There is much clamor of saving money for science caused by the intention of the president to reduce the budget for sciences. Before evaluating the pros and cons of the issue, one should take a hard look of what the tax payer gets with those moneys. What we need is accountability or a "pay-back analyses." Let’s look at some facts:
NASA is planning to send a man to Mars at a $200 billion-plus price tag.
I am at loss to understand what possible benefit a taxpayer could derive from this undertaking, with the possible exception of a number of learned scientists publishing about new discoveries.
The National Cancer Institute with a budget of $5.2 billion employs up to 5,000 people. Their main purpose seems to be to hand out grants to other research establishments (see below). Despite the about eighty years of existence there was no cure for cancer found. However, something important was accomplished: They educated the public that "smoking causes cancer."
The worst waste is what the government spends on "green" projects like the politicians favorite "invent new energy;" like the laws of physics no longer apply.
Here is how giving a grant procedure works, based in part on my own experience: Here is a professor of ophthalmology who applies for a government grant (a no-strings federal gift). He needs a subject which has emotional appeal, say "Glaucoma."
Off he goes and writes a 100 page grant proposal, including lots of citations from past research papers and full of scientific jargon which the poor government reviewer of the proposal is helpless to understand. What is lacking in the proposal is a timeline (of course). Nevertheless the Professor has a good name and works at a reputable university. Besides, a Glaucoma cure would be a worthwhile undertaking. After considerable investigation the government grants the fellow $1.5 million.
The following year and another budget, the Professor informs the government office that while we made tremendous progress we need more funds for clinical trials, say another $1 million. And so it goes until the professor retires, having been recognized as an outstanding member of the faculty. After all, he enriched the coffers of the University. A hint: One has to be careful and not actually find a cure; this would kill all future funding.
There are a number of major Scientific Research Institutions here in the U.S. All of them live almost exclusively from federal funds, although they do solicit charitable gifts on top. The local papers periodically write glowing reports about the great progress that is being made at this institute in fighting xyz disease, all accompanied by a photo picturing smiling men in white smocks.
I somehow miss newspaper reports about the institute actually having found a cure. In defense, I must say, the institute is great for the local economy. After all, they provide gainful employment for thousands of scientist, lab assistants, and janitors.
We should realize that all major inventions and discoveries of drugs were the results of diligent work of only one individual. It is in man’s nature to equate progress in research based on the number of researchers, such as: If 1,000 scientific researches can’t find the cure for cancer, then hire 1,000 more. Alas, such a scheme never woks.
Here is an example from one of the largest U.S. drug companies as reported by the Economist. In a ten year period, this company increased its R&D expenses, primarily manpower, from $15 billion to $40 billion while during the same period the number of approved drugs shrank from 52 to 20. It seems they would have been better off keeping the old staff.
Go march for science if you want to, it is good exercise, but don’t think the "Industry of Science" needs more funds.
Hans Baumann is a licensed engineer in four states and a member of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society. He is an adviser to the dean of the University of New Hampshire Business School. Dr. Baumann has published manuals on valves and was a contributor to many works including the "Instrument Engineers' Handbook" and the "Control Valves Handbook." He has also published several books on business management and German history, including "Hitler's Escape," which suggests that Adolf Hitler did not commit suicide and survived World War II. In his latest book, "Atomic Irony" he proves that the Hirshoma Atom Bomb contained captured German Uranium. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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