Why We Should Stop Paying For Useless Scientific Research And Demand Better

Why We Should Stop Paying For Useless Scientific Research And Demand Better

A few months ago, the biggest medical and scientific threat to the United States was the extremely contagious virus of Ebola. But now that the virus has disappeared from the mainland country, politicians such as Rand Paul and Lamar Smith have turned their attention to some of the problems revealed by the epidemic. They argue that there is too much useless scientific research going on, and that taxpayers are the ones paying for it.

By no means are they against spending money on research as a whole—it’s just that there needs to be some control over useless scientific research being funded by the government.

Senator Paul wrote in an article on Politico that:

“Our national debt is more than $18 trillion, and the American taxpayer is hurting. If we, as a country, have decided to spend taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars on funding science and research, then we need to spend wisely.”

Paul then lists some of the useless scientific research funded by the government, which includes: investigations of lawsuits in Peru through the 1600 and 1700’s, ancient Icelandic textile manufacturing, and the question ‘do Turkish women wear veils solely for the fashion appeal?’ While these research projects look and sound quite frivolous, it’s important to remember that major breakthroughs in science are often found in seemingly round-about or ridiculous experiments.

While “stifling innovation” is an understandable argument, it’s highly improbable that an experiment intending to, for example, research cancer cell growth, will be cut off simply because politicians don’t understand why an experiment is being done. A research project with the end goal of finding the ecological consequences of ancient aboriginal fires in New Zealand, however, should be cut off simply because it is not bringing the kind of economic or scientific benefit that our country needs. That’s not a matter of “stifling innovation.” That kind of research is just plain useless to the American country as a whole, and probably only interests a very small percentage of the educated population to begin with.

Paul’s proposition to limit this kind of spending on ridiculous research starts with more transparency:

“At the moment, the only information available to the public about grants is a brief summary on the agency’s website written by the researcher. Instead, agencies — not researchers — should provide a plain-English, nontechnical explanation of why taxpayer-funded grants are important or have the potential to benefit the national interest.” (Politico)

When more information is open and free for the public and the political body to view, it will be much easier to redirect funding to more beneficial and practical investigations, such as more medical, biological, ecological, and computer science practices. The nation is in need of growth, innovation, and stimulus. We have bigger and better research to do than finding out if Turkish women wear veils just for the heck of it.

Let us know what you think—should Congress tighten its hold on the scientific community in order to save money and better manage valuable resources, or should it instead control as little of the scientific community as possible, even if it means letting some useless scientific research continue at the taxpayer’s expense? Leave a comment here, or share with us  on Facebook.

Written by K. Montgomery

(Photo courtesy of Virginia Sea Grant, Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0)

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