Daniel Lemire's blog

, 1 min read

Public funding for science?

Terence Kealey has been arguing against public funding of science. Is it efficient to fund science with government dollars? He argues that when science is mostly funded by large government agencies, other funding sources are effectively crowded out. He has two good historical example. Firstly, while France massively invested in research and academic institutions in the 17th and 18th centuries, the United Kingdom, and not France, gave birth to the industrial revolution and the accompanying scientific surge. Secondly, the United States was leading the world in technological innovation starting in the 19th century whereas it had a comparative underdeveloped academic system, and no public research funding.

In short, whereas there is a correlation between wealth and scientific output, there is no evidence that public science funding generates economic growth. Moreover, government funding results in a concentration of power in the hands of few politicians. Trusting politicians with almost all of the research funding is a tad insane. It is even crazier to think that politicians have science in mind when allocating funding.

Kealey argues that for every dollar invested by the government, more than a dollar is withdrawn from research by private investors. While I don’t know whether this is true, I do know that I have no idea how I would go about asking for private funding, outside government programs, for my research. How do you go about it? Do you post a video on, say, kickstarter?

Note: I am a research grant recipient. The system has generally been good to me.