Issue Date: November 6, 2006
In "Pork-Barrel Science" (page 40), there was this view of earmarking: "One of the reasons scientific earmarks have grown is increased lobbying by universities." Whether earmarking has grown as a result of academic pandering or mandates from Congress, as was also suggested, or both, it is another form of top-down research. One consequence noted is that fewer dollars may be available for other priorities (new concepts included). So, in taking the two articles together, we have symptoms of both weakening of academic purpose and decay in corporate America.
One can only wonder whether these are true symptoms of decline in America's core strengths, after such towering heights in 20th-century physics and biochemistry. H. F. Judson's insightful book "The Eighth Day of Creation: Makers of the Revolution in Biology" (Simon and Schuster, 1979), about the persistence of James Watson and Francis Crick in following the DNA trail, suggests another view. It tells us that outside forces can only be just so much noise as long as there remain vibrant scientific individuals.
I'm not sure which argument will prevail. However, from my own experiences and those expressed in C&EN, I am certain that many in industry and academia need to reconsider how research is funded. After all, long-term success or failure of the enterprise is local for each, even if the scientific enterprise remains healthy in the more global sense.
Charles B. Greenberg
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