The Second Version

08/05/09

Pure And Impure Research

If there an idea I cannot understand for the sake of me, it is the one that private-funded research must be morally tainted, while public-funded research has to be morally pure.

Yes, I know the origins of this position: that private entities only care about their self interest, while the public is for the common good.

Moreover, the assumption is that private entities would only fund research expecting to have a return; but the public gives funding for the sake of knowledge and progress alone.

I don't share this view.

There is no "public". There is government, and better yet a governmental bureaucracy set up for the purpose of funding research. The goverment then may be able to keep a strict control on that bureaucracy or not.

Another piece of the puzzle is that governments have agendas. This is something that the people believeing in the idea I exposed above tend to remember only when George Bush or Silvio Berlusconi are at the head, but in fact that is a constant of all governments.

So, if governmental control is strict, the funding bureaucracy will pursue the government's agenda. If not, the bureaucracy will pursue its own agenda. In any case the end result is that funding of research will be influenced by socio-political considerations.

In other words, there is no guarantee that public-funded research will be any less tainted than the private-funded one. Neither there is guarantee that government and its bureaucracies will pursue the good - as a rule of thumb, what these entities tendo to is unending expansion of their size and power and control over anything they can control.

In the end there is also the explicitly politicized research, as "diversity" programs and gender or ethnic studies. But those are the fabled elephant in the room these days.

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