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Can "basic science" get along without government grants, labs, and programs?

Temlakos~POTL~PWCM~JLA~☆ 2012/04/30 00:28:09
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Ayn Rand on “pure” science

Ayn Rand emphasized that government should not involve itself in
science work “for the sake of science.” She would never accept the idea
that certain kinds of science cannot flourish unless the government
patronizes it. But more than that, she feared that any science that the
government did, it would pervert toward a tyrannical end.


In Atlas Shrugged, one of the most despicable and pathetic
villains she created is Robert Stadler, PhD. Dr. Stadler breaks new
ground in theoretical physics, and then suggests that the government
should finance the kind of research he and others did. He reasoned that
no business tycoon, “mogul,” or investor would ever take an active
interest in “pure” science. But, said Ayn Rand, he has a problem:


[T]here is no such thing as “non-practical knowledge,” nor any sort of “disinterested action.”


So some one will profit in some way from any sort of work. Why doesn’t Dr. Stadler see that? A former student charges that he


scorn[s] the use of [his] science for the purpose and profit of life.


What does he do instead? He


deliver[s] [his] science to the service of death, to the
only practical purpose it can ever have for looters: to inventing
weapons of coercion and destruction.


Specifically, the State Science Institute, which he nominally
directs, uses the groundbreaking principle he discovers to build an
awesome and terrifying weapon: Project X, or the Xylophone. This is a
battery of sonic cannons that can pulverize any person, animal, or
inanimate object at a range of a hundred miles. In one of the last
scenes of the novel, Dr. Stadler tries to seize command of the Project
as his society collapses around him. But someone else “beats him to the
punch,” and the two men fight over the controls and trigger the
Xylophone. They kill each other, the crew, and thousands of people in
several cities in the upper Midwest. Osama bin Laden would surely envy
that scene. And so would Reinhard Heydrich and Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the
two Obergruppenführeren and chiefs of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA, or State Security High Office of the SS).


Checkered history of government science

No one has tried to build Project X or anything like it. But the
United States does have a sad record of misguided scientific
experiments. In the Tuskegee Experiment, the United States Public Health
Service experimented with syphilis on 600 black men without
telling them all the risks. At least 128 men died that way between 1932
and 1972. The shock and outrage from that story still linger.
(Furthermore, one of Ayn Rand’s colleagues commented directly on it.)
That might explain why many still believe that the United States
government, among other things,


  • Experiments on its own military service members, with highly dubious
    vaccines against anthrax and other communicable diseases, and
  • Wages chemical warfare on its own people, by deploying aerial poisons from the exhausts of commercial airliners.
What about the space program?
Apollo XI on the moon. Ayn Rand praised the achievement but not the basic concept

Astronaut
Edwin H. Aldrin, Jr. unpacks experiments from the descent stage of the
Lunar Module of Apollo XI. Photo: Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong/NASA


Outer-space research is one of the most ironic stories about
government funding of “pure science” in the USA, Europe, and elsewhere.
For one thing, it is one of the least expensive line items in the
budgets of the countries involved. But politicians of all stripes still
begrudge every dollar (or euro, or yen, or ruble, but not necessarily
every yuan) that any government spends on space. As Actor Hal Holbrook
says in the 1977 motion picture Capricorn One:


Is it really worth twenty billion to go to another
planet? What about cancer? What about the slums? How much does it cost?
How much does any dream cost!?


Aside from the lurid plot of that film, most people have forgotten,
if they ever learned, several key facts about Projects Mercury, Gemini,
and Apollo in the United States. The United States ran Project Mercury
to show that they, like the Soviets, could easily build a
low-earth-orbit strategic bomber. When President John F. Kennedy
negotiated the first nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union,
Project Mercury was far less urgent. But its successor projects, Gemini
and Apollo, went on. Why? Because by then the projects had their own
constituency. They also had a new motive: to build a modern “wonder of
the world.”


