17 March 2014

Rich people science

The New York Times has a long, important article about the influence of the rich on the conduct of science.

Here’s the pull quote:

“For better or worse,” said Steven A. Edwards, a policy analyst at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “the practice of science in the 21st century is becoming shaped less by national priorities or by peer-review groups and more by the particular preferences of individuals with huge amounts of money.”

Among other things, the article links the somewhat surprising decision of the American government to create the BRAIN Initiative to the interests of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who created the Allen Institute out of his own personal interest in neuroscience. It also points out that there is a lot of interest by the super-rich in, wait for it, curing cancer and other diseases.

I can’t help but think about filmmaker Jim Cameron going to the deepest point in the ocean. Cameron was able to do it because he had a lot of money, so he went instead of working scientists. Are we moving back to a time when only the rich get to be scientists? I hope not.

A super quick reaction is that this is another reason why I think science crowdfunding is important. When lots of people can pool their resources to support research projects, it could be a democratizing counter to single rich people setting the research agenda.

External links

Billionaires With Big Ideas Are Privatizing American Science
James Cameron’s Deep Sea Challenge: a scientific milestone or rich guy’s junket?

Photo by Tony.L.Wong on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

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