Issue Date: March 24, 2008
Science for Sale
Daniel Greenberg is a well-known investigative reporter of science, and his current book deals with bitter and divisive controversies over the role of research universities in societal and commercial arenas. His modus recalls insistent advice given by the Watergate source Deep Throat to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein: "Follow the money!"
The money theme is strongly coupled to "relevance," where relevance as used here refers to an important factor in the awarding of funds for scientific or engineering research. The problem with relevance is that it raises the question, relevant to whom? For example, evidence that global climate change is connected with human activity is relevant to many people. Evidence to the contrary is relevant to others. When society finally pushes to do more than hand-wringing about global climate change, billions, perhaps in the long run trillions, of dollars can be made from either outcome.
Needless to say, with financial stakes so high for and against global-climate-change research, money is widely used by dueling participants as a weapon. It's used to advertise, lobby, influence vocal sycophants to preach, and try to draw on highly respected research universities to provide plausible expertise to influence the fray's outcome in one way or the other. So "follow the money" becomes quite relevant in awarding large grants to universities for climate-change research.