February 20, 2006

The Right Stuff

from - RSA

Wonder of wonders: A Bush administration appointee talks sense about science policy. National Economic Advisor Al Hubbard, in a White House press gaggle says,

And basic research will -- you know, the market doesn't -- the marketplace -- the free marketplace doesn't work for basic research, because you don't get the returns on basic research like you do in applied research. And so companies won't put the money into basic research. And that's why it's imperative that the federal government do it with taxpayer money.

Traditional small-government conservatives argue that endeavors that are capable of funding themselves should fund themselves. One of the targets of this argument is sometimes scientific research: why should we spend so much taxpayer money on activities that don't lead directly to results that everyone can appreciate? The difficulty is that it's often very difficult to predict what exactly will be useful in the future, and how. This translates into risk, which industry tries to avoid by focusing on short-term results of applied research. While much of this research is very good, it leaves questions about the long term wide open; government funding seems to be the only practical way of exploring important basic research ideas that may have no immediate impact but may also have an eventual chance of changing our lives enormously.

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Posted by RSA at February 20, 2006 04:16 PM
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