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Should fundamental science be funded by international agencies?

melian          29 November 2015 06:36 AM

Typically, there is 20-50 years interval between the time when major discoveries in fundamental science are made and the time when their practical applications start generating commercial profits. The inability to patent such discoveries results in a free-rider problem (countries that do not fund fundamental science end up getting the same benefits from it as those that do). Would it accelerate the scientific progress if most countries merged their research budgets?

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VoiceOfRa 29 November 2015 07:42 PM

The problem is that it leads to biased science. Large bureaucratic agencies tend to converge on the "right approach" prematurely, and then not fund anyone who disagrees with the approach. Look at the recent history of nutrition in the USA for a (not too politically charged) example of this happening. Ideal no one source should dominate science funding.


FrameBenignly 1 December 2015 11:33 PM

Dollar-for-dollar, as discussed in the other article you posted, the overwhelming majority of technological progress comes from the private sector; not public research. There's a large literature to attest to this. Look at the journal "Research Policy" which is an economic journal. Search for papers on public vs private research. Most companies ignore research that doesn't originate either in the US or the country the company is in. I'm not sure free riding is such a problem. Countries seem to be competing for academic prestige; not cheap technology. 20-50 years seems generous; it's more often closer to never. A lot of applied researchers only have a vague awareness of basic research conducted in their field 20 years ago, so it's hard to get them involved. And basic researchers seem to generally not care about applying their research.


ChristianKl 1 December 2015 06:09 AM

Empirically I don't think we see that states don't fund basic science because of freeriding concerns.

As VoiceOfRa already said, centraliziation of scientific research is bad because it forces the whole community to persue the same approach.

The blue brain project is likely worse value to money than if you would distribute the same pot of money to a variety of different projects that ask a variety of different questions about the domain of neuroscience, cognitive psychology and decision science.

If you look at basic research it's also important to note that governments aren't the only one's engaged in the topic.
Keith Stanovich project to spend a million dollar to develop a good test for rationality wasn't funded by the government but by the Tempelton foundation.

It's a quite important project because measuring rationality that way will tell us which genes increase rationality and a host of other issues. It's quite funny how the nonphysicalist Tempelton foundation helps to advance rationality while the government funded science rather funds voodoo fMRI studies and the blue brain project.

These days John Ioannidis who does very important basic research also get's the funding for his lab from a private foundation. That allows Ioannidis to criticize the scientific establishment much better than if he would get founding by a single big international science agency.