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Why Isn't the US Government Funding Research? 599

Posted by samzenpus
from the we-got-all-the-science-we-need dept.
thesandbender writes "The recent post about GM opening its own battery research facility led me to wonder why the US government is pouring billions into buying companies instead of heavily funding useful research. You can give $10 billion to a company to squander or you can invest $10 billion into a battery research and just give the findings to the whole of the US industry for free. From a historical standpoint, the US government has little experience with commercial enterprise ... but has an amazing record for driving innovation. The Manhattan Project and the Apollo moon missions are two of the pinnacles of 20th century scientific achievement, yet it seems to me that this drive died in the '70s and that's when the US started its slow decline. To be true to the 'Ask Slashdot' theme, what practical research do you think the US government should embark upon to get the most return for its citizens and the world?"
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Why Isn't the US Government Funding Research?

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  • Fixed (Score:5, Funny)

    by Serilleous (1400333) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @12:33AM (#28289293)

    From a historical standpoint, the US government has little experience with commercial enterprise... but has an amazing record for driving innovation during war-time.

    obviously we need to get on the ball and invade china.

    • by IdahoEv (195056) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @07:38AM (#28291313) Homepage

      What practical research do you think the US government should embark upon to get the most return for its citizens and the world?"

      This one's really obvious to me: biomedical research, particularly where there is not a profit motive. There are two main classes of potential medicines that never make it to the shelf for stupid reasons.

      1) Discoveries made in a lab that are never moved forward into a practical technology, often because there are only so many drug companies who only have so much time, and they have out competed smaller companies that might otherwise do additional research. This effect is why you see so many exciting scientific reports, like "Scientists cure 10 kinds of cancer in mice with white blood cell treatment!" or whatever, that never even go into human studies or trials, much less make it to the drugstore.

      2) Potential medicines or treatments that may be extremely useful but cannot be patented and so never get funding for research, because the company who spent 15 million to do the research would immediately get outcompeted by other companies who wouldn't have to recoup the research investment. Hundreds of these exist. For example, scientists discovered decades ago that the hormone progesterone dramatically increases the speed of wound healing (first noticed when it was observed that pregnant mice heal faster than other mice). It has never been studied as a potential treatment for wounds, however, because progesterone can't be patented.

      Many examples fit both categories 1 and 2. The easy solution, especially in case #2, is for the government to fund the research for the public good, and let all companies manufacture any successful resulting products it as low-cost generics.

      • by crmarvin42 (652893) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @08:25AM (#28291623)

        This effect is why you see so many exciting scientific reports, like "Scientists cure 10 kinds of cancer in mice with white blood cell treatment!" or whatever, that never even go into human studies or trials, much less make it to the drugstore.

        you could not be more wrong. The reason that you have these kinds of reports is that the scientists doing the research are not the ones writing the press releases, never mind the actual articles that get published. Most employees in the press and in corporate/university press offices are not scientists. They are Humanities majors, and don't know shit about how science actually works. Terms like Goodness of Fit, Extrapolation, and the difference between conclusions and implications are lost on these people. Their job is to make headlines, not report the facts accurately.

        2) Potential medicines or treatments that may be extremely useful but cannot be patented and so never get funding for research, because the company who spent 15 million to do the research would immediately get outcompeted by other companies who wouldn't have to recoup the research investment. Hundreds of these exist. For example, scientists discovered decades ago that the hormone progesterone dramatically increases the speed of wound healing (first noticed when it was observed that pregnant mice heal faster than other mice). It has never been studied as a potential treatment for wounds, however, because progesterone can't be patented.

        Progesterone is a steroid hormone, and as a result has anti-inflamatory properties. The reason that it aids in wound healing is that it suppresses certain components of the immune system. Fine if there is no contamination of the wound because it prevents inflamation from causing the wound to get worse before it gets better. However, if there is bacteria already present then this is a bad idea, becase the infection will do even more damage that the attenuated immune response will take longer to control. There is no need to look at progesterone within the scope you describe because we already understand how it does this, why, and why we shouldn't use it in most cases. In cases where we do want to suppress an overactive immune response, there are other drugs (many not under patent) that physicians prefer to use.

