National Academy to Congress: For economic benefits, support basic research

It’s a sobering exercise to go through your day and identify those common, essential things that exist only thanks to fundamental scientific discoveries made in the last 100 years. Of course some of our technology was developed in the Edisonian style, invented without any recourse to a understanding of the underlying science. But so much of the technology of modern life would not be possible without major basic science discoveries made during the 20th century. How we eat, communicate, travel, work and care for our health are all closely tied up with fundamental discoveries made in the past century. In other words, basic science has made a huge contribution to society’s economic growth and well-being.

That basic science generates huge material benefits has been the major justification for federally-funded research since Vannevar Bush’s 1945 manifesto. Unlike, say, the National Endowment for the Arts, which exists mainly to support a vibrant culture, federal science funding is specifically intended to generate tangible economic benefits for society — not simply to support science for its own sake. Continue reading “National Academy to Congress: For economic benefits, support basic research”

Better stem cell tech, more controversy

Over at Pacific Standard, I offer brief layman’s guide to the latest pluripotent stem cell technologies, and I argue that better stem cell technology will not make the ethical controversy go away. (In last week’s Nature, Martin Pera & Alan Trounson make a similar point.)

To understand where I’m coming from, let’s take a step back a few years, in the aftermath of the Bush Administration’s controversial decision to limit NIH-funded research on human embryonic stem cell (ESC) lines. Back then, much of the debate was over the merits and ethics of ESC’s versus lineage-restricted adult stem cells: ESCs were for the most part derived from leftover IVF embryos or aborted fetuses (and thus didn’t carry the genome of a patient). Adult stem cells could be taken from patients, but were much more restricted in their potential applications. Dolly the sheep was old news at that point, but the technology to create Dolly (and thus also create embryonic stem cells with the genome of a living adult) did not actually work with human cells. Continue reading “Better stem cell tech, more controversy”

Gasp, Republican politicians act like Republican politicians trying to get Republican votes

I’m not sure what else we expected from the Republican primary candidates.

Do they have anything to gain offending their social conservative base on the issues of climate change and stem cells?  Integrity? Come on, this is politics.

Would you really vote for Newt Gingrich if he took the scientific consensus position on climate change or stem cells? Because, I can guarantee you that Newt’s staff is sure there are Republican primary voters that would vote for one of his opponents instead, if he did.

Until we figure out how to let Republicans know that pro-science groups might actually vote for them in numbers that will replace the votes they fear losing, I’m going to have to go with a big “I told you so”:

Being a dedicated partisan, like our ordained friend above, eliminates your ability to influence a politician’s positions in exchange for your vote. While I know the guy[3] you voted for is not like this, it is reasonable to assume that the primary incentive for politicians is votes. If your vote is already committed, there is no reason to attempt to appeal to you.

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