget is a clear reflection of priority. I am all for fiscal responsibility and keeping the federal government under control. This budget doesn’t do that. It simply shifts money to things Trump thinks are more important, and I strongly disagree with his priorities.

  9. LittleBoyBrew says:

    Steven,

    Here is an interesting presentation by Terence Kealey that arguers that economic growth was largely unaffected by the rapid increase of US gov’t funded research that began in 1940. (And yes, this presentation was made at Cato Institute, which is a libertarian organization. Libertarianism is sometimes like Voldomort, a name which must not be spoken.)

    https://www.cato.org/events/does-public-funding-science-enhance-scientific-progress-0

    I will also offer this excerpt from Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address, best known for his warning about the influence of the military industrial complex. The following portion is usually forgotten :

    “Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present — and is gravely to be regarded.

    Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”

    While I certainly find the current budget proposal problematic, I do not agree that a reduction in government funded research is necessarily a bad thing.

  10. Attila says:

    The biggest comment I would have is the conservative/Republican ideal seems to think that government should be run like a business. This is massively flawed thinking. The best unintentional critique of capitalism I have heard is by the sales trainer Zig Zigler “You get rich by giving people what they want not what they need. Who makes the most money the guy that sells Mercedes or the guy that sells bread.”

    Part of governments job is to do the things that are not profitable. Taking care of the poor, making sure everyone has access to healthcare and good education, and good basic research are part of these. Companies will not take on both the financial risk of doing research that cannot be turned into a product plus the market risk of selling that product. However given good basic research, you have companies willing to take on the market rick of turning that into a good product and in the mean time you have knowledge available to all.

  11. hardnose says:

    I don’t think any conservatives say that government should not take care of the poor, or provide health insurance, etc. They just prefer doing those things at more local levels. Modular design makes a lot of sense.

    And the Trump budget did not cut science 100%, only 20%. They probably figure it will be a lot less than 20% if/when it gets through congress.

    So the federal government would still fund science.

    I big problem I see with too much federal government involvement in science is — the research will inevitably slant in favor of companies (food, drug, etc.) that have close relationships with the government. This is obviously happening now, and my guess is the Trump administration wants to curtail the corruption a little.

  12. hardnose says:

    “When you consider that it is the Constitution of the US (and NOT state constitutions) that protects the rights of minorities, you can see why ‘conservatives’ would like to take power away from the federal government.”

    Is racism the one and only argument that liberals have anymore?

    (Yes.)

  13. Atlantean Idol says:

    A scientist has no greater right to earnings that a stripper would have spent on breast implants than does the stripper to the scientist’s private grants, even if that scientist is a cellular biologist performing basic research that could lead to a cure for breast cancer.

  14. cephead says:

    Thanks for posting this Steven. I agree with all the points you’ve made, but I’d like to add another argument for public funding of research: active publication. Public science research demands dissemination of your work through publishing meticulous descriptions of your research that is vetted by peers and then available to the public at large. Just about every advancement we make in science rests on the shoulder of countless other discoveries, and many of those discoveries can be in completely separate fields. In my field for instance (biomedical research), you’d be hard pressed to find a major field of science that has not contributed substantially. Even with vast institutional knowledge, there is always going to be valuable information that you’re not going to find anywhere but in the literature.

    Contrast that with the private sector. Private science research is seldom published, and those companies that do publish are often in the business of selling things to public researchers. After all, what profit is there to be had in giving out valuable information to potential competitors?

    If conservatives want public funding to be moved from the fed to the states, I’d be fine with that, but you have to set the transition. Once you start shuttering labs and ending the careers of scientists, you’ve already lost tons of investment that won’t come back easily.

  15. hardnose says:

    “If conservatives want public funding to be moved from the fed to the states, I’d be fine with that, but you have to set the transition.”

    Isn’t that possibly what they are trying to do? They aren’t trying to eliminate federal science funding, just to decrease it.

    Letting the states do as much as possible makes sense, really to anyone who thinks about it, and that is probably their goal. Democrats of course pretend it’s because Republicans hate science and art. Or because they want everything done by private business.

    No. It’s because we have a constitution.

    Progressive/liberal ideology today is at odds with what the American founders believed. Back then, the liberal ideal was to be free from tyranny. It was acknowledged that freedom from tyranny requires constant vigilance. The constitution was intended to control the government, because all governments were considered dangerous.

