Rebuttal: Why We Can Stop Government Funding Of Science: It Doesn’t Create Much Innovation/The Myth of Basic Science

Most of the time I pride myself on not having knee jerk reactions when I see things I don’t agree with. However, yesterday was different.  I couldn’t help but have an initial one to a particular tweet & the articles within it.  Yet, I knew that wasn’t the proper way to get my point across, so….here I am…working on a formal rebuttal just for a weekend kick & change of pace.  Tangible, yet endeavoring to set my own emotion aside until the final strike about what triggered such a reaction.

I feel another list coming on to break down this Forbes article. Also, this WSJ article the author of the Forbes article is referencing.  I follow & agree to certain points made by Ridley, the author of the WSJ article, to a point.  But I know where that line is drawn & what triggered my initial vehement disagreement.

Trigger Point #1 (WSJ): “It follows that there is less need for government to fund science: Industry will do this itself.

Not necessarily. It depends on what industry you are referring to.  I know I often harp on the rare disease space, but it’s a good example of how things can go right or wrong.   In small, rare diseases even though collaboration is valued & partnerships happen, resources are still scarce.  Dollars are as well. Many people within the community take an active role in funding research & support.  But small nonprofits do not have the support & dollars that larger ones do. They also don’t have a lot of the overhead or administrative problems because they rely on volunteers.  However, in most standard research models, there is not a peer review & there is little, if any patient involvement though that is slowly changing.  Without measuring impact on the community the research it is intended to serve, how does innovation, basic science, or clinical research move forward?  In some lucky instances it does with government help.  Resources like the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) fund peer-reviewed, highly innovative & fast tracked research that not only benefit the military families they are intended to serve, but the greater public interest.  Those dollars fund the best & most competitive & well constructive proposals.  This is done with patient/consumer involvement with an equal spot at the table.  I’ve done it. I’ve sat alongside researchers looking at the big picture.

As a result, this frees those private non profit dollars for similar research endeavors or other things.   Quality of life, innovation, R&D, & discovery as well as treatments would all stagnate if these programs would be eliminated.

Furthermore, while problematic because they don’t receive near enough dollars/funding, the National Institutes of Health also serves the underserved. Sometimes it’s indirect because of the NIH model & their organ focused/institutional structure, but they actively solicit & research underfunded, unknown, & small rare diseases that otherwise would get completely overlooked & may be so rare they don’t even have any organized support.

It takes a combination of all three: innovation in thought, technology & approach as well as government & private involvement to move research forward in many rare disease communities.  If these authors want/require laundry lists I can send them, but I’m not going to offer anything more than what they did right now; since they didn’t care enough to do the work the first time.

Trigger Point #2 (WSJ): “And we can never know what discoveries were not made because government funding crowded out philanthropic and commercial funding, which might have had different priorities.”

I’ve never seen any research that supports this statement.  In the U.S. based system, government often lags behind in providing dollars for research for discovery especially in science, period.   Maybe Ridley talks this way because he’s speaking from another global perspective & that is how his particular government handles research.

Trigger Point #3 (WSJ): The title of said Article. ” The Myth of Basic Science”:

Basic science is not a myth. Granted it’s not sexy as other forms & is often slower, but without it there’s never any good building blocks to springboard innovation.  Without finding out what makes a disease tick & how it works; research is left with taking wild stabs at treatments, cures, & quality-of-life enhancements to alleviate such debilitating disorders. Innovation isn’t based on wild stabs in the dark either. In order to be on-point with drug targets one needs to have a basic understanding of the body but then also how signaling defects, genetics, or other problems unique to disease manifest in the first place.

Trigger Point #4: (Forbes): “It is not basic science which leads to innovations: it is the innovations of practical men, almost just messing around, which leads to the discovery of something which we then expand the science to try to understand. ”

Yes, there are happy accidents where “messing around” leads to something.  But science is not a standard “messing around” or it would actually be more popular in society. There wouldn’t be the perception of a nerd or geek in a not-so-flattering connotation. There are certain approaches that form the basis of understanding to lead a researcher to be astute enough to see a happy accident, innovation, or unlock a unique lynchpin.  A naturally & scientifically curious mind is an intelligent one, but focused.

Trigger Point #5: (Forbes): “Firstly, government research spending is less effective than private and secondly, the science seems to follow the innovation, not the other way around.”

