Stranger Fruit

Question of the Week, #4

The mothership asks:

Since they’re funded by taxpayer dollars (through the NIH, NSF, and so on), should scientists have to justify their research agendas to the public, rather than just grant-making bodies?

I reply:

No. Every two years the NSF publishes its Sciencen & Engineering Indicators (2004 results are here), and every two years results reinforce the sad fact that public understanding of basic scientific principles & modes of thought falls very far short of what would be necessary for the public to be able to make informed decisions regarding research.

That being said, I think that the public should reap the benefits of the research that it has funded. Public funds should not be used to generate profit (through research outcomes that become patented) for biomedical corporations that then charge the public an arm and a leg.


  1. #1 letotheprophet
    May 29, 2006

    The question could be more interesting than you are making it. Two variations:

    1. Should granting agencies have to justify their research agendas to congress (who represent the public, but have trained staff)?

    2. Should public funding support large amounts of research that is ‘basic , which let’s say is research born purely out of intellectual curiosity with no perceivable public benefit?

  2. #2 bmkmd
    May 29, 2006

    Adminstratative checking on funding for research is already present in appointment of personnel and board members of granting agencies by the the president.

    Political agendas “can” be expressed, as they have much more actively under the Bush administration. There’s now more than enough public, in this case political, influence in reasearch decision making.

    The problem I see with the current makeup of agencies is the increase in industry bias of board members, such as drug company people on FDA, Federal Drug Administration since the Bush administration has pushed changes in makeup of these agencies.

  3. #3 mark
    May 30, 2006

    I’m sure members of the public (or someone claiming to speak for the public) would ridicule much proposed research, something like “A study of the sex life of mosquitoes? Who cares if mosquitoes fornicate? Some of William Proxmire’s Golden Fleeces were off the mark in this manner. I think the granting agencies, if they provide any research information at all to the public, could certainly include information on benefits of the research. But it wouldn’t hurt if these scientists would occasionally communicate with the public, if only to enlighten the sort of folks who want topics like intelligent design creationism taught in science classes.

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