        I'm not knocking the idea of government funded health research, but I can assure you that they already do that. Most biomedical research in this country is funded directly by federal agencies to the tune of several hundred billion (if it's not now up into the trillions collectively) dollars a year.

        • by wurp (51446) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @01:44PM (#28296769) Homepage

          I'm not knocking the idea of government funded health research, but I can assure you that they already do that. Most biomedical research in this country is funded directly by federal agencies to the tune of several hundred billion (if it's not now up into the trillions collectively) dollars a year.

          If that funding is going to companies that then patent the medicine for private profit while artificially inflating the price, that funding is part of the problem, not the solution.

      • by bytesex (112972) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @09:36AM (#28292571) Homepage

        Oestrogen is also a naturally occurring hormone. It helps to stop new pregnancies in women. If women take it, they can't get pregnant and as a result, can drop thong for anybody they like without fear of getting pregnant. They have a nifty little pill for that. Has been popular for decades. Very competitive product. But you're right. It's all a conspiracy.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        You also must take into account if companies will profit from said research. In the early 90s, scientests made significant headway in finding a cure for type 1 diabetes. But what pharmaceutical company trying to make money is going to pay for a cure to be found, thus enough funding was not put forth. It doesn't make sense ($$) for them to sell a drug to a person once, when they could be selling them drugs for an entire lifetime.
  • That's Obvious (Score:5, Insightful)

    by johnsonav (1098915) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @12:34AM (#28289299) Journal

    The Manhattan Project and the Apollo Moon missions are two of the pinnacles of the 20th century scientific achievement

    So, extrapolating from those two points, we just need a big, old-fashioned war. (hot or cold, as desired)

    • Re:That's Obvious (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jsimon12 (207119) <tzzhc4@ya h o o.com> on Thursday June 11, 2009 @12:53AM (#28289411) Homepage

      War certainly has driven a great deal of innovation.

      But I think the question is why doesn't the government fund research outside of war? I know people didn't like McCain but he did want to fund research and offer reewards for things like new battery technology. Why doesn't Obama?

      • Re:That's Obvious (Score:5, Insightful)

        by johnsonav (1098915) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @01:14AM (#28289563) Journal

        But I think the question is why doesn't the government fund research outside of war?

        Because it's pretty easy to get people to agree to spend the necessary money, if it might save their, or their children's, lives. And, there's really no other situation where that threat is quite as real, as during war.

        Global warming might end up killing us all, but that's a diffuse and abstract concept. The guy pointing nuclear missiles at your city, or launching mortars at your kid is much more concrete.

        • by sumdumass (711423)

          Global warming might end up killing us all, but that's a diffuse and abstract concept. The guy pointing nuclear missiles at your city, or launching mortars at your kid is much more concrete.

          Global warming won't kill us all, it will kill our grandchildren' grandchildren if it goes down as currently listed. Well, that is unless you start counting storm damage and weather events as "global warming" as if they haven't been around before.

          The other is not only much more concrete, but effect the now instead of

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by gadget junkie (618542)

          But I think the question is why doesn't the government fund research outside of war?

          Because it's pretty easy to get people to agree to spend the necessary money, if it might save their, or their children's, lives. And, there's really no other situation where that threat is quite as real, as during war.

          Global warming might end up killing us all, but that's a diffuse and abstract concept. The guy pointing nuclear missiles at your city, or launching mortars at your kid is much more concrete.

          I think that you guys are missing a big point: the Apollo or Manhattan projects were, to some extent, "useless" research.
          Building a nuclear bomb had nothing to do with cheap electricity, new materials, and such. The Apollo project was knowledge for knowledge's sake, and yet many of the things done on that project are now familiar to us in everyday life.

