By: Steven Goodman, Sophomore Columnist
Science research is changing. Science in the United States is now becoming increasingly funded by the private sector and wealthy individuals.
While our country has been relatively aware of this shift, no one is sure how fast or by how much the shift from publicly funded to privately funded research is occurring.
Whether or not this is a positive change for science in the 21st century, the National Science Foundation recently announced its plans to investigate this prominent shift in research funds.
Perhaps one of the biggest changes in funding began with the cancellation of NASA’s space shuttle program (despite popular belief NASA didn’t completely shut down).
With the loss of the U.S.’s most well-known space exploration tool it enabled the rise of privately funded companies such as SpaceX, which has a planned shuttle launch to Mars in the very near future. Another rising group is Mars One, whose goal it is to send a group of civilian astronauts to Mars to develop a futuristic settlement once reserved for science fiction novels.
While this is an awesome goal, it may be on the crazy side (signing up means you are agreeing to never return to Earth).
If the goal of Mars One and other privately funded space enterprises raises some ethical concerns in your mind, you’re not alone. This subtle, yet gradual rise in private funding for scientific research has raised quite the ethical debate. The key component to this argument is that advancement in science will seek to benefit only the extremely wealthy.
For example, critics worry that disease and illness research will focus only on diseases that affect certain groups of people rather than being a diverse look into discovering cures and treatments that apply to all.
On the other side of this argument are those who welcome the rise in private funding. Some scientists, such as biochemist Martin Apple, consider this new source of research money better than government funding simply because the rich have the ability to target a problem (such as polio) and chase after the solution until it is found, whereas government research tends to be bogged down by politics and ideologies.
Whether shifting science to a privately funded research endeavor will be good in the long run or not remains to be seen. However, the impact of the rich donating money can already be noticed. At the moment brain science, as its commonly labeled, seems to be the biggest receiver of money.
Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, has donated $500 million to set up a brain science institute in Seattle. Other areas such as marine biology and public health, both of which drastically shrunk due to sharp federal budget cuts, are seeing a rise in funding as well from Eric Schmidt (Google) and Bill Gates, respectively.
While these endeavors may seem one-sided in the near future, I’m glad that science is being heavily invested in now.