Medical Research Funding

Alexander Berezin berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA
Thu Dec 21 19:02:22 EST 1995


(please see after Dr. Harriman comment - Alex Berezin)

On 21 Dec 1995, Gregory R. Harriman wrote:

> In article <4bbl9m$adq at decaxp.harvard.edu>, robison at lipid.harvard.edu
> (Keith Robison) wrote:
> 
> : : Berezin wrote:
> : 
> : : 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?
> : 
> : : 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?
> : 
> : That's why it's called "basic" research.  That's why the short-sighted
> : U.S. corporations are getting out of it: Basic research tends to 
> : benefit society as a whole rather than specific individuals identifiable
> : in advance, and that's what makes it a reasonable purview of
> : the government.
>  
> 
>      One only hopes that Berezin can learn from the points made by
> Robison.  Berezin's specious argument suggest a misunderstanding of a
> simple concept.  The reason corporations don't generally fund basic
> research is because, as Robison points out, this would be unlikely to
> benefit the company directly.  Certainily, that is true in the short
> term.  Consequently, whatever corporations are doing vis-a-vis research
> activities (number of PhDs or whatever) is not germane to the issue of the
> value of basic research to society as a whole and to whether "basic" as
> opposed to "applied" research is providing tangible benefits.
> 
> Greg Harriman
> 
BEREZIN:
Thanks for lessoning, Drs. Harriman and Robison. I am always
glad to learn from other people's views and as you point out 
I may well be in a "misunderstanding of simple concept". How 
unique I am on this is another matter.

Now let me pose another question: this is about the source 
of NIH budget and the assumption (in one of the previous
posters) that Government should give even more money for
biomedical research. ... and here I am puzzled ..... Why it
(USA Government) should fund medical research at first 
place ?

Americans largely against government-run medicine. All attemps
so far (Clinton and prior) in this direction were rejected as 
(aparently) smelling red, or whatever. Fine, no objections - this 
is your democratic consensus as a mature nation - you don't want 
anything to do with with socialistically-directed reforms in 
medicine and keep insisting on free-market operated medicine.          

So far, so good ... But then, I am afraid you loose the consistency 
in saying, ..." yes, but ... medical RESEARCH is the responsibility 
of the Government (primarily through NIH)" ... and here I have to
stop and ask you WHY. If your market-operated medicine is unwilling 
to provide funding for medical research (at least at the level you 
claim it should be), then why your Government should ? (After
all isn't democratically elected Government reflects the will
of the people electing it ?).

I admit, I may misunderstand something and perhaps you
have a sensible answer to my question - so please post your 
comments explaining why your Government has a duty to fund
NIH at first place.

Alex Berezin  



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