        • Re:That's Obvious (Score:4, Insightful)

          by smchris (464899) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @07:54AM (#28291383)

          Because it's pretty easy to get people to agree to spend the necessary money, if it might save their, or their children's, lives.

          Depends on perceived immediacy and plenty of legislation gets pushed through on public innumeracy. We'll all die of heart disease, stroke or cancer before we find Saddam Hussein's WMDs but lots of luck getting universal health care much less a _return_ to common intellectual property coming out of universities. The Manhattan Project and Apollo were before Saint Ronald Reagan proclaimed that research should be private and universities themselves should be run as a business.

      • Re:That's Obvious (Score:5, Insightful)

        by symbolset (646467) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @02:24AM (#28290005) Journal

        War certainly has driven a great deal of innovation.

        That it has. Michelangelo got his engineering degree building war machines. Those machines have taught us a lot about ballistics, momentum, and other fields of physics.

        But I think the question is why doesn't the government fund research outside of war?

        The proper domains of the US government are to provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty. You've covered defense. General welfare is covered by the USDA and the FDA, where they ensure the food and drugs we get are (supposedly) wholesome and nutritious. The blessings of liberty need no research - they need common sense (in rare supply these days, I'll admit).

        The true answer to your post lies in the US Constitution [wikipedia.org], Article 1, Section 8, clause 8: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

        By encouraging intellectual property suits and elevating copyrights and patents to their present position we've gotten to the point where these things prevent the progress they were intended to promote. Since progress is the essential good that exclusive rights to inventions and creations were created for, it only makes sense to do away with the protections now that have come to subvert that need. We should immediately abolish and vacate all patents and copyrights, and prohibit their issue except in the cause of progress. When they issue they should be for no more than the original terms - 17 years for patents, 27 years for copyright, no extensions and whether or not the inventor or creator is dead is irrelevant.

        Also, to post a patent you should have to post a $100,000 bond that the material is original. If the material is unoriginal, the bond would be forfeit. This will to some small degree decrease the trolls who use the spare time on their lawyer retainer contracts to file unuseful or obvious patents.

        Before you argue with me on this, consider this merit of copyright: Sonny Bono believed that copyright should last "forever". When informed that this would violate the US Constitution's mandate of "for limited times" he offered "Forever, less one day". A lawmaker and intellectual property rights activist himself, he co-authored and promoted The Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) of 1998 [wikipedia.org]. This law prevented many thousands of works from falling into the public domain (your ownership and mine - essentially, "the pool of our culture"). Essentially, with this law they deprived you and me of stuff that would have been ours in due course. They stole from us. It spanned the time until the next extension of copyright which, although it doesn't guarantee perpetual protection of Steamboat Willie, does guarantee his protection until such time as they can extend it again, ad infinitum.

        Cher, and Sonny Bono's estate are now suing [techdirt.com] Universal music over the profits from the rights to his music. Apparently this stalwart pillar of the community is accused of using accounting tricks and shell corporations to evade paying the estate of this esteemed artist his due share.

        So when they say it's for the artist... beware. The truth is that in Hollywood a share of the net is a share of nothing - always. It's kind of ironic that the people he worked so hard to serve are robbing his grave, seeing as how he worked so hard to enable them to steal from us.

        • Re:That's Obvious (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Martin Blank (154261) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @03:09AM (#28290219) Journal

          Also, to post a patent you should have to post a $100,000 bond that the material is original. If the material is unoriginal, the bond would be forfeit. This will to some small degree decrease the trolls who use the spare time on their lawyer retainer contracts to file unuseful or obvious patents.

          It also completely removes any opportunity for regular garage tinkerers to be able to patent something that they come up with. It may be rare these days, but it's not unheard-of.

          The system needs an overhaul, but what you propose is so close to scrapping it that you may as well do it. Why should a concept that once worked be scrapped in its entirety because of the abuses that come from some changes to it? Wouldn't reversion to something closer to the older model be more appropriate?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by SB5 (165464)

      Another part of the puzzle is the war must be against another superpower. Fighting non-superpowers has gotten has really nowhere, 'Nam, Iraq, and the South.

