The New York Times says something is missing from comments by President Obama on how government has funded scientific research. What is it? The fact that the research can be, has been, and increasingly is funded privately.
Sometimes private efforts have immediate application, as is often true in the firms of electronics, pharmaceutical and other innovative industries.
But scientific research is also funded by wealthy individuals — James Simons, David Koch, Bill Gates, and Eric Schmidt come to mind immediately — without prospect of immediate financial payoff. Such wealthy men have financed investigations of disease, “hunts for dinosaur bones and giant sea creatures,” and “innovative ships, undersea craft and giant telescopes — as well as the first private mission to deep space.”
Good thing or bad thing, these privately inquiring minds?
In light of the billions too often splurged on wasteful or bad (but politically faddish) research programs, all without the assent of the source of those billions — us taxpayers — I see private inquiry into Nature and Nature’s laws as only a good thing.
We needn’t agree about the value of any particular private project. Maybe if you and I were funding research, we’d have different priorities from Bloomberg, Gates or whomever. But when they waste their money, it’s their money being wasted, not ours. And if the research we prefer is important enough to us, what’s to stop us from raising funds from like-minded others to enable the inquiries we want scientists to pursue?
In a free society, nothing.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.