    This kind of thinking might actually go back at least to ancient times. For example, in the Old Testament, after the 12 tribes had been in their promised land for a while, they reluctantly decided they needed a king (instead of just judges and prophets). They did NOT want a king, but there was no other way to have an effective military defense.

    The same story has probably been repeated in many times and places, including early America, except we decided to have a president instead of a king.

    Modern progressives seem to have forgotten what our species has known since forever — governments may be necessary, but they are not good.

  16. cephead says:

    @hardnose

    “I big problem I see with too much federal government involvement in science is — the research will inevitably slant in favor of companies (food, drug, etc.) that have close relationships with the government. This is obviously happening now, and my guess is the Trump administration wants to curtail the corruption a little.”

    I’d say that the opposite is true. The more you squeeze scientists of public funding the more likely they are to go to alternative sources, such as private companies, where they will have incentive to produce research that slants in favor of said companies. I’ve worked on several NIH grants now, and none of them involved companies whatsoever. Honestly, I’m not sure where this idea is coming from.

  17. cephead says:

    “Isn’t that possibly what they are trying to do? They aren’t trying to eliminate federal science funding, just to decrease it.”

    Decreasing it drastically in a short period isn’t what I would call a smooth transition. I can’t speak to the motive behind the decrease, but what evidence do you have to back up your assertion that this is part of a strategy to transition to the states? I’d be happy to hear of one public statement made by someone behind this budget that this is the plan…

  18. cephead says:

    @LittleBoyBrew

    Regarding the CATO argument, you cannot really compare science done pre-1940s to the situation today. Back then there were a ton of discoveries waiting to be made that could be accomplished with small labs and a few incredibly dedicated and ingenious people. Those days are long gone. If you want to make even just an incremental contribution to a field today, you need decades of hard work and education on narrow esoteric topics, and you need large teams to accomplish big goals.

    Also, you’d be very mistaken to believe that the private sector will step up. Antibiotics are a glaring example of this. Companies stopped researching new antibiotics two decades ago as they’ve pretty much determined there is no profit in it. We’re now facing some seriously deadly drug-resistant strains for which we have no commercially available antibiotic that is effective.

  19. Rogue Medic says:

    If the Gods had wanted us to use knowledge, they wouldn’t have forbidden eating from the Tree of Knowledge.

    Atlantean Idol and hardnose, thank you for reminding us that improving our knowledge interferes with your bliss. We don’t get enough reminders.

    Why keep learning, when we will be able to buy the results of the science from the Europeans, Chinese, and others?

    I am sure they will offer wonderful discounts to the poorly educated, who were not scammed by evil scientists.

    In America, we need to focus only on technologies that are so basic that there is no knowledge advantage to be obtained.

    .

  20. Kabbor says:

    You don’t have to be rigidly dogmatic to be a libertarian, but it helps. Governments do things that are important other than military defense. Please stop acting like the world is a one note morality play and take a little time to reflect that this kind of thinking is not productive.

    I don’t mind a libertarian ideology so long as it is tempered with an understanding of it’s practical limitations. The centre of the political spectrum is disregarded because anyone who disagrees with an extreme end is labeled as extreme on the other side. This is how SN manages to get called a green tree hugging hippy and a corporate shill ready to destroy the environment.

  21. hardnose says:

    “You don’t have to be rigidly dogmatic to be a libertarian, but it helps. Governments do things that are important other than military defense.”

    I am not a libertarian. If I partially agree with some libertarians on some things, that doesn’t mean I am one (logic 101).

    Even (the saner) libertarians know that governments do things other than military defense.

    And I was NOT agreeing with libertarians anyway! I said I agree with conservatives about the constitution.

  22. Kabbor says:

    Perhaps I was being quick to mention libertarian ideology. I did not mean to say that you specifically were libertarian, just that the concept that governments should only concern themselves with defense is a libertarian goal. In general I don’t find that your political leanings are easily labelled, except to say that you appear to disagree with most things Steven Novella has to say.

  23. Atlantean Idol says:

    I love science more than most scientists and would happily donate to an organization whose research yielded no practical applications within my lifetime. I merely prefer to choose where my money goes. Thoughtcrime, I know.

  24. Rogue Medic says:

    Atlantean Idol,

    Who is accusing you of thoughtcrime?

    .

  25. chikoppi says:

    I live in one of the nations largest cities, where there are a lot of infrastructure needs. Now, I know nothing about urban infrastructure, but I would prefer that I could dictate to the engineers where to spend their efforts and how much time and resources can be invested.