      • Re:That's Obvious (Score:4, Insightful)

        by johnsonav (1098915) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @01:05AM (#28289493) Journal

        Another part of the puzzle is the war must be against another superpower.

        Of course. It has got to be a real fight to the finish. No one fights harder, or is more inventive, than when their back's against the wall. It's not like we're in any danger of Vietnam or Iraq coming over here, and kicking our ass.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      So, extrapolating from those two points, we just need a big, old-fashioned war.

      It worked for DS9 and Voyager...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MrMista_B (891430)

      War on Terror, War on Drugs, War on x+1.

      What was that again?

    • Re:That's Obvious (Score:5, Insightful)

      by johannesg (664142) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @01:24AM (#28289653)

      The Manhattan Project and the Apollo Moon missions are two of the pinnacles of the 20th century scientific achievement

      So, extrapolating from those two points, we just need a big, old-fashioned war. (hot or cold, as desired)

      Just to keep the noise down on the other continents, could you maybe make it a civil war this time? Or maybe something with Canada and/or Mexico... Thanks!

  • Answer (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 11, 2009 @12:37AM (#28289313)

    We ran out of German scientists =/

  • by symbolset (646467) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @12:38AM (#28289319) Journal

    Raw research properly conducted on unexplored issues always discovers something. Either the experiment worked or it did not, and either way, something was learned. It always pays dividends - if not in new products and methods, in the avoidance of the repetition of failed experiments. This doesn't help the profits of the corporations that fund the election of political tools. That's progress. Progress is not the government's goal. The purposes of government are to ensure its persistence and toward that goal to deplete the surplus productivity so as to eliminate a surfeit of leisure. An excess of leisure is an invitation to insurrection.

    TFS is correct that the US government forgot these things for a while, but they've remembered them since.

    But... to answer the question: the big and the small. The fast and the slow. The literal, the virtual and the speculative. Most importantly, how to get offsite backup on the human genome. If we don't do that then nothing else matters.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Hognoxious (631665)

      Either the experiment worked or it did not, and either way, something was learned. It always pays dividends - if not in new products and methods, in the avoidance of the repetition of failed experiments.

      I hope you're right, because it looks like they're doing a big experiment on the economy right now...

  • fembots.

  • Hot Fusion, not Cold Fusion that is.

    We need to solve the world's energy problems, and as much as we all love green solar and wind its never going to scale to the levels needed to power the entire world like Fusion would.

  • Medical research (Score:5, Interesting)

    by daniel_mcl (77919) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @12:45AM (#28289357) Homepage

    It seems to me that the first and heaviest place to go is medical research. Healthcare costs in the United States are so high that international health insurance plans generally just cover every country that isn't America. A huge part of the problem is the extreme expense associated with the opaque nature of the pharmaceutical industry. When it's actually profitable to run extremely long primetime commercials advertising certain medicines, it's blatantly obvious that there's something horrendously wrong with the system -- clearly the proper medication shouldn't depend on what you saw on TV last night.

    Worse, a lot of drug research is publicly funded, but then the results wind up privatized. I'm guessing that if we got healthcare costs down on the supply end we wouldn't have so many problems with health insurance in this country.

    • by Renraku (518261) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @12:50AM (#28289379) Homepage

      Lobbyists and insurance companies are what got us into this mess.

      Doctors and medical establishments learned that they had insurance companies by the balls at one point. Approved procedure could cost whatever they wanted, and insurance would pay it. Then they got all butthurt because real people couldn't afford to pay that much at all. Then insurance companies got revenge when everyone decided that doctors were a blank check in terms of lawsuit money. Insurance companies then offered insurance against lawsuits to the doctors, for a very high price.

