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

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.

  • 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

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
    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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  • Cliff 2012/04/30 01:27:31
  • Dan (Politicaly Incorrect) 2012/04/30 01:23:17
    Dan (Politicaly Incorrect)
    If the return for the taxpayers money is worth it, then why not? The moon landing spawned many technical advances.
  • Temlako... Dan (Po... 2012/04/30 01:32:09
    Maybe. But can you prove that the technical advances would not have occurred without Project Apollo?

    Here's a bigger question for you: can you show that Project Apollo would never, *under any circumstances,* attracted a private investor or investment group?
  • Dan (Po... Temlako... 2012/04/30 01:35:03
    Dan (Politicaly Incorrect)
    It has paved the way for private investors. I do not know the name of the company offhand. But there is or was one. I would have to look it up. But I am sure there is one.
  • Schläue~© Dan (Po... 2012/04/30 02:05:43
    Perhaps Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic is the one you're thinking of.

    However, it's the other way around with private vs, govt. Every piece of every spacecraft has been researched, designed, manufactured and assembled by private enterprise.
    It was all a result of military aircraft built by the same. Our govt. puts our name on it, (USA) but it all starts and ends with the private sector.
  • Dan (Po... Schläue~© 2012/04/30 02:16:13 (edited)
    Dan (Politicaly Incorrect)
  • Temlako... Schläue~© 2012/04/30 16:07:08
    Add this to it: Richard Branson did not use any government spinoffs, unless you count Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier. And because the Air Force had a good reason to research that, that's a legitimate application.

    Anyway, Branson went after the X Prize because it would make his next development project a little easier: he recouped half his development costs by winning the prize. But what he was really after was a good business model. Now he has one.
  • Uranos7 2012/04/30 01:21:07
    Yes there have been abuses just as anytime you give men power some will abuse it some will use it for good. But there have also been triumphs that would either not have been discovered or taken decades longer.
  • U-Dog 2012/04/30 01:19:43
    Excellent article! When political party's give special attention, support and biased favoritism towards the sketchy pseudo-scientific results that happen to match their own political agenda, the partnership of government and institutional science can be as dangerous and potentially deadly as the perverted bed partnering between the old European thug Monarchs and Orthodox Church mystics.
  • Tomus Megalomania 2012/04/30 01:16:40
    Tomus Megalomania
    Progress would simply be slowed considerably. We have a duty to invest in future generations by funding scientific research.
  • Tink123 2012/04/30 01:15:06
    At this point, I'd settle for a separation of society and the state. lol
  • Bozette 2012/04/30 01:06:14
    The government has funded/performed many ethically and morally wrong experiments. Generally it is many years before we find out about them. They fund purely idiotic experiments to the tune of billions that could better be used elsewhere. Another problem I have with government funding is that many scientists are afraid to state their true opinion on controversial subjects (evolution, global warming) for fear of losing funding or even their career.
  • Azrael-In GOD we trust 2012/04/30 01:04:35
    Azrael-In GOD we trust
    Let them find sponsors to fulfill their dreams.
  • 3003573 2012/04/30 00:59:19
  • abycinnamon BN-1 2012/04/30 00:59:08 (edited)
    abycinnamon BN-1
    why should it? who died and put Ayn Rand in charge? Why should we not support the advancement of science. There have been plenty of successes and unless we want to join the third world we should continue to support science.

    I would also like to mention that Ayn Rand was a very overrated writer, not a scientist.
  • Kat ♪ ~ ♪ 2012/04/30 00:52:59
    Kat ♪ ~ ♪
    They are too dependent on the government sugar tit. They'd have to re-learn how to be self-sufficient.
  • DJPanicDC 2012/04/30 00:50:42
    and what would survive would be tainted by the financiers like the tobacco company cancer studies
  • Red_Horse 2012/04/30 00:41:44
  • Schläue~© 2012/04/30 00:36:10
    Most of our 'basic' science came trough private entrepreneurs, inventors, and a general need to build a better mouse trap.

    Leaving the Earth's atmosphere was a huge undertaking that did require a complete effort, once again, mainly by private companies who provided the brains, materials and labor.
  • LADY LIBERTY SILLY WORDSMITH 2012/04/30 00:32:18

  • Temlakos~POTL~PWCM~JLA~☆ 2012/04/30 00:31:07
    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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