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Science and Government Don't Mix!

Science and Government Don't Mix!

by David Veksler

A 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.”

What is not mentioned is that this is the inevitable result of government funding scientific research. 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 popularity and pull determine what gets research funds, while the unpopular yet more promising areas are left behind. For example, notice how AIDS kills very few Americans 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 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.

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