Now the weak state, not the strong state, is fetishised by those in power, who insist that its functions be devolved to “the market”, meaning corporations and the very rich. Economic growth and the forces that drive it, whether they enhance or harm people’s lives, are venerated. And too many scholars seem prepared to support the new dispensation.
Speaking at the Centre for Science and Policy at Cambridge University, Walport maintained that scientific advisors had five main functions, and the first of these was “ensuring that scientific knowledge translates to economic growth”. No statement could more clearly reveal what Benda called the “assimilation” of the intellectual. As if to drive the point home, the press release summarising his speech revealed that the centre is sponsored, among others, by BAE Systems, BP and Lloyd’s.
Last week, two days before CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million, Oxford University opened a new geoscience laboratory, named after its sponsor, Shell. Among its roles is helping to find and develop new sources of fossil fuel.
Some might say 'twere ever thus. Apart from specific situations, mostly to do with military spending, it may not any longer be the case that the role of public research institutions is the fostering of basic science. Even in rich countries with stable economies and huge amounts of extractable natural resources, pure science support may be lessening.
John MacDougal, President of the NRC, literally said, “Scientific discovery is not valuable unless it has commercial value”. Gary Goodyear, the Canadian Minister of State for Science and Technology, also stated “There is [sic] only two reasons why we do science and technology. First is to create knowledge … second is to use that knowledge for social and economic benefit. Unfortunately, all too often the knowledge gained is opportunity lost.”
I had to read the article two or three times to make sure I wasn’t missing something, because I was thinking that no one could possibly utter such colossally ignorant statements. But no, I was reading it correctly. These two men—leaders in the Canadian scientific research community—were saying, out loud and clearly, that the only science worth doing is what lines the pocket of business.
What we do know is that basic science flourishes when there is money in it - money to attract the best minds away from applied sciences and from other nations.
In the last three decades, Americans have won about 60 percent of all Nobel Prizes in the sciences.
More important, after World War II our government began funding scientific research at a furious rate, a largesse that attracted hosts of foreign scholars. And even though we have dominated the Nobel Prizes since then, in earlier years we were completely eclipsed by Europe. Until 1930, for example, Americans won only four Nobel Prizes in all of the sciences, while twenty-nine went to Germany and fifteen to the United Kingdom.
We know that the USA funds public education almost twice as much as the next developed country (and long may this continue)- the result may not be increased test scores in students (possibly an overrated outcome measure) but rather the fostering of an academic milieu where it is more important for the science academic to research and publish rather than specifically teach/mark.