      So now what we have is a system where it costs two weeks worth of pay for the average American to get a single fucking X-ray that department stores were doing for free in the 60s. Of course I expect the expert opinion of the doctor to cost some money, but its ridiculous. And one of the reasons is because of this never ending war between doctors, lawsuits, and insurance companies.

      I say we research some way to break the cycle. Like maybe making doctors and medical establishments explain why that aspirin costs a patient $100, when the entire bottle of 500 costs them 5% of that if they were to buy it themselves at a wholesale pharmacy.

      • by sumdumass (711423) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @02:38AM (#28290079) Journal

        Actually, it goes a little deeper then insurance companies.

        Medicare and medicaid pays based on an average costs of the approved treatments in the area. That places the hospitals interest into driving up those costs in order to get as much guaranteed money they can. Insurance companies negotiate based around the same standards and generally attempt to get lower prices but the prices are increased then discounted. This is why insurance pays different for in network and out of network access.

        Sure, Insurance is part of the problem but government payments started it and still fuel it. The $100 dollar aspirin is an exaggeration but I know of hospitals charging $40 for one because a nurse has to give it to you and ask the doctor if it's ok first (yea, that's not covered in the already overpriced room and board). But when the government started paying like that, it more or less became a free ride because the more they can jump the averages, the more the government pays. I know a guy with no insurance and basically no way to pay- who broke his ankle and had to get pins placed in. The surgery was considered emergency and billed out at over 15k but they magically reduced the costs to around 2K if he agreed to make payments and kept current with them. I'm sure they didn't operate at a capitol loss by doing that, it probably more accurately reflect the real costs of the surgery even though they might not have pocketed as much profit.

    • Worse, a lot of drug research is publicly funded, but then the results wind up privatized.

      Fortunately the NIH public access policy [nih.gov] is doing a lot to reverse this trend, but unsuprisingly, it's meeting with a lot of resistance [insidehighered.com]. Mostly from the publishers, not the drug companies, but that's a matter of whose ox is being gored. If the FDA ever gets serious about its threats to open up clinical trial data, you'll see a real brawl.

  • It is (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shipud (685171) * on Thursday June 11, 2009 @12:47AM (#28289373)
    The National Institutes of Health annual budget: $29 billion. That money funds most of the university biomedical research in the US http://www.nih.gov/about/budget.htm [nih.gov] Current NIH funded projects include among other things the human genome, the human microbiome, almost all cancer research in the US, obesity, diabetes, communicable diseases.. The National Science Foundation has an extramural grant budget of $6 billion. The Department of Energy has an extramural research grant budget of $24 billion Among other things they fund alternative energy research, genomic research, You might say the US federal government should be funding more, but you cannot say it is not funding anything at all. The space race and the Manhattan project were both driven by wars: WWII and the Cold War. Maybe that is what it takes for a government to fund major research: fear of losing power and primacy to an opponent.
  • by syousef (465911) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @12:50AM (#28289383) Journal

    End of transmission...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sumdumass (711423)

      I don't know why you got marked insightful. Iraq funding is all borrowed money (deficit spending) and until this year was off budget. That means that if it stopped, the funding would stop and congress couldn't spend it somewhere else.

      Obama did put it on budget this year (or is trying to) and if congress had any whit to them, they would take it back off. When it's on budget, the budget ceiling gets raised and when the war stops, the money can be used for something else. The problem with this is that it still

    • by FleaPlus (6935) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @03:58AM (#28290435) Journal

      You do realize that the amount of money spent in the past few months on the so-called "stimulus" has already dwarfed the total amount spent over several years on the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan, right?

  • Baby Boomers (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Herkum01 (592704) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @12:53AM (#28289415)

    I blame the baby-boomers, they were raised on idea of continual gain of benefits. Whether it was from capitalism, increased government benefits, or lower taxes. They continually have driven everything out of total self interest an screw society.

