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Scientific Research Funding

Ethical Questions

1. You are a Representative on the House Committee for Science. A bill comes before you arguing that the public should have total and free access to all results of scientific research paid for by the federal government. The bill comes under the auspice that taxpayer dollars paid for the research, and therefore the information obtained from that research, belongs to the citizens and taxpayers. What are some of the risks and disadvantages to such a bill? Do you think that the public should have free and unlimited access to scientific research that it funds? What are the national security implications of such a bill? What are the implications for scientific openness?

2. You are a Senator in your second term and are playing an integral role in the Senate's budgetary process. As part of this process, you are faced with making a decision about the allocation of federal dollars for scientific research. One of your colleagues argues that the money would be used more efficiently if it were given to private industry and universities, allowing them to choose what to research and how. Another, however, believes that the government should require research to be conducted on infectious diseases that are no longer of any real threat within the United States, yet still kill millions of people worldwide, such as tuberculosis and malaria. He believes that giving the money to private industry will not cure these diseases because of a lack of market demand within the US to conduct such research. What course should the government take? Do we have an obligation to help rid the rest of the world of infectious diseases? Is it right for the government to make this decision, instead of leaders in the private sector? If the money is spent by private industry for research into drugs like Viagra, has the money been effectively spent?

3. Imagine you are a newly hired research professor working for a public university (University of Michigan, for example). You have a background in medicine and psychiatry and just received your first job as a researcher. You are approached by a pharmaceutical company attempting to determine the medicinal benefits of marijuana and other illegal drugs. The pharmaceutical company tells you that it wants a favorable study of marijuana's medical effects; however, your research is inconclusive in this area. The company tells you that if the results of the study do not match their interests, you will lose funding on other projects that could be very beneficial for curing other diseases and for your university's standing in the research community. Is it acceptable to say that marijuana has positive effects in order to secure more funding for other research projects that could save lives? Should pharmaceutical companies be in a position to make demands like the one above? If not, how can we avoid situations like this one? Keep in mind that future money could potentially help to cure diseases and determine the actual benefits (if there are any) of medicinal marijuana. What are the implications of a demand like the one made above by a private company?