Government Science

I’m seeing a few articles on Government-sponsored science lately that seem particularly applicable to the climate change research:

A short review of Economic Laws of Scientific Research links to an overview of the area, particularly the Cato Institute

Scientists may love government money, and politicians may love the power its expenditure confers upon them, but society is impoverished by the transaction.

Another in a similar vein on medical research reminds me of Craig Venter’s decoding of the Human Genome. I was at the San Diego Supercomputer at the time, and his use of innovative use of supercomputing to assemble pieces of DNA — called shotgun sequencing — made the Government-funded competitors look like clods. There was a prize offered, and it was decided to award the prize to both – how very droll.

A more balanced argument is presented here. Some infrastructural components, like large meteorological data sets, are better handled by government departments than others.

Professor Sinclair Davidson shows that the standard economic analysis supporting public expenditure on research is fundamentally and methodologically flawed.

The notion that throwing an infinite amount of money at public research will somehow, at some time, automatically lead to some benefit is a myth. The government spends a substantial amount on public science and innovation. It is not clear that any substantial benefit is derived from that expenditure.

He identifies the following ‘stepping stones’:

  • R&D is not a public good.
  • The cost of public funds is not lower than the cost of private funds.
  • The returns to public science are low.
  • Governments have a poor track record of picking ‘winners’.
  • Publicly funded R&D has a negative impact on economic growth.
  • Economists are unable to explain how spillovers occur, or how valuable these spillovers are.

The main argument against government science, that “publicly-performed R&D crowds out resources that could be alternatively used by the private sector” needs to be strengthened in the case of climate science.

The push for taxes like the ETS, and subsidising impractical renewable energy schemes shows the impact of government climate science is regressive.

Climate science seems to particularly prone to the worst aspects of government science, from the UN IPCC process, to ClimateGate and through the enquiries, it’s like an season of ‘Yes, Minister’. If global warming is eventually shown to be non-existent or harmless, no doubt the climate scientists will declare victory and say they were sceptics all along.

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0 thoughts on “Government Science

  1. David,
    A small nitpick in the interest of accuracy: Craig Venter is not and as far as I know has never been associated with Genentech, the South San Francisco biotech company now owned by F. Hoffmann–La Roche. I think you refer to the Institute for Cerera Genomics founded by Venter to to sequence the human genome.
    Regards,
    David

  2. In Australian mineral economics history, the companies have traditionally funded their R&D and performed their own exploration. What is more, during a number of years of my familiarity, industry actively funded institutions like CSIRO and Centres of Excellence through bodies such as the Australian Mineral Industry Research Association, AMIRA.

    In later progression, the Governents of Australia dropped the AMIRA middle man, taxed the companies instead of taking grants and called it beneficial government funding of science.

    The fatal flaw was the removal of both incentive and accountability. The incentive to work for successful companies was strong, because that was where one learned and gained the experience that led to better salary. The successful companies sought out promising people, made scholarships available and so on. Accountability was high. The learning curve was steep and hard, there was excitement in the air.

    If you persisted in failing, you were sacked.

    There is no strong equivalent of the profit motive in government funded science. That’s basically why it is inferior and mollycoddled.

    The turning point can be traced to the first time that professionals went on strike in response to union pressure. It’s been downhill ever since, thanks to politicians grasping out beyond their charters.

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