Science funding: Kicking our future away


We get Charlie Rose’s program late here — generally after midnight. I’m up to my ears with charitable organization duties (“Just Say No!”), work where I came in midstream, family health issues, and other typical aggravations of trying live a well-examined life.

I caught most of an hour discussion on science in America, featuring Sir Paul Nurse, president of Rockefeller University and Nobel laureate, Bruce Alberts, editor of Science, Shirley Ann Jackson, president of  Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Harold Varmus, Nobel winner and president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and Lisa Randall, the Harvard nuclear physicist (string theory).

It was a great policy discussion. It had great humor, and great wisdom. And at the end, Rose thanked Nurse and others for helping him put on a 13-part seminar on science policy.

Thirteen parts? And I caught just the last few minutes of #13?

There is the Charlie Rose archives! Here’s the show I caught, “The Imperative of Science.” Great discussion. Scary — Lisa Randall notes that the action in physics has moved to CERN, in Europe, and the search for the Higgs Boson. Varmus and Nurse talk about restrictions in funding that bite at our ability to keep the world lead in education and science. Educators, especially in science, should watch.

Are we kicking away our ability to lead in technology, health care, and other vital economic areas? One cannot help but wonder in listening to these people discuss the difficulty of getting support for critical research during the Bush administration. They each stressed the hope that the next president will be one literate in science.

Pfizer underwrote the series. The entire series is available for viewing at a site Pfizer set up(Signs of change:  Notice that physics is represented by two women; there are signs of hope in American science.)

Go see, from Pfizer’s website on the series:

The Charlie Rose Science Series

  • Episode 1: The Brain — Exploring the human brain from psychoanalysis to cutting edge research.
  • Episode 2: The Human Genome — Exploring the contributions that have been made to science through the discovering and mapping of human DNA.
  • Episode 3: Longevity — An in-depth discussion of longevity and aging from the latest research on calorie restriction, anti-aging drugs, genetic manipulation to the social and economic implications of an increase in human life span. (Longevity News Release)
  • Episode 4: Cancer — A discussion of the latest advances in cancer, from the genetics to cancer prevention, early detection, diagnosis, treatment and management of care. (Cancer News Release)
  • Episode 5: Stem Cells — A roundtable discussion on the latest advances in embryonic and adult stem cell research, their implications, and potential to change the way medicine is practiced.
  • Episode 6: Obesity — An informative dialogue on the growing obesity epidemic, its impact on overall health and the latest research to help understand, treat and prevent obesity. (Obesity News Release)
  • Episode 7: HIV/AIDS — A panel of leading experts addresses current treatment and prevention strategies, and new medical breakthroughs being used in the fight against HIV/AIDS. (HIV/AIDS News Release)
  • Episode 8: Pandemics — An exploration of factors that could create a global pandemic and how the science and public health leaders are addressing the crisis. (Pandemics News Release)
  • Episode 9: Heart Disease — A panel of experts explores the biology and genetics of cardiovascular disease, prevention and treatment, the development of medical, surgical and interventional therapies and steps individuals can take toward a heart-healthy lifestyle. (Heart Disease News Release)
  • Episode 10: Global Health — A roundtable discussion on initiatives aimed at fighting infectious diseases, protecting women and children, and strengthening global public health systems. (Global Health News Release)
  • Episode 11: Human Sexuality — A panel of experts explores major trends in human sexual behavior, sexual desire and satisfaction, and sexual dysfunction issues. (Human Sexuality News Release)

I wish all news programs covered science so well, and made their material so readily available.

One Response to Science funding: Kicking our future away

  1. Onkel Bob says:

    As the spouse of a working researcher at a prestigious university not far from the institutions of two men cited, I have to agree that our scientific lead is shrinking. However, the personal efforts of those two men are part of the problem.
    One used his influence to place his wife, a mediocre researcher at best, (2 papers in past 20 years, neither cited by other researchers) in a tenured position at the prestigious university where my spouse is working. I will say that this woman recognizes her privileged position and works to improve the quality of life/work of others in her department. Nevertheless, she occupies a position which she obtained not by merit, rather by association. As such she takes space, resources, and income away from other candidates who may be more worthy.
    The other uses his influence to quash research that does not agree with his world view. I’m not talking about ID, I’m talking about real dispute over the role of particular genes and its role in embryonic development. Commonly referred to as the Kuhn effect, science is not advanced by studying well known or agreed upon concepts, but rather overturning those ideas. However, if someone in a position of authority prevents that action, science will not advance.
    Their efforts demonstrate that their concern only extends so far; as long as the science brings them personal enrichment and doesn’t impinge upon their body of work.
    BTW – The president of that prestigious university also placed his mediocre researcher wife in a tenured position. She has 2 labs that stand empty. So this problem is not an isolated situation. Science would be better served if men such as this were not in academia.
    There are other indications. In the past two years of the MD/PhD program of the prestigious university the majority of incoming candidates were foreign born. Furthermore, women outnumbered men by an 8-2 margin. While this sounds like progress, I am reminded by an Academic of the Sciences that women often fail to make tenure due to various reasons, not the least of which, tenured positions occupied through nepotism.
    Science is not immune from the Peter Principle. (Laurence Peter observed that we rise to our level of incompetence, and progress no further.) Scientists are good at research, at thinking, at developing and test hypotheses. However, very few are good at personnel management. (My frau admits this freely) Many universities promote / hire post docs based on their research then fail to provide any support or education in management and human relations. Furthermore, PI’s then spend the majority of their time chasing money (grants) instead of actually doing science. They rely on their postdocs and graduate students to do the science.


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