    You say I am crazy? It was not my generation that,

    1. Came up with sub-prime mortgages and issued them to people with no money
    2. Speculated on do nothing on Internet companies in the hope of easy money
    3. Bought and sold under funded financial derivatives
    4. Removed bank regulations that were intended to prevent the current financial crisis
    5. Exported ALL manufacturing from the US to other countries
    6. Have greatly increased executive pay WITHOUT a corresponding increase in profits
    7. Paying the lowest tax rates in the last 70 years
    8. Issued the highest amount of government debt in 70 years
    9. Sharp cut social programs, especially for the poor

    I may be generalizing about baby boomers as a whole, but the leadership from my generation has not become CEOs, congressmen or senators, the baby boomers have.

    • Re:Baby Boomers (Score:4, Insightful)

      by j. andrew rogers (774820) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @01:46AM (#28289785)

      Removed bank regulations that were intended to prevent the current financial crisis

      As something of a tangent, this is a canard parroted by people who do not know much about banking regulations. It is worth pointing out, for example, that a number of industrialized countries that had no banking problems (like Canada) have never had a regulatory equivalent of the Glass-Steagall whipping boy. Ironically, that body of regulation was modified over the last few decades in order to *reduce* the number of bank failures, which it did, by allowing them to diversify their business. If diversifying investments was so bad it would 1) not be one of the fundamental rules of investment generally and 2) I would expect the industrialized countries without any such restrictions to have fared far worse than they did.

      The problem wasn't lack of regulation, but a lot of stupid regulation and arguably pervasive corruption that is still in place today. Add on top of this a regulatory monoculture in global banking that allowed exploits to propagate, and the problem starts to become obvious.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Reziac (43301) *

        I begin to wonder if we've had it backwards... rather than regulations being made in response to corruption, perhaps the existence of regulations to a large degree *drives* corruption.

        There are specific segments of gov't where this is definitely so, but your remarks made me consider that it may in fact be far more general.

      • You're full of shit. (Score:5, Informative)

        by copponex (13876) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @02:45AM (#28290119) Homepage

        From the Brookings Institution.

        That Canadian banks are more closely, or carefully, regulated is fairly well-known. The specifics, however, deserve more attention.

        The Canadian regulatory edifice is more centralized. There is no provincial equivalent to America's state-chartered banks. All of Canada's banks are federally chartered and overseen by federal agencies. One government-owned entity -- the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) -- plays a dominant role in shaping mortgage default-insurance policy. It and five other government bureaus in Ottawa -- the Department of Finance, the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Bank of Canada, the Financial Consumer Agency, and importantly, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institution -- set standards, coordinate the overall regulatory structure, and enforce it with sanctions. The Superintendent, for instance, has the power to remove miscreant bank directors and senior officers.

        http://www.brookings.edu/papers/2009/0423_canada_nivola.aspx [brookings.edu]

        The Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 1999 basically overturned Glass Steagall. Take a look at any housing bubble chart you'd like. When did the spike start? About the same time the deregulation fantasy took effect, and corporations knowingly created bad mortgages and passed off the bad debt as good debt because no one had their eye on them. In summary, they knowingly created huge leveraged risks in order to pocket huge comissions and leave someone else holding the assets. If you can come up with a more plausible explanation, please go ahead.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Macrat (638047)

      It was not my generation that,

      Funny, usually the people behind the desk running most everything behind your list are fresh out of MBA school looking to make money fast like they saw on TV.

  • I would think something like nanotechnology or enhancing existing renewable energy sources. It would be really cool for consumer-grade solar power to actually create competition with the electric utility industry. As well as the extremely broad applications of nanomanufacturing and biotech that could be gained by learning to manipulate/control objects smaller than any current instruments can match.
  • Strange story (Score:2, Insightful)

    by imneverwrong (1303895)

    why the US government is pouring billions into buying companies instead of heavily funding useful research. You can give $10 billion to a company to squander or you can invest $10 billion into a battery research and just give the findings to the whole of the US industry for free

