Thursday, February 12, 2009

Farms, Students, Buy American and Science

Bad economy good for farm labor needs

More on Student Aid Bill

Room for Debate in the Buy American clause of the stimulus.

Letting Scientist off the Leash

You may have noticed that one of my lifelines actually came from the N.I.H. — an agency not known for taking risks. I could write pages about the last presidential administration’s disastrous approach to science. However, for whatever reason (and I suspect it was dumb luck: the exception that proves the rule) George W. Bush appointed an N.I.H. director who was both visionary and an adept leader — Elias Zerhouni. Dr. Zerhouni changed the process for awarding grants, which had become inbred and conservative. Among other steps, he created a series of special awards — for “Pioneers” and “Innovators” — to fund highly risky research, and it is one of these that I was the recipient of.

As we think about how to heed President Obama’s call to “put science back in its rightful place,” I wonder if this should also be the time to rethink the basic foundations of how science is funded. Could we stimulate more discovery and creativity if more scientists had the security of their own salary and a long-term commitment to a minimal level of research support? Would this encourage risk-taking and lead to an overall improvement in the quality of science?

As we consider the monumental challenges facing our generation — climate change, energy needs and health care — and look to science for solutions, it would behoove us to remember that it is almost impossible to predict where the next great discoveries will be made — and thus we should invest broadly and let scientists off their leashes.


scott said...

in case anybody was wondering these are the highly risky research proposals he had in mind.

These include using discoveries from my basic research in single molecule biophysics to develop a new kind of DNA sequencer, plunging into the world of prenatal diagnostics by inventing a non-invasive alternative to amniocentesis and inventing microfluidic plumbing devices for biological applications as diverse as protein crystallography and single cell analysis.

Juan CF said...

Farms in these country need to be bigger so that there will be more jobs for people and more money for people to spend.