Project Apollo eventually died, because American taxpayers did
ask “how much it costs” and what they got for it. True enough, those
who worked on the project invented many other devices and concepts that
we use today. But no one can prove that Project Apollo alone prompted these things, or brought them to development, and then to market, any faster.


The shuttle program succeeded to Project Apollo. While it ran, it was
the only way to live heavy cargoes into space. But the program, with
its flawed design concept and aging equipment, couldn’t last forever,
either. And now that it has folded, private companies have started to
build space services of their own.


Private enterprise in space

No one disputes the value of Earth-orbital space as a type of “real estate.” But for many years, government program existed, and offered to lift cargoes at a below-cost discount.
No private entrepreneur could hope to see a return on investment
against a “competitor” that sold its services at such losses. That is
why no private space-lift industry yet exists. The Boeing Group briefly
developed its Sea Launch system, to launch cargoes from a ship sailing along the Equator. But that venture almost died from lack of customers.


Those customers have no government program to go to anymore. That
might have saved Sea Launch. But Sea Launch is not the only venture.
Consider:


  • The X Prize,
    and its one proved success, Virgin Galactic. (The X Prize Foundation
    cites Charles A. Lindbergh’s prize-winning trans-Atlantic solo flight as
    a precedent.)
  • The International Space Elevator Consortium, a rival foundation trying to spur development of a “skyhook” to lift cargoes into orbit at comfortable speeds.

No one would have predicted either during Project Apollo. But Ayn
Rand came close. She always said that if anyone could make a profit on
any human action, he would find a way to make it work and pay without breaking the bank.


The Ayn Rand model for pure research

In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand did more than show how
government funding of science can go horribly wrong. She showed how an
“abstract scientist” could make his science pay.


Any business investor or tycoon, or any engineer, would take an
interest in advancing even abstract science. He would see how he could
make an abstract discovery pay concrete dividends. So
the same character who condemns Dr. Stadler for “deliver[ing] [his]
science to the service of death,” finds a way to make his own science
pay. He builds his own laboratory, runs his own experimental program,
and gives lectures, for a fee, to interested businessmen and engineers.


In one sense, this character imitates Thomas Edison. Like him, he
runs his own laboratory and sells inventions to keep it up. But in
another respect he surpasses Edison. In an ideal Ayn Rand world, Edison
would pay him for the first right to see what he discovers.


This shows the most important thing that Ayn Rand said: all science is practical.
When human beings know more about how the world works, they can use
what they know to make their lives, and other people’s lives, better.


So government has no need to fund “basic research.” And indeed, such funding puts human liberty in danger.
The Tuskegee Experiment arguably deprived 600 men, and their families,
of their liberty, by deception if not by force. The Holocaust stands
today as the most horrible real-life example of government science gone
wrong.

Read More: http://www.conservativenewsandviews.com/2012/04/29...

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Top Opinion

  • Temlakos~POTL~PWCM~JLA~☆ 2012/04/30 00:31:07
    Yes
    Temlakos~POTL~PWCM~JLA~☆
    +8
    Government science has produced boondoggles, and some pretty nasty projects and studies. Even without the nastiness (Tuskegee, for example), you should see some of the grant proposals that go to the fedgov--and get accepted!

    Somebody's always got to pay for it. It just shouldn't be the taxpayer, that's all.

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Opinions

  • Beccy 2012/07/15 22:56:40
    Undecided
    Beccy
    +1
    The government funds the craziest things. I think scientist should be able to drum up fumding for at least part of their fundings
  • RastaFan 2012/05/01 17:06:34
    Yes
    RastaFan
    +1
    Absolutely!

    Private property enshrinement will guarantee the efficiency required for useful discoveries to develope into pruchased goods or services. Government over-involvement destroys the very motivation that allows pure science to sort the chaff from the valuable stuff.
  • ScottyG - Faqueue 2012/05/01 15:19:36
    Yes
    ScottyG - Faqueue
    +2
    In fact, science would even be more advanced if no govt was involved.

