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?
Yes, yes, and yes.
But if the public does not agree? Then the blame rests on our scientific leaders. They should be out there in the spot light, educating the populace as to why this research is important. If the public does not want to fund this research, then the scientific establishment has failed in educating the public on the benefits and importance of basic research.
Part of the reason for this blog was my tiny attempt to transmit my knowledge my excitement and my pains as an active researcher. But we also need bigger guns to step in and tell the populace that what we do here in academia is important. Where are all the university presidents? Where are all the leaders of business? Where are the hospital heads, CEOs of pharmaceuticals? They should be hitting the pavement and reach out to the every bloke out there. If they think that NIH funding can be sustained without the support of the public then they’re living in la-la land. And you and I should not veer away from the topic as well. I challenge all of you out there to formulate a short description of your research. It should sound exciting and/or relevant. And if you aren’t excited about your research, and can’t convey that fealing … try harder.
So how have we done so far?
1) The public DOES support general scientific research. Sure there are news items about funding for “strange” or “fringe” science all the time, but if we scientists explain to the public that many of these studies are vital, then the public will trust our judgment in pursuing these lines of research.
2) In the health sciences, NIH funding ha been increasing due to lobbying from biotech, pharma and other related industries. They need us to do the basic science. Its way too expensive and risky for Merck or Pfizer to engage in the type of science we do. Also academia trains all their workers. Without us they could never fill their ranks. If we have confidence that big pharma and other industries can lobby for us forever (and we are happy that our support comes from such a blatant form of legalized bribery) then I guess we shouldn’t complain.
So to all you researchers out there, don’t shy away from explaining what you do and how important it is. It’s crucial to build support for science funding … and you may be surprised at the response you’ll get.