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DavidV

Science and Government Don't Mix!

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Here is the headline from today's MSNBC science story:

"A growing number of scientists say President Bush's administration is distorting the scientific advisory process by appointing conservative ideologues to panels that are supposed to be impartial. They fear the appointments are politically motivated and meant to delay decision-making affecting controversial areas such as the environment, abortion and workplace safety. Administration officials say they are merely looking for diverse views and accuse the critics themselves of playing politics."

It is never mentioned that this is the inevitable results of government funding scientific research. When tax dollars rather than private investment funds research, political ideology by scientific amateur (politicians) determines which direction the research heads in. The inevitable result is that popularity and pull determine what area gets research funds, while the unpopular yet most promising areas are left behind. Just notice how AIDS is kills very few American's versus heart disease or cancer yet gets significantly higher research funds than the two major killers.

The article does not mention what standard politicians are supposed to use to determine which scientific and medical projects show the most promise, other than "diverse views." Clearly, this is not an adequate standard - imagine NASA hiring both engineers and UFO-nuts to foster "diverse views." Popularity is also not a suitable standard, since the popular scientists are the champions of the big discoveries of the past, not the future. Unfortunately, when your own investment money is not at stake, the only remaining standard to guide research dollars is political pull, which is exactly what happens in Washington.

What do you think?

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I'm actually a little sore about the Superconducting Supercollider being cancelled...of course government should not fund any science (except defense based) but taxes were not being raised for it, only the welfare state was getting a little less funds. As I understand it it was cancelled after a large part of its construction completed because all the politicians who had hoped to get it in their district lost that hope once actual production began. Now particle physics is going to have to rely on the europeans.

Tim Bender

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On the subject of whether science and government mix:

I read somewhere that there are three and only three valid functions of government. These are: police, courts, military.

Under which of these three functions would you put science?

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On the subject of whether science and government mix:

I read somewhere that there are three and only three valid functions of government.  These are: police, courts, military.

Under which of these three functions would you put science?

I think perhaps you misunderstand. Objectivism does not create three bins for government into which everything else is then distributed. The government gets to act only in the very narrowly-defined rightful actions it must take to protect individual rights -- everything else lies with the people who are free to act, as long as they do not violate the rights of others. In other words, the government can only do what it is permitted to do.

Science, per se, is not a proper function of the government. Scientific research is a business just like any other business, and it should stand or fall based on the same laws of supply and demand as any other product or service. To the extent that scientific work is essential for proper government functions, such as the military, then it would be proper for the military to not only purchase scientific goods from private enterprise, but also possibly to contract scientific services for military use. But that is just a very limited function -- a limited relationship between the government and science -- and certainly not an example of where we would "put science" under the government.

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