Wednesday, May 27, 2009

-What should be funded?

Obama seems to believe there is (some) wasteful spending going to defense-related programs. I am sure many people (mostly republicans) believe these expenses are necessary for the security of the nation. While I am not republican, nor I agree with many of their ideas, I do believe defense is a very important part of any country and as such a lot of money should be spent on it. However, it is all about timing: is right now the best moment to invest on that particular technology? The answer is probably no for many of the ongoing programs. This got me thinking if there is any wasteful (well, I am not sure I would actually call it wasteful, but I will use it nonetheless at this point) spending in science.

First of all, I should say that if money was unlimited all science should be funded (no, not all defense programs should be funded) as far as I am concerned. However, given the fact that the budget for research-oriented agencies is relatively small (compared to the number of scientists and the cost of their proposed projects) many projects will have to go unfunded, at least for a few years.

As far as science is concerned everything is important, and I am sure every scientist out there believes their project is the most critical (or at least very important) for the particular field. But when taxpayer money is involved, I believe there is an obligation for the PI to not only think their projects through, but also to be objective as to whether or not this particular moment in time is the right one for that project to be funded.

For example, should a project (costing millions of dollars) that attempts to obtain a new decimal place for the gravitational constant, or the speed of light be funded when we have, for example, very serious diseases affecting us? Nevermind the possible energy and/or water crisis we might face in the future. (Actually, while writing this I realized it doesn't only apply to projects, there are also several university-affiliated government-funded centers that are not producing much usable at this point in time)

I am sure any fundamental scientists that reads this post will probably come out with a great reason for their projects to be funded, and while scientifically I will agree with the importance of them, I will in many cases (but of course not all) disagree with their timing. At the very least, we should be able to explain why this is the right moment for the taxpayers to pay for a particular project.

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