I have no problem with the super rich investing their own money in science. Many, if not most, seem genuinely committed to making a positive difference. No doubt the chances are improved of advances if such private investment occurs alongside public investment.
There are at least 4 major problems, however, with privatized science research:
1. Public research has been more committed to “basic” research with no specific short term aim but which has led to fantastic discoveries throughout our nation’s history. Private research is more “mission oriented” — to create or improve a specific product for profit. Publicly funded science has in the past been more dedicated to serving the common good than private/corporate interests.
2. Private research can serve as an excuse to reduce public research — particularly when public budgets are tights and debts are soaring. If government no longer control what research is funded, We the People have lost another piece of what remains of self-governance. We now must depend on what the billionaires feel is important to research, not our own government.
3. If private science research funding increases while public science funding decreases, trendy science projects (i.e. personal space exploration) or research addressing problems of white people (i.e. cystic fibrosis, melanoma and ovarian cancer) may receive greater attention than concerns and illnesses affecting others.
4. If private science research funding replaces public science research funding rather than complements or supplements it, a huge red flag will be objectivity. Will private research protocols and processes be transparent? Be peer reviewed? The temptation to engage in scientific “research” to justify whatever the endeavors of corporations connected to the billionaires bankrolling the research will be tremendous. Corporate influence over public research and public regulatory bodies are already substantial. With “public” barriers and whatever degree of public accountability exists out of their way, private/corporate entities will have free reign use research as PR to reinforce their actions.
Quote from article:
“For better or worse,” said Steven A. Edwards, a policy analyst at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “the practice of science in the 21st century is becoming shaped less by national priorities or by peer-review groups and more by the particular preferences of individuals with huge amounts of money.”
Billionaires with big ideas are privatizing American science