    You're linking two not-really-related issues. Bailouts for large companies are intended to avoid a chain reaction of collapses and thus preserve economic confidence. Publicly funded "Blue Sky" [wikipedia.org] research will provide for very long term improvements to the human race from scientific progress. If you're wanting to increase the money supply to prevent a recession, you're better off allocating the cash to areas that can absorb them readily (such as construction and consumer finance). Or just get Ben Bernanke a he

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @01:01AM (#28289467) Journal
    It was the 80's. reagan and the neo-cons PURPOSELY cut the RD in science that we had back then. MASSIVE CUTS. The idea was that the large number of RD labs that we had would do the work. Bell Labs, Watson Labs, Ge Labs and nearly all major labs were killed, cut, or moved to other nations. Basically, the RD labs that we had were tied to the gov's huge budgets as well as our education, which was THE TOPS. Now, they are simply moved elsewhere and we have been witness to the largest 30 year dismantling of one of the few historical superpower nations.
  • by TopSpin (753) * on Thursday June 11, 2009 @01:10AM (#28289531) Journal

    17 days ago STS-125, the forth in-orbit service of Hubble, ended successfully
    12 days ago Gov. Schwarzenegger dedicated the largest laser on Earth to fusion research
    Last week the DOE produced video [nanowerk.com] of a potential carbon nanotube memory device in operation.
    3 days from now 7 people will blast into orbit, rendezvous with the ISS and further the construction of a giant orbital laboratory.

    No government in history has ever, is now, or will ever again (post dollar collapse) facilitate as much raw research as the US federal government.

    Just STFU please. Thanks.

  • it is... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Goldsmith (561202) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @01:11AM (#28289543)

    The US government is funding research. A lot of it. So much that a giant company like GM opening a *single* research lab is big news. Either directly (through grants and contracts) or indirectly (through tax incentives) the government is funding much of the industrial research that is done anyway.

    Why has science stalled since the 70s? That's when the number of physicists being trained exceeded the demand. The job market for physicists tanked and has never recovered (due to an excess of government funding for training). Physics became very competitive (rather than collaborative), and focused on making very small incremental changes in niche areas so that you could keep your job (big risks are bad, now). We've make tremendous scientific progress, but the system isn't designed for rock-star leaders and breakthroughs any more. More industrial labs will only change that until growth saturates again.

    We need to either stop training too many physicists (and make sure we're not doing the same with other fields), or live with what we have (which does work well, for anyone who is not a physicist). To encourage risk (and thus greater... or at least flashier scientific rewards), we need more long term grants and contracts (long term being >10 years). If I know a several year project can fail, but I'll still be able to pay the rent, I'm more likely to try something new. To actually answer the question, I would put those grants in solar fuel research.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Paul Fernhout (109597)

      Your suggestion sounds like a variation of this physicists suggestion:
      "The Big Crunch"
      http://www.its.caltech.edu/~dg/crunch_art.html [caltech.edu]

      But there are a few deeper issues. Goodstein, for example, talks about general elitist issues in education.

      Another I add is another interpretation of what it means as you suggest that the number of physicists exceeded "demand" (in a classical economics sense), since is that not just another way of saying the number of physicists exceeded what those

  • ITER (Score:3, Interesting)

    by stevedcc (1000313) * on Thursday June 11, 2009 @01:19AM (#28289609)

    ITER is the world's best chance of obtaining almost infinite amounts of clean energy. Most of the recent press about the National Ignition Facility has ignored one key fact - the NIF is about creating fusion explosions to model bombs. Sure, it can also be used for fusion power research, but that's not the primary reason it received it's funding. ITER is about developing commercial fusion using a tokamak.