    If the govt built an Ipod, it would be the size of a Chevy volt and play only one song.
  • Striker 2012/05/01 03:41:54
    Yes
    Striker
    +2
    Science that holds real potential will find it's support outside government. In this context, notice how government supports only the losers?
  • TJ 2012/05/01 02:38:33
    Yes
    TJ
    +3
    Everything the government puts money into, they have some control over the outcome.
  • Warren - Novus Ordo Seclorum 2012/04/30 17:21:05
    No
    Warren - Novus Ordo Seclorum
    The biggest threat to personal liberty is the rightwing's war on science. It seems we are getting closer to a new Dark Ages and the right seems to want to push us ever closer.
  • JoeM~PWCM~JLA 2012/04/30 16:10:41
    Yes
    JoeM~PWCM~JLA
    +3
    War and Free enterprise have always been the major driving forces behind innovation.
  • Kane Fernau 2012/04/30 15:50:26
    No
    Kane Fernau
    +2
    Government involvement in anything is a recipe for corruption.
  • Mike 2012/04/30 14:40:01
    No
    Mike
    +2
    Science - spending billions of tax payer dollars ( mars ) WTF - they are just more government employe's
  • Cyan9 2012/04/30 05:31:46
    No
    Cyan9
    +1
    Modern economics would disagree with Ayn Rand.
  • Striker Cyan9 2012/05/01 03:44:25
    Striker
    +2
    Ah, you mean those Keynesian people, who call themselves economists even tho they are merely manipulators who always get it wrong.
  • Cyan9 Striker 2012/05/01 04:52:37
    Cyan9
    It would be highly unlikely that anyone would call Paul Romer a Keynesian. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...
  • t.eliot, topbard 2012/04/30 03:47:27
    No
    t.eliot, topbard
    +2
    ...nor should they. Ayn Rand's radical ideas contribute to the ills of the world.
  • Striker t.eliot... 2012/05/01 03:46:24
    Striker
    +2
    Obama is the biggest contributor to those ills that America has ever seen. The time has come for Atlas to Shrug for REAL. THEN what will you do?
  • t.eliot... Striker 2012/05/01 17:35:39
    t.eliot, topbard
    The main thing wrong with Obama is that he has not followed through on his stated agenda, backing off under right wing pressure. It would have been tough medicine, but it's necessary. Also, it would have been good to see what a real agenda for change would have done, instead of the GOP lite policies he's pursued. That way if he'd failed on his own merits we would know and the haters would have had some real ammo instead of the trumped-up BS they use now, and if he'd succeeded, we would really be on the way to a better country and world.
  • Striker t.eliot... 2012/05/01 18:12:12
    Striker
    +1
    Your idea of that "better world" is not mine. Go away.
  • t.eliot... Striker 2012/05/01 18:54:50
    t.eliot, topbard
    That was rude. I have a feeling we'll see who's right before too many more years go by,. Further, I think your vision is prevailing and will prevail and we'll all be flushed down the toilet, if there's any water left to flush with. Ciao carta, I'll see you at the exit.
  • Striker t.eliot... 2012/05/01 19:25:06
    Striker
    +1
    I intended it to be rude. You lefties don't get to run our lives, no matter how much you think you should.
  • hayesml47 2012/04/30 03:35:53
    Undecided
    hayesml47
    +2
    Good government must be based on good science or otherwise the decisions our government makes will not be based on reality. Grants and other stimulants for science are necessary but like everything else a bit of common sense scrutiny should be used in their granting!
  • Arizona1950 2012/04/30 02:51:00
    Yes
    Arizona1950
    +3
    I believe the majority can be through grants from companies who are interested in it ... no need to make us pay for their study of the Tse Tse fly or if bats have sex upside down.
  • Walter Harris 2012/04/30 02:47:52
    Undecided
    Walter Harris
    +1
    yes and no, some research is done strictly off of private funding. Though most is not
  • Always Right 2012/04/30 02:33:57
    Yes
    Always Right
    +2
    Go, For, It!
  • john Kills 2012/04/30 02:26:50 (edited)
    Yes
    john Kills
    +1
    Private investors will continue to search for new scientific methods. I honestly think we know all we need to know. Technology is reducing jobs but the population continues to grow. People will continue to die no matter what medical science discovers. We know how to grow and raise food and I don't care about anything in space.
