ISSUE-014

Governments should not fund any scientific research whose consequences are unclear.


Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the recommendation and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, describe specific circumstances in which adopting the recommendation would or would not be advantageous and explain how these examples shape your position.


With so many societal issues that need to be tackled and limited government spending on scientific research, how to distribute government research funding is under debate. Some argue that governments should not fund any research projects whose consequences are unclear and instead should focus on projects that have clear consequences. From my point of view, this suggestion may be reasonable on the short timescale, but in the long run, adopting this policy would create devastating effects on the scientific endeavors.


Admittedly, many serious issues are agonizing our modern society today, and it seems reasonable that scientists as well as the governments have a responsibility to tackle them. Therefore, if governments could commit their resources to research projects whose outcome can clearly address those problems, the well-being of the society will likely be improved rather quickly. For example, the world today is faced with a widespread energy and environmental issues that arise from the use of fossil fuels. To solve such problems once and for all, we need scientists and engineers to devise ways to harness the energy of atoms in the form of fusion, which requires tremendous amount of funding commitment. However, since governments do not have unlimited budget, policy makers need to decide which scientific research projects to or not to fund. In this light, governments should not fund research whose consequences are unclear. By diverting those funds to projects with immediate predictable results, we can accelerate the emergence of solutions to the problems in our society.


That said, the long-term consequences of this policy on not only scientific discoveries but also society advancement can be fatal for at least two reasons. First, many useful scientific discoveries are not foreseeable at the beginning of the research endeavors and are made by accident. Penicillin, which was discovered by accident in lab, serves as a great example. The research that discovered Penicillin started out as an investigation of different microbial behaviors, and yet one of the microbial communities was mysteriously wiped out by the presence of an unknown substance. This raised the interest of researchers, who eventually found Penicillin to be responsible for the extermination of microbes. To date, Penicillin has saved millions, if not billions, of lives, and if the British government did not fund that research because of a lack of clear consequences, all those lives could perish.


Second, the research today that has well-defined goals and consequences is actually built upon fundamental research decades ago. For example, the root of advance materials is physics and chemistry; the heart of the modern electronics also lies in physics and mathematics; and finally many therapies to what used to be lethal diseases cannot exist without fundamental progress in human biology. Such fundamental research, on the other hand, rarely has a clear consequence; the goal is instead revealing how the world works. Nevertheless, the discoveries from fundamental research can have far-reaching impact on research later on. If the governments decide to stop funding for fundamental research, the long-term development of science will be thwarted, despite some short-term benefits.


To summarize, while it is partially true that devoting funds to research with clear consequences can accelerate the short-term development of science, in the long run this policy is extremely detrimental.

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