CPSP118g 9-25-07
How Society Makes Science Happen

History: For as long as there have been societies with complex divisions of labor, there have been scholars who studied the natural world - 'scientists' in the broadest sense of the word. How could they afford to do their work and still feed themselves? Two means:

Echos of the preindustrial system can bee seen today. We still have:

BUT there have been some big innovations. Today, we see:

First - remember that research can be anything from primary (i.e. purely intellectual) to application-oriented.

Direct Gov't research: We'll speak of the US federal gov't, but could be talking about many state or foreign governments. Typically, the fed conducts research that is either too vital. too security sensative, or too expensive to leave to anyone else.

Private commercial research labs: Pursue all levels of research in which there's a reasonable expectation of an eventual commercial application. Remember, it's possible to patent a new molecule, information processing algorithm, or other procedure. Areas in which we see considerable commercial interest at all levels include:

Commercial firms are limited by their nature to investigating things that promise financial payback and that can be studied without too huge an outlay of capital.

The Hybrids: Government funded private research. Most researchers that receive government financial support aren't gov't employees. Rather, they are employees of private or state institutions (educational or commercial) who receive gov't grants. This is the modern version of old-fashioned patronage. Typically, funds are distributed by grants awarded by independent governmental granting agencies.


Note, grant applications are evaluated by qualified members of the profession, not by bureaucrats, and the granting process for specific divisions is overseen by members of the scientific community who occupy rotating posts. Thus, but for the general buget allocation, the gov't has little control over what gets funded.

An aside: The Smithsonian Institution was originally conceived to have this function, as well, but ended up becoming a national museum.

There are similar private granting agencies. These may be administered by universitites (E.G. the Geology Foundation of the University of Texas) and private agencies. (E.G.: The MacArthur Foundation. The Keck Foundation)

Of course, a researcher can apply for grants from many agencies, and it's not uncommon for research to have many sponsors. Whatever their affiliations granting agencies share important similarities:

Because of their independence and access to government funds, granting agencies tend to dominate scientific research in democratic societies. In totalitarian societies such as the former Soviet Union, governmantal agencies play a much bigger role.