    Perhaps this isn’t an all or nothing issue and some mix of federal, state, and private funding is appropriate.

  26. hardnose says:

    People who live in the area would have a better idea of what is needed, in general. Almost anyone can see that things should be as local as possible. Imagine trying to get through on the phone to someone in your county government, vs the federal government.

    This is one of the main concepts of modern conservatism, but progressives still think conservatism is an idiotic philosophy.

  27. chikoppi says:

    People who live in the area would have a better idea? What are the relative stress loads of the electrical sub-grids in your county? How about the need to harden infrastructure systems against hacking? Should that cost be prioritized over needed investments to flood management or sewer maintenance?

    What you (hopefully) mean is that professionals will make an assessment of infrastructure needs and then local government will make an informed decision about relative cost/benefit and what they can afford. Which is my point. Joe blow citizen isn’t in a position to make an informed decision about allocating infrastructure investments.

    We don’t fund the military through private or local donations. Why? Why not just go back to a militia program, whereby each state contributes whatever assets the local population thinks it wants to contribute? Or better yet, why not let each citizen determine how to allocate his or her own voluntary contribution to the pentagon budget?

  28. RickK says:

    hn: ” Imagine trying to get through on the phone to someone in your county government, vs the federal government.”

    In dealing with elder care issues, I’ve had quite a bit of recent experience with various agencies – federal, state and local. By far the most impressive was the Social Security Administration. By comparison, our local DMV was a disaster.

    But, I don’t want facts get in the way of the ossified hardnose narrative.

  29. BillyJoe7 says:

    chikoppi,

    “I live in one of the nations largest cities, where there are a lot of infrastructure needs. Now, I know nothing about urban infrastructure, but I would prefer that I could dictate to the engineers where to spend their efforts and how much time and resources can be invested”

    And I bet you love engineering more than most engineers. 😀

    Great take down!

  30. BillyJoe7 says:

    “People who live in the area would have a better idea? What are the relative stress loads of the electrical sub-grids in your county? How about the need to harden infrastructure systems against hacking? Should that cost be prioritized over needed investments to flood management or sewer maintenance?”

    Ditto. 😀

  31. hardnose says:

    Some things are better done locally, other things aren’t.

    In designing software, we try not to have a zillion global variables, for the same kind of reasons. Everything is kept as local as possible, given all the many different considerations. Some things must be central, so you find ways to deal with it while not sacrificing organization and structure.

    It is a simple concept, but progressives seem incapable of getting it.

  32. hardnose says:

    And, of course, “local” is a matter of degree.

  33. Atlantean Idol says:

    Why not just go back to a militia program, whereby each state contributes whatever assets the local population thinks it wants to contribute? Or better yet, why not let each citizen determine how to allocate his or her own voluntary contribution to the pentagon budget?

    Now you’re talking sense!

  34. chikoppi says:

    [hardnose] In designing software, we try not to have a zillion global variables, for the same kind of reasons. Everything is kept as local as possible, given all the many different considerations. Some things must be central, so you find ways to deal with it while not sacrificing organization and structure.

    It is a simple concept, but progressives seem incapable of getting it.

    FFS. You are so far up your own backside you can’t even see the irony.

    Some concerns are local and are only of interest or importance to people within a limited geographic region. Other concerns are not local, either because the impact is universal or due to questions of scale.

    Many research projects also require consistent funding over decades, involving cooperation among multiple specialized facilities and disciplines of expertise. It is simply impractical for such research to be managed at a local level, let alone for each locality to maintain the extensive and complex research infrastructure necessary.

    If you think “progressives” don’t understand as much then you have created a cartoonish strawman for the purposes of clinging to the ideological and simplistic narrative inside your head.

  35. Kabbor says:

    When I think of a clock, I think of an electronic or mechanical device that increments visibly on a per second or per minute basis. A powered and calibrated clock will usually indicate the local time. Progressives think a clock is a slab of meat used for polishing rocks! What a bunch of dummies!

  36. hardnose says:

    FFS. You are so far up your own backside you can’t even see the irony.

    Some concerns are local and are only of interest or importance to people within a limited geographic region. Other concerns are not local, either because the impact is universal or due to questions of scale.”

    And you just repeated what I said in different words. So that makes you how far into your own backside?

  37. chikoppi says:

    [hardnose] And you just repeated what I said in different words. So that makes you how far into your own backside?

