Medical Research Funding

Gregory R. Harriman gregoryh at
Fri Dec 22 15:01:16 EST 1995

In article
<Pine.SOL.3.91.951221182728.7806A-100000 at mcmail.CIS.McMaster.CA>,
berezin at MCMAIL.CIS.MCMASTER.CA (Alexander Berezin) wrote:

> 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.

     You shouldn't be puzzled.  Even a nation that believes in free
markets readily accepts that government can and should perform certain
functions.  Very few people in the United States (except perhaps some
extreme libertarians) would assert that government has no role to play and
therefore should be done away with entirely.  

     Obviously, the federal government performs some important, even vital
functions, including national defense, building infrastructure (highways,
dams, etc.) and even regulating societal activities (including businesses,
stock markets, environmental protection, etc.).  Such government activity
is important for the well-being of the country.  

     It's also probably safe to say that most people in the U.S. believe
government funding of basic research is a valuable and beneficial
activity, for the very reasons explained in previous posts.  As an
example, businesses by-and-large are interested in pursuing activities
which will lead to short-term benefits accruing to the company. 
Businesses are not likely to provide direct funding or support for
societal activities which although having substantial potential for
benefit in the long run, are risky, may not "pay-off" for many years, and
would not be proprietary (ie. other businesses or individuals could use
and benefit from the activity).  

     Therefore, this type of activity (ie. basic research) is best funded
by societal institutions which are separate from private business (ie.
federal and state governments and private foundations).

     Incidentally, your posting suggests you have the misconception that
research and the practice of "clinical" medicine are the same thing.  They
are not!  The pursuit of basic research, whether in universities, private
institutes or even pharmaceutical companies, is not the same thing as the
practice of clinical medicine in hospitals and by physicians.  Thus,
whether Americans prefer free-market or socialized medicine should have
little to do with whether they support government-funded basic research. 

Greg Harriman

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