I would argue this is untrue because government research spending is meant to augment the work that is already been mapped out by others but has no other reliable vehicle because the funds can’t be completely raised by large donors & their pockets alone.  The way the CDMRP peer review model is set up is that innovation is one of the more valued & higher weighted criteria, albeit not the sole.  It’s fast-track, cutting edge, innovative & impactful research rigorously peer-reviewed before it is ever considered for funding.

Also innovation doesn’t always lead to success.  Sometimes someone learns more from a failed hypothesis. It may also close an existing pathway to open a door to another that does lead to something true & innovative.

Trigger Point #6 (Forbes): “Government is going to research what it is palatable for government research. Research will therefore be concentrated on the current preoccupations of those who direct research grants, rather than on whatever it is that the current general state of technology makes it most likely will lead to fruitful innovation. And thus government direction of R&D funds might well be holding back innovation, and the economic growth that comes from it, rather than boosting it.”

I know how the U.S. political system works & what doesn’t. But I know this because I’ve sat & had similar discussions with members of Congress over this very subject. These are bipartisan efforts outside party lines & “hot-button” ethical stances.  I’m not a paid lobbyist. I am a person, but an active citizen. I don’t always expect or even “get my way”, it’s not about that.   It’s about caring enough on taking a real role, active instead of passive,  of making my voice heard on this subject instead of being part of the status quo & sitting back & complaining about how nothing ever moves.  It’s about dialogue.  There’s power in sharing how research has affected my life & dare I say, at points, even saved it.

Therefore, I see the fruits born out of innovation in real-time.  I serve as testimony on how it affects daily life.  I sit in front of those who were elected to serve us & I open my mouth with a practical example of why this is important. They may not agree but they have to meet me in the eye & have discourse. Therefore directly or indirectly as an active part of my own government & own advocacy I do direct research.  I direct by participating both in peer-review programs but also by emailing, calling, & meeting my delegates in local, state & federal government when warranted.  I also pay taxes that fund these government programs. I see these results as my “return on investment (ROI)” for those dollars. Government projects are well known for putting money into the national economy in several sectors.

Trigger Point #7: (Forbes):  The title of said Article. “Why We Can Stop Government Funding of Science: It Doesn’t Create Much Innovation”.

As a journalism school graduate, headlines/titles like this with no clear basis or source to support them are extremely annoying. They’re simply meant as an alarmist teaser to already expound an opinion out front & cloak bias rather than map out a well-constructed commentary, argument, or investigation into fact or to form a reasonable opinion. Not only sensationalistic, but lazy.  Editorializing in a few chosen words so the real work doesn’t even have to be done to create a well-constructed, journalistically-framed feature, news piece, or commentary.  Neither of these articles provided any clear examples or framework to support their pet arguments beyond very basic statements that were really little more than strategically placed quotes to influence bias, not bolster a viewpoint.

Try harder.

I’m stopping now because I could probably put through a whole dissertation on the subject, but my audience would fall asleep.  My audience isn’t the media that perpetuates poorly supported “articles” like these two.  My audience isn’t interested in me getting into a journalistic “pissing contest” with these Forbes or Wall Street Journal contributors.

But they will indulge me at points in using my education to comment & fire back on shoddy journalism. They allow this because they know me well enough to know that’s high on my list of pet peeves.

I could get into a war of intellectual mastubation on this very subject; “tit-for-tat;””line-by-line” with the two authors,  but since I’m not considered an “authority” by either of these “sources”, what’s the point?  Quite frankly, I have better things to do. I don’t want to work that hard on a weekend.

I can at least partially flex back a little if I feel the subject warrants it. I did at the very least use one or two clear examples of where basic science & government funding both work in a few communities to bolster my argument instead of hiding behind historical quotes, context, & generalizations. Examine the few chosen sources, & see the clear results.  I also did, at minimum,  make the attempt to do more actual work on my thoughts than the original authors did on either article in their entirety.


3 thoughts on “Rebuttal: Why We Can Stop Government Funding Of Science: It Doesn’t Create Much Innovation/The Myth of Basic Science

  1. This is becoming a very serious matter all over the world as economy’s dry spell continues and the government has no clue why basic research is important. In Finland the cuts being made on research are also verging on catastrophical. As a doctor and a scientist I’m very scared of the future… Thanks for a great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for taking the time to weigh in from the international community. I’m always keenly interested in those perspectives because I have sensed that certain problems here are universal and global issue as well. Thanks for taking the time to read and stand with me here. Keep up your efforts and fighting the good fight.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your style is so unique in comparison to other people I have read
    stuff from. I appreciate you for posting when you’ve got
    the opportunity, Guess I’ll just bookmark
    this page.


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