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Government vs. Science

Two hundred years ago, Lewis & Clark traversed the North American continent (building a saltworks at Seaside, OR), and the U.S. government has been funding scientific research ever since. Federal dollars helped make Samuel Morse's electric telegraph a reality. After WW II, federal research spending spurted sharply and today totals about $140 billion a year ($80 billion, defense; $60 billion non-defense). Nearly $10 billion goes to basic research and the federal government picks up 60% of that, although private R&D, in total, is probably double the federally-funded share.

As has been discussed repeately in this blog, federal funding comes with strings attached. Agencies have their own policy agendas which their taxpayer-funded research advances.

An article by William N. Butos and Thomas J. McQuade, "Government and Science: A Dangerous Liaison?" appeared in the most recent, Fall 2006, edition of The Independent Review finds, unsurprisingly, in our view, that:

Goverment funding is hardly neutral in its effects on the institutions of scientific research: it helps shape which projects are considered worthy, which departments a university will emphasize, and which professors will get promoted.

The easy acceptance of burgeoning federal research funding, Butos and McQuade argue, is undermining the independence of scientific research (and producing "politically correct" science, we'd add, to finish the thought).

All the more reason Congress should amend the Data Quality Act to ensure its judicial enforceability. Critics of the DQA like to have it both ways: they lambaste the Bush Adminstration for promoting "politicized" science and turn around and attack the same Administration for implementing the DQA whose attempt is to ensure that science used by the federal govenment be transparent enough to be replicable by independent outside scientists. The consistency seems mostly consistent hostility to the Bush Administration, not consistent concern for quality science.

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