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Scientific Research Funding
One of the recent steps in rebuilding Iraq has
been creating a national science program. This program was started
by exiled Iraqi scientists and is quickly gaining members and stability.
While this may seem to be a small step for Iraq, funding and conducting
scientific research is an important role for any government both
to foster prosperity within its borders and to project power outside
them. In the United States today, a majority of new scientific research
is funded by the government, in areas ranging from the outbreak
of AIDS and other diseases, to missile defense systems and issues
of national security. The question that is facing scientists now
is not how to get money for scientific research, but instead what
impact that money has on the research that is conducted. In order
to answer that question, we must first look to the sources of scientific
funding in the United States; then at who conducts research in the
United States; and, finally, what impact money has on science.
Before continuing any further, it is important to determine what
exactly "research" is and what kinds of research exist.
There are two categories of research conducted in the United States:
basic and applied. Basic research is generally defined as research
solely for the sake of knowledge, whereas applied research generally
deals with the practical applications and viability of knowledge.
This means that when a scientist discovers a new virus, the basic
research is determining things like its protein structure and makeup,
whereas the applied research involves determining whether it can
be used as a cure for an existing virus or creating vaccinations
for the virus.
In 2004, the Office of Management and Budget reported that the federal
government had budgeted to spend $122 billion on scientific research
(both basic and applied), development, and equipment and facilities.
This includes spending in the Departments of Energy, Defense, Agriculture,
Transportation, and Homeland Security, as well as the National Science
Foundation, National Institutes of Health and NASA. Of this money,
almost half ($53.9 billion) was designated for basic and applied
research in various areas. Of the federal funds allocated for science
research, $90 billion (or about 75% of the federal research money)
is spent on defense and national security annually, and approximately
$32.7 billion dollars is spent on agricultural and health-related
research. In addition to this $32.7 billion, the private industry,
mostly through pharmaceutical companies, spends an estimated $24
billion per year on medical research to search for new medicines
and new uses for old ones.
In addition to examining sources of research funding, it is important
to determine who is conducting the research. The majority of research
conducted in the United States, especially basic research, is done
by universities and colleges across the country. Johns Hopkins University,
University of Washington, Stanford, University of Michigan and University
of California San Diego are the five largest research institutions
in the country. However, applied medical research (discovering cures
for diseases and new medicines) is generally conducted by the private
industry. According to a recent report released by www.viewsmakingnews.com,
the pharmaceutical industry uses its $24 billion to develop more
than 90% of all new medicines. The National Institutes of Health
spends $14 billion each year on biomedical research, and combined
with universities, discovers the other 10 percent of FDA-approved
medicines. The implications of this are clear: the government funds,
and academia conducts, virtually all basic research (knowledge for
the sake of knowledge) in the country, and the private industry
funds and conducts virtually all of the applied (for-profit) research.
This is a natural division because the purpose of academia is the
gathering of knowledge, whereas the purpose of private industries
is making money.
However, this is not to say that money does not matter in the world
of basic research or academia. This is true for three basic reasons.
First, academia does not solely receive funding from the federal
government; colleges and universities, especially private ones,
raise millions of dollars for research from donors and the private
industry. Second, federal money does come with strings attached.
Federally funded experiments and research are subject to massive
amounts of bureaucratic regulation and oversight, sometimes even
more so than money from private industries. Finally, members of
academia are now increasingly involved in the private sector. This
means that when a professor is doing basic research, often s/he
will have a stake in the applied research (control of a patent for
a medicine, for example) that occurs after the basic research is
complete. These three factors mean that, even in basic research,
funding is not free from profit motives or federal regulation, and
the research is not necessarily a pure drive for more knowledge.
What is the role of money in scientific research? For the private
industry, the goal is to invest in research where the results will
make enough money to cover all the costs of research and development,
as well as generating a significant profit. If learning about malaria
is profitable, a private company will learn a lot about malaria.
However, if learning how to prevent hair loss is profitable, companies
will target that instead.
When it comes to academia and government-funded researchers, discovering
the role of the dollar is much trickier. For the most part, scientists
follow the scientific method, meaning that their work is objective,
and either has been, or can be, reproduced by their peers. Therefore,
money and profit do not play such large role. Recently, however,
there have been two problems developing in the basic research and
government-funded segments of the scientific community. First, money
is gaining a role because of the conflicts of interest that professors
can face when conducting research even at the basic level, and certainly
at the applied level. Sheldon Krimsky argues
in his book, "Science in the Private Interest," that academia and basic
research are being sold to the highest bidder because professors
and universities stand to make or lose large sums of money based
on the outcomes of their research. In order to solve this problem,
many scientific journals now require authors to publish any stake
they have in their research. This is generally seen as enough of
a solution to eliminate conflicts of interest because they are then
known, discoverable and correctable.
On the government side, science faces a similar problem; however,
it has more to do with the politicization of science than the purchasing
of results. This means that when a governmental agency attempts
to determine the value of new findings, it is starting from a set
perspective. New abortion procedures to people who are already pro-life
are simply ‘more efficient ways to kill unborn babies,' whereas
to pro-choice advocates they are safer, less intrusive ways of protecting
the choices and health of mothers. Thus when government agencies
ask "What does the science say?" they are often not asking
"What should my point of view be, based on the current research?"
but instead are asking, "How can I make the current research
support my point of view?"
Despite these problems, basic research is still a generally objective
and ethical field of work. Scientists work to discover "truth"
and gather knowledge to help people, as well as to make money. Applied
research, on the other hand, tends to be more of a profit-driven
business, and sometimes seeking scientific advancement and helping
the most people are not the ventures that make the most money. Despite
these differences, however, both basic and applied research projects
have worked in conjunction to produce a vast number of scientific
and medical advances over the past few decades.
Submitted by: Eric Buescher, Fall 2003 intern