On government-funded science

When tax dollars rather than private investment directs research, political ideology by scientific amateurs (politicians) determines which direction the research heads. The inevitable result is that political connections determines who gets research funds, while the unpopular and risky yet more ultimately world-changing prospects are ignored.

For example, AIDS kills very few Americans versus heart disease or cancer, yet gets significantly higher research funds than the two major killers. The majority of government research funds is directed toward better ways to kill (via the Defense Dept) and heal (via the NIH) people. Yet the government-funded research is good at neither, since breakthroughs consistently come from private search, which composes over 60% of science funding in the developed world.

What standard are politicians supposed to use to decide which scientific and medical projects show the most promise? Popularity is not a suitable standard, since popular scientists are the champions of the big discoveries of the past, not the future. Unfortunately, when your one’s own investment money is not at stake, the only remaining standard to guide research dollars is political pull, which is exactly what happens with government-funded science.

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