Tag Archives: how does the US government use science and scientists

SCIENCE AND THE GOVERNMENT: WHAT’S RIGHT AND WHAT’S WRONG? PART I. 

US national government interacts with everything and everyone, including science, research, and scientists! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
US national government interacts with everything and everyone, including science, research, and scientists!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Science in the United States (US) directly interacts with people,businesses, educational institutions, the health system, engineers, students, media, etc.  One of the very largest and most extensive interactions of science is with the US national government.  This 2-part essay takes a critical look at the many involvements of our government with science, research,, and scientists; Part I introduces the different means and purposes of government’s interactions with science.

Overview of official interactions of US government with science. 

Very many different agencies of the federal government act upon all branches of science with administrative oversight, numerous regulations, money and contracts to support research projects, new initiatives, policy directives, provision of information, public education, etc.  The larger agencies specialized for science include the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, Agricultural Research Service, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, National Academy of Sciences, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Library of Medicine, etc.  All these have large administrative staffs, large budgets, and large areas of action.  In addition, many branches and agencies of the military also deal with science.  Official representative scientists are appointed as advisers to the President, Congress, and other governmental bodies.  One can only conclude that the national government is authorized to actively interact with science, technology, and scientists, at many different levels.

Money is at the center of all government interactions with science!  

Money in science is required for all the expenses of conducting research studies (see: “Introduction to money in modern scientific research” ).  For science at universities, several government agencies support research expenditures by awarding competitive grants to faculty scientists proposing important projects.  Thus, external money is at the heart of all interactions between the government and university scientists; many rules and regulations follow the acceptance of any research grant award.  Government uses this dependence upon federal research grants to control university science and direct faculty research into certain directions.

Governmental control of science and research. 

US government administrators make policy directives and issue numerous regulations for science, research, education, and medical activities.  As specific examples of this network for extensive control of science at universities via policies, programs, and regulations, we can now consider: (1) the Congress, which legislates the number of H1b visas issued each year for foreign scientists to be employed in the US, (2) the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which  enforces safety requirements for use of radioactive materials in scientific research, (3) the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA), that mandates what special features must be present in refrigerators for their use within research labs, (4) the Food and Drug Administration, which is supposed to determine whether pharmaceutical products are safe and effective for patient care by physicians, and (5) the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which mandates salary levels for Postdocs researching in grant-supported labs.  These are only a few examples from the many available!

How does the government actually use science and scientists? 

Scientists often are used to provide “expert opinions and evaluations” for dealing with big problems facing the government.  Those frequently involve testimonial input that is used to justify policy decisions and positions about controversial issues (e.g., global warming, mandated use of vaccines, approval or disapproval of new drugs and public health regulations, responses to foreign epidemics, international disputes, etc.).  In response to such usage, opponents of the government’s position bring forth their own expert scientists!  Readers should  note that these controversies usually are about politics, economics, and power, rather than about science (see: “What Happens When Scientists Disagree? Part II: Why is There Such a Long Controversy About Global Warming and Climate Change?” ).  It would be much better if the government sought recommendations of expert scientists before policies are made, rather than after they are finalized!

People give enormous amounts of money for scientific research, via their taxes! 

Scientific research costs a lot of money (see:  “Why is Science so Very Expensive?  Why do Research Experiments Cost so Much?” ).  This clearly is in the national interest and deserves to be supported.  The US government pays giant amounts of dollars for: science education at schools and universities; research grants for universities, hospitals, and small businesses; clinical research trials; large special facilities for research usage; science meetings; public education about health and science; etc.  The annual budget for sponsoring all these science-related activities is many billions of dollars [1,2]. Most funding comes from taxpayers; thus, all taxpayers deserve many thanks from university scientists for supporting their research activities!

In addition to basic and applied research investigations at universities, medical schools, and hospitals, a very large amount of research and development also takes place at industrial laboratories.  All the research investigations in industries costs a huge number of dollars in total, and are internally paid by individual companies.

The forthcoming Part II will present both the good and bad consequences of governmental interactions with science, research, and scientists.  Special attention will be given to how the present research grant system is hurting  scientific research, rather than helping it!

 

[1]  National Science Foundation, 2015.  Table 1.  Federal obligations for research and development, by character of work, and for R&D plant: FYs 1951-2015.  Available on the internet at:  http://nsf.gov/statistics/2015/nsf15324/pdf/tab1.pdf .

[2]  American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), 2015.  Trends in federal R&D, FY 1976-2016.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.aaas.org/sites/default/files/DefNon_1.jpg .

 

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