Should government "services" be *free*?

C.J. O'Kelly COKelly at massey.ac.nz
Thu Feb 11 14:36:35 EST 1993


In <1993Feb10.043954.24412 at nscu.edu>, samodens at csemail.cropsci.ncsu.edu
(S. A. Modena) writes:

" I'm relaying the following ... becuase it touches on the question of
" what should be "free" ...

Arrgghh.

Science, including biological science, has never been "free".  Remember
Darwin?  Self-funded, through his "travel book" sales (and ultimately
the -Origin- and subsequent tomes), his inheritance, and his marriage.
Ditto practically all of his 19th century colleagues in "the West", to
say nothing of prior periods of human history, where the antecedents of
scientists served at the pleasure of royals or nobles, and "free"
discourse meant "among a select group of nobles and middle-class noble
servants".

The transfer of science funding from the pockets of the private person
(self or patron) to those of the taxpayer is a distinctly 20th century
phenomenon - and its major driving factors were WWI, WWII and the Cold
War, in particular the launch of Sputnik.

Today's average taxpayer is voting for bread and circuses (thank you
Robert Heinlein), not science.  Hence the Western world's inability to
deal with its debt crisis - no one will quit the "right" to this, that
or the other.  (The grain dole, it is said, ruined the Roman Empire ...)
So for science funding, it's back to patronage.  And today's patrons,
unlike the "old money" patrons of the 19th and early 20th century whose
actions were (eventually) moderated by Church-driven social and ethical
concerns, are "new money" business people, essentially Ferengi, whose
primary concern is profit - short-term profit at that.

"... are mathematical algorhithms universal truths and therefore not
patentable ..."

A perfect example of the scientist's mixed metaphor.  All truths that
are discovered through the labor of a human are patentable.  The labor
must somehow be funded.  Whether or not the discovery will be patented
is decided by a combination of short-term -business- truths (ie
"immediate profit potential") and -legal- truths (whatever they might
be, the law being, of course, an ass).  I suggest that "universal
truths" are nothing more than "truths" that humankind, through long
experience, has found to fall into the "long-term profit" box.
Precisely the kind of "truth" that is practically impossible to sell in
a world where everyone is desperate for tomorrow's lunch (ask any
minister or priest).

I would strongly urge all scientists to forget entirely about what
should or should not be "free".  This will free us (pun intended) to
identify which class of patron (taxpayer, private patron, self) should
fund which class of research activity and market that activity to that
class of patron for all that it is worth.  If we do not do this
ourselves, bureaucrats will come in and do it for us, and as Ernest Lord
Rutherford has said, and as New Zealand science has discovered to its
eternal cost, "if the bureaucrats take over, the Lord help you".












Charley O'Kelly
Mad Phycologist

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