    Also, the way the US cancelled all funding for ITER for 2008 was pretty disgusting. If a country becomes a partner in such large science projects, they need to stick with it, rather than screwing everyone around

  • by jonwil (467024) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @01:23AM (#28289637)

    That means funding research into electric cars (including those that use things like biofuel powered internal combustion engines as a backup)
    That means funding research into (and building) new nuclear reactor designs that can take all the harmful waste (both from power generation and nuclear weapons) currently sitting in cooling ponds, storage facilities and vaults all over the US and turn it into more electricity (and into waste that will become radiation free in a much shorter time).
    That means funding research into sustainable biofuels (both for vehicles and power plants) including hemp and switch-grass but NOT biofuels like corn that replace food crops
    That means funding research into solar technology (and covering all that empty desert in the southwestern USA with solar collectors)

    Most of all it means telling all the vested interests to go jump. The anti-drug campaigners who refuse to allow hemp to be grown because of its ties to marijuana. The anti-nuclear campaigners who fail to see that its possible to build a new nuclear reactor with a modern design (which is far less likely to fail in a way that releases radiation than the dinosaurs operating today) and then (and the new reactors come on stream) shut down the old dinosaurs (the ones that the ant-nuclear campaigners love to hate). It means telling the corn lobby (who seem to have the misguided belief that corn biofuels should be part of the energy equation into the future), the coal lobby (who believe that coal can be made "clean") and others to get stuffed.

  • by westlake (615356) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @01:40AM (#28289751)

    led me to wonder why the US government is pouring billions into buying companies instead of heavily funding useful research. You can give $10 billion to a company to squander or you can invest $10 billion into a battery research and just give the findings to the whole of the US industry for free.

    Because the immediate problem is the recession.

    GM can't build an electric car if the company goes into liquidation. GM can't sell an electric car if its dealers go into liquidation.

    Mechanics can't service an electric car if they go bankrupt with their suppliers.

    Infrastructure once damaged is very difficult and expensive to rebuild.

    You have to stop the bleeding first.

    Research isn't a panacea.

    It would be easy to aquander $10 billion on projects that have no realistic prospect of success within a reasonable time frame.

    The geek isn't an unbiased observer here.

    It should be obvious that a very generous cut of that $10 billion he wants the government to spend will be headed his way - and not to the auto worker on the line in Detroit.

  • by flyneye (84093) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @01:45AM (#28289783) Homepage

    Frankly ,looking over the constitutional powers allotted to the federal government they have no f**king business buying businesses, funding research, baling businesses out, or a large host of other "responsibilities" they have taken on illegally. They're supposed to protect our borders and manage to screw that up. Run a post office, they do a lousy job of that. Supposed to regulate interstate commerce which they interpret to mean "involve themselves in anything they want to" rather than just making sure trade amongst the several states is fair. They are supposed to collect tariffs on imports rather than tax the citizenry. They seem to screw up just about everything. What's worse is the population of complete morons who continually vote for Democrats and/or Republicans and expect things to change for the better rather than staying the same. Even worse the population is made up of liberal sissy wymynists who would rather cower than do anything about it.

  • by DrBuzzo (913503) on Thursday June 11, 2009 @01:53AM (#28289829) Homepage
    Wow. What a poorly informed question. The US government spends billions on research grants, scientific pursuits and technology development. Some of it is military-related and much of it is not. Actually the US government is the single largest provider of funding for general purpose scientific research. This includes some unique scientific faculties like the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collier, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spallation Neutron Source. These are huge investments.

    Yes, the US does spend research on battery technology. The Department of Energy spends a great deal on it. Major research branches of the government also include: The US Geological Survey, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, The National Science Foundation, NASA.

    How poorly informed could this posted possibly be? Has he never heard of any of the National Laboratories? The South Pole Station? The Very Large Array? How about the US contributions to international projects? You hear so much about how great the LHC at CERN is. Does this ignoramious know that the US built some of the major components at Fermilab and Brookhaven?



    I might add, that I disagree quite often with how the US spends money on research. There are too many dead-end projects funded and not enough fruitful projects are funded to completion. Too many facilities that cost a lot to build are not kept operational at low expense, as they should be. But you can't deny that the US spends tremendous amounts of money on science.

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