Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Governments & Scientific Research

From - a recent Pew poll notes:

The general public endorses the idea that government outlays for research are necessary for scientific progress. Six-in-ten (60%) say “government investment in research is essential for scientific progress”; only about half as many (29%) say “private investment will ensure that enough scientific progress is made even without government investment.”
But what should the role of government grants and "investment" be? While government interventions elsewhere almost always result in unintended and undesirable consequences, the birth of the internet was the result of DARPA research. But who's the say that it wouldn't have been developed anyway? The reality of the returns to the economy (and to society) of government funded research is questionable as Ronald Bailey from reports:
Government funded civilian research didn't appear to hurt the private sector but there was not much evidence that it helped, at least in the short term. The report concluded, "Research and development (R&D) activities undertaken by the business sector seem to have high social returns, while no clear-cut relationship could be established between non-business-oriented R&D activities and growth.
That said, if these interventions don't end up hurting the economy, that's a far better outcome than much of governments interventions - so if stimulus must be done for political expediency, despite not being as efficient or effective as private markets, surely this isn't a bad place to do it.

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