Governments should not fund any scientific research whose consequences are unclear.

Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the recommendation and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, describe specific circumstances in which adopting the recommendation would or would not be advantageous and explain how these examples shape your position.

Whenever a scientific discovery is made that has the potential to change the face of the world, governments must decide whether or not to fund it. If there is a chance that the funding will be wasted, then the government should not provide financial support. However, it is equally valid that not every scientific discovery will potentially affect the world’s welfare, so funding government research is not without its benefits.

The case of research funding is often debated because scientists are usually compensated for their work by industry, private foundations, or universities. Hence, the argument regarding government funding seems to be an either/or situation. However, there are cases when it is more beneficial for governments to fund scientific research than for the private sector. For example, space missions, such as the Curiosity rover, are expensive endeavors that receive funding from government and private companies. Both the government and private companies are interested in the discoveries that will be made in space, and both see value in sending these missions into space. Because space missions can be expensive, it is in both parties’ interest to fund them rather than have the government foot the bill.

This type of situation, in which both parties benefit from having a government-funded scientific discovery, is most common in instances where the government is funding research in economically important areas. For example, when NASA developed the technology used to create the International Space Station, they established several spinoff businesses that used space station technology that did not exist when the station was first designed. Just recently, NASA funded a research team at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, to create a technology called Astro-Methane. This technology uses a two-stage rocket engine that burns methane, rather than liquid oxygen, as a fuel and oxidizer. It is hoped that the new engine will help create more minor and less expensive rockets, which is necessary if NASA hopes to send astronauts to Mars in the next decade. Because both private companies and NASA have a vested interest in this research, both are willing to contribute financially.

Similarly, should a private company solve a technological problem that NASA is interested in, then the company will likely offer NASA a license to use the technology. On the other hand, governments are not bound to licensing agreements and are more likely to fund research that is of interest to them and that will lead to discoveries that will benefit the country as a whole.

Another case in which government funding of research is beneficial is when governments are funding research related to national security. Although funding for defense research is not entirely new, the government has increased its spending on research related to national defense by 18 percent in the past twenty years. Although funding for defense research is not without controversy, there is great benefit in funding this type of research. For example, the Department of Defense’s Manhattan Project, which developed the nuclear weapons used during World War II, was primarily financed by the federal government. However, the first atomic bombs, the Little Boy and Fat Man were developed in the United States by private corporations, which received funding from the Japanese government. While funding for research related to national defense is beneficial to the government, it is also vital that the scientific community pursue research without government interference. Without the freedom to research without government interference, the scientific community would be less inventive and innovative, and discoveries would not have been made. For these reasons, the researcher should have the freedom to pursue any research they have a passion for without government interference, even if that research is not directly related to national security.

The argument that government-funded research should not be conducted because the consequences of such research are unclear is flawed. If the government does not fund research projects, those projects will not be undertaken, and discoveries will not be made. While it may not be possible to predict the exact ramifications of any particular research project, it is possible to complete some educated guesses. For example, the Human Genome Project, funded primarily by the U.S. government, resulted in the discovery of genes that can cause certain diseases. In addition, it led to the development of genetic testing technology that can detect diseases and disorders before birth. The Human Genome Project also resulted in creating several biotechnology companies, which use the genetic research developed through the project. Although some of the discoveries made by the Human Genome Project have not yet been realized, there is no doubt that the findings have made many people healthier and safer. If the government had withheld funding to the Human Genome Project, humanity might not have benefited from the discoveries. For this reason, the government should not be prevented from funding scientific research.