    We have huge debt, locks and dams in needs of repair, roadways needing repair, aging water and sewer lines, ect.... I would rather see tax dollars moved to areas where we can see results now instead of to research that may show results in 25 years.
  • rightside 2012/04/30 02:18:58
    Yes
    rightside
    +3
    Science needs to be left to factual science. Government will manipulate and coerse.
  • cheshirewayne 2012/04/30 02:08:47
    Yes
    cheshirewayne
    +2
    problem is, so many "scientist" have day jobs as liberal professors. Big break throughs are made in private labs all the time, but if it's not marketable, then it's not lookied into.
  • Matt 2012/04/30 01:49:35 (edited)
    No
    Matt
    +2
    Science has always been a great place to hide more military budget. Most of NASA experimental launches have gone to put about 150 military satellites in orbit. One of my former physics teachers was involved with mathematically increasing the focal length of lenses. Lenses can take pictures, but they can also sight weapons and help calculate range. Like everything else that our government does, not much good comes from it because there are no good intentions.
  • Shadow13 2012/04/30 01:42:17
    No
    Shadow13
    +2
    Societies, as governments are executors of a society's will, determine the direction of science. If you are opening the argument against social influence into the path of science with a quote from Ayn Rand, then you have some problems. Open society dictates ethics into science. Without ethics the atrocities mentioned take place. Societies gripped in fear, hysteria, and paranoia are not open societies. The cold war USA and USSR both fell victim to the temptations of unethical actions.
    If we allowed the "free market" to determine our course of scientific discovery, would we concern ourselves with medicines designed to cure conditions, or to treat the symptoms in-definitively? What would the "free market" pursue? Baldness remedies and hard on pills or effective treatments that greatly impact impoverished areas of the world. Do you think that tobacco companies would bother to investigate the health ramifications of their products?
    The very premise of "Atlas Shrugged" is ridiculous. Do you know what would happen if the wealthy locked themselves away and hid on a mountain? The people would regain control over their nation once again and rebuild it after the gross mismanagement done by the wealthy. The wealthy enclave would most likely starve, because who would harvest t...
    Societies, as governments are executors of a society's will, determine the direction of science. If you are opening the argument against social influence into the path of science with a quote from Ayn Rand, then you have some problems. Open society dictates ethics into science. Without ethics the atrocities mentioned take place. Societies gripped in fear, hysteria, and paranoia are not open societies. The cold war USA and USSR both fell victim to the temptations of unethical actions.
    If we allowed the "free market" to determine our course of scientific discovery, would we concern ourselves with medicines designed to cure conditions, or to treat the symptoms in-definitively? What would the "free market" pursue? Baldness remedies and hard on pills or effective treatments that greatly impact impoverished areas of the world. Do you think that tobacco companies would bother to investigate the health ramifications of their products?
    The very premise of "Atlas Shrugged" is ridiculous. Do you know what would happen if the wealthy locked themselves away and hid on a mountain? The people would regain control over their nation once again and rebuild it after the gross mismanagement done by the wealthy. The wealthy enclave would most likely starve, because who would harvest their crops and food? Who would care for their sick and injured? They won't do it, it is beneath them. The nation could just say their money is no longer worth anything, then they cannot pay anyone to do it, or buy any from anyone else.
    It is our fellow people who patrol the streets against crime, defend our nation, grow our food, care for our sick and educate our young. The wealthy do none but shift money around to perpetuate a system they themselves created.
    (more)
