I’ve been thinking over the discussion in class yesterday and am realizing that some of the confusion over science funding may arise because of the conflation of two related issues. On the one hand, we tend to believe that the scientist should be free to investigate those things which he or she has a genuine interest in without being manipulated or censured by the government or society. This is assuming his or her research is ethical in nature and doesn’t compromise the society’s values. On the other side of the equation, is the individual tax-paying citizen, who in some degree supports science funding through their tax dollars. Again, it seems logical that like the scientist, each of these people should have the freedom to choose what things are worthy of their investment. Should they too have the right to study, vicariously through the use of their money, those things which they genuinely want to support? We would like for both the scientist and the citizen to have complete freedom of action but what happens when these freedoms oppose each other in society? That seems like the foundational question that we are asking?
As strange as it sounds at first, I kind of like Matthew’s idea of having a list of issues which citizen’s can allocate their individual taxes toward. If it is the public’s money, the public should have a large degree of say on how that money is spent. Will this crimp the speed and efficiency of scientific advancement? Yes. This system wouldn’t be as powerful or as versatile as a more “elitist” organization where the resource allocation decisions are made at higher levels. But, this is the price you pay for justice it seems. Democracies were never meant to be efficient. Does this debate boil down to a question of justice versus utility? And if it does, what is our underlying criterion for deciding how to allocate funding?