    Again, you’re missing the irony. What YOU did was to repeatedly cast “progressives” as wanting to remove local issues from local control because “they” love big government.

    “Progressives never understand this. They think the central government is their all-knowing, loviing parent.”

    “Modern progressives seem to have forgotten what our species has known since forever — governments may be necessary, but they are not good.”

    “It is a simple concept, but progressives seem incapable of getting it.”

    What I did was to explain WHY some issues are not suitably left to be determined locally from a progressive perspective.

    If you see your comments echoed in mine then congratulations, you agree with the progressive perspective and can drop your strawman.

  38. hardnose says:

    I have never heard someone who calls theirself a progressive advocate for limiting the central government, in any context.

    Futhermore, progressives are likely to advocate for a central world government.

    The recent election was largely about maintaining the modularity of nations, in addition to the usual conservative concern about the modularity of American states.

    Progressives (in general) consider nationalism to be the same thing as nazism or fascism.

  39. Willy says:

    re hn: No true Scotsman…

  40. JJ Borgman says:

    “People who live in the area would have a better idea of what is needed, in general. Almost anyone can see that things should be as local as possible. Imagine trying to get through on the phone to someone in your county government, vs the federal government.

    This is one of the main concepts of modern conservatism, but progressives still think conservatism is an idiotic philosophy.”

    I just love how you vacillate between “general” and absolute. Your comments are a turd sandwich. Everyone believes what science prints or the folks know what’s a lot of BS. I’ll go for $500 on science knows.

    You can pour your poor heart out on BIGRAMMAJAMMA, but history shows you to be, not without exception, Immensely wrong. Read a history book. Even the alternative facts books get it wrong.

    I’m most pissed at your condescending absolutist attitude in your commentary. I want to go get more examples right now, but I have many better things to do.

  41. chikoppi says:

    Yes, thank you for confirming that your idea of “progressives” is a ridiculous ideological caricature born of right-wing media pablum.

  42. Rogue Medic says:

    I love science more than most scientists and would happily donate to an organization whose research yielded no practical applications within my lifetime. I merely prefer to choose where my money goes. Thoughtcrime, I know.

    Atlantean Idol,

    Who is accusing you of thoughtcrime?

    .

  43. I also think HN is confusing “progressive” and “liberal”.

    You can be progressive and not want a world government, or understand the need for limited government, and appreciate that some issues are better handled at local levels, and even appreciate the power of free markets.

    But HN has his strawman, and will like add the No True Scotsman to maintain it.

    After all this discussion it seems there is general agreement that some issue are better handled at the very local level (town/city) some at the county level, some at the state level, and some at the federal level. Some require cooperation among the various levels. There is no one answer or one-size-fits all solution.

    What no one has stated is any compelling reason why funding of major science research should not be handled at the federal level, or is better handled at the state level. No state can handle the NIH budget or it comprehensive infrastructure. State funding of such research tends to be patchy and sporadic. I am all for state funding of science research, it just doesn’t replace federal funding.

    Of course if you are completely ignorant of science funding you can make up whatever fantasy you want.

  44. cephead says:

    To the point about state vs. federal science funding, one potential downside I can see from a state-centered or more local approach is that the people who are reviewing grant applications will have a much higher chance of knowing the persons applying for a grant (either personally or through acquaintances). This increases the chance for conflicts of interest. This issue actually caused a big scandal in my state, Texas, back in 2012, where the leadership of the largest state grantor of cancer research was accused of basically playing favorites in the award process (http://www.nature.com/news/grant-review-opens-up-texas-sized-rift-1.10813). The review committees for grants are of course expected to judge the science on its merits, only taking into account the identity of the applicant in terms of their professional credentials (publications, awards, etc.). We all hope these committees can maintain their impartiality, but the closer the ties they have to applicants, the more this comes into doubt.

  45. MosBen says:

    And, of course, one reason why funding things like scientific research at the federal level rather than the state level is that many/most states have constitutional balanced budget requirements, which means that state budgets are much more volatile and are more likely to be slashed in tough economic times. The ability to deficit spend allows programs of national importance, like the military or broad-based investments in scientific research, to be more stable.

  46. Reichennek says:

    I think the the amount of public funding in the states that goes to defense spending and research it’s an absolute shame that these programs are having their spending slashed so much. Especially, in my opinion, given that the reason is that the president either doesn’t like their results or doesn’t see value in what they’re doing. And while not every cent spent will lead directly to an economic increase on average most of the funding adds up to an economic win for the country.

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