  • Temlako... Shadow13 2012/04/30 01:44:21
    Temlakos~POTL~PWCM~JLA~☆
    +1
    "Governments are executors of society's will." No, sir. Governments exist to manage force. That's all we should ever ask them for. Read the Declaration of Independence. That tells you what the role of government ought to be.
  • Shadow13 Temlako... 2012/04/30 01:53:50 (edited)
    Shadow13
    +1
    "...executors of a society's will." This is a universal fact that none can escape from. Ultimately is determinate upon the people's willingness to accept a current regime or desire for a new one. Citizens of a nation determine between a democracy and an autocracy or what ever in between through action or inaction. When a government defies social will a revolt will result. That is the very basis of the Declaration of Independence.
    If you are going to quote me, actually quote what I said and not pull a "Fox and Friends Ducey blunder"
  • Temlako... Shadow13 2012/04/30 16:04:13
    Temlakos~POTL~PWCM~JLA~☆
    +1
    You just made a distinction without a difference.
  • Shadow13 Temlako... 2012/04/30 16:59:06
    Shadow13
    No, a very important distinction. The exclusion of "a" indicates a singular society in which I reside in and that my statement applies only to democratic republics or the US. The use of "a" indicates the acknowledgement of multiple societies and that my statement applies to all of them without exception. This is known as a universal application.
  • Temlako... Shadow13 2012/04/30 17:01:18
    Temlakos~POTL~PWCM~JLA~☆
    +1
    And that's what I thought you said, when I rounded on you. So you see, that's a distinction without a difference.
  • Shadow13 Temlako... 2012/04/30 17:06:20
    Shadow13
    You really need to learn how to grasp the intricate properties of the English language.
    Do you understand the difference between singularity and plurality? The difference between "a company" and "the company." I suppose not. I don't have high expectations for people of your ability, or expectations for that matter.
  • Striker Shadow13 2012/05/01 03:50:55
    Striker
    +1
    Semantics never wins.
  • Z Shadow13 2012/04/30 02:43:43
    Z
    +2
    Most of the horrific actions committed in science came from state based science. Because they have the state behind them, gov. science often feels that it is above the rule of law (and often is.)
  • Shadow13 Z 2012/04/30 03:20:55
    Shadow13
    +1
    Like I said nations gripped in paranoia often overlook the importance of ethics in science. Corporations seeking a higher profit margin are just as capable of ignoring ethics. Governments being representative institutions of a society are pressured to abide by ethical practices in an open society.
  • Z Shadow13 2012/04/30 03:50:12
    Z
    +1
    Except that when a corporation does so, it is easier to prosecute, the corporation can be crushed by the public scrutiny, and they have less dependability. Your argument doesn't hold up to logic.
  • Shadow13 Z 2012/04/30 03:57:53
    Shadow13
    +1
    That is only true when the veil of secrecy is removed, in fact many corporations intimidate employees through non-disclosure agreements and in legal systems like ours the threat of a protracted legal persecution not to mention the responsibility of the state to prove evidence of wrongdoing.
    I have pointed out that governments are both capable of good and bad depending on the conditions it faces. However, corporations only care about profit and will instinctively violate any laws if the punishment is outweighed by the potential benefits. Governments too are subject to laws, if not their own then the ones implemented by those that replace them.
  • Z Shadow13 2012/04/30 04:36:27
    Z
    +1
    First of all, a government will do the exact same thing. If the benefit out weighs the cost, a government will break its own laws to study things. Then there is the fact that the government can benefit from false science, or pseudoscience, while a corporation will ultimately detriment from it. And, compared to suing the government, the legal battle against a corporation is child's play. All of your arguments are self-defeating.
  • Stoney 2012/04/30 01:36:14
    Yes
    Stoney
    +3
    Science can get along quite well without governmental dictation or political mavericks: Al Gore is a prime example..................

    gore

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