Research: Reply to K.Robison

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Thu Dec 21 21:11:39 EST 1995

On 21 Dec 1995, Keith Robison wrote:

> Alexander Berezin (berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA) wrote:
> : On Wed, 20 Dec 1995, David J. States wrote:
> : > While I can appreciate that a tremendous amount of thought
> : > has gone into how proposals should be reviewed and available
> : > funding allocated, let us not loose sight of the real issue:
> : > basic scientific research is an essential function of government
> : > that has yielded enormous return on investment; more money
> : > needs to go into research at all levels.
> : In this poster your discuss biomedical research - perhaps
> : you are right and it (biomedical research) does indeed bring
> : the yield you are talking about below.
> : Nonetheless, I would like to take an issue with what you
> : say above in general terms, that is
> :    
> : (*)  " ...  basic scientific research ... yields enormous
> :         return on inverstment ..... "
> : This statement (in various forms) rather popular now.
> : In a recent article somebody even "calculated" such a return
> : at 28 % annual (!).  But at least as far as fundamental 
> : physical, chemical and much of engineering research is
> : concerned the (*) is unfortunately a (largely) wishful 
> : thinking.
> : The question: 
> : If the return is so high why (almost) all major corporations
> : pull out of R&D, or at best keep them at bay ? Reports are
> : that even such giants as Bells, AT&T, Dupont, IBM downsizing
> : their research sectors. 

> Because they can't look past 1 year's balance sheet?  Because
> the returns in basic research often accrue to society as a whole
> rather than the corporate sponsor?

..... accrue to society as a whole ..... Hm. Historically,
shaky grounds. People have had quite different ideas on
what will "benefit mankind as a whole". WHO is going to say
"good" from "bad" here ? Gurus ? Dictators ?
No, I don't bye the above qualification.     

> : In short, for claim (*) to be trustable (including biomedical
> : research), we need a strong evidence that it is indeed endorsed 
> : by business community, and not just by words but by dollars.
> : Perhaps Bill Gates should be consulted on this matter.

> Consider Bell Labs.  Among other things, they invented (AFAIK)
> the laser and the transistor.  I don't have a copy handy,
> but how much credit does Mr. Gates give Bell Labs in his book,
> which can be read using those two inventions (via CD-RO), using
> software written in Bell Labs' C programming language?

Right on the point, Keith ! Yes, let's compare Bell Labs VERSUS
Bill Gates. The first is apparently struggling and shrinking
its research operations (never mind the transistor and other 
their goddies). The second (Bill) gets richer by about 3 million
dollars EVERY DAY.

> That's why it's called "basic" research.  

> That's why the short-sighted
> U.S. corporations are getting out of it: 

Why do you call them (U.S.reaserch corporations) "short sighted" ?
Short sighted from WHOSE point of view ?

Pool your fellow Americans question:

"who do you think is smarter: Bell Labs or Bill Gates ?" 


> Basic research tends to benefit society as a whole 

This is unfortunately a pure article of faith. It's not 
that I fully disagree with you on this, but won't have 
much trouble to display arguments from the opposite. There 
are undoubtedly many who ratehr endorse the opposite, 
namely the statement that 
    "basic research hurts the society as a whole" 

(at least some research, such as for example genetic 
manipulation which many consider repugnant and highly
dangerous).(please don't lecture me on Genome - I read
on this quite a lot recently).
> rather than specific individuals identifiable
> in advance, 

> and that's what makes it a reasonable purview of
> the government.
Too bad if Goverment is presumed having an 
ability to purview fundamental research. It's
even worse than no review at all. 

> Keith Robison
> Harvard University
> Department of Cellular and Developmental Biology
> Department of Genetics / HHMI
> robison at 

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