Dan Sarewitz has a rather provocative commentary in Nature this morning, where he suggests that proposals to increase basic research may be good politics, but questionable policy. The headline alone is probably enough to get some science-advocates’ blood boiling, whether they go on to read the piece or not: “Double trouble? To throw cash at science is a mistake” does nothing if not throw down the gauntlet to an already sensitive science community. Beyond the provoking banner, Dan raises serious if uncomfortable issues – there must come a point where investment in science is balanced within a much broader social context, and the consequences of not allocating funds elsewhere are weighed against the benefits of supporting research – especially blue skies research. But reading the piece reminded me of an associated debate which seems to get rather less air time – the personal responsibility that comes with government research funding. It’s an inescapable fact that, for every dollar, pound or Euro that governments invest in research, someone, somewhere is getting less money to spend on what they think is important. In some cases, re-allocations may have minor social consequences. In others, reduced spending elsewhere in favor of science may be profound impacts on the lives of individuals – especially those at the margins of society.
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