By Robert D. Atkinson
The Christian Science Monitor
Distrust of government has long focused on economic and cultural matters, with conservative luminaries from Barry Goldwater to Ronald Reagan arguing that it should be kept out of private spheres ranging from the bedroom to the boardroom. This sentiment generally has not extended to the realm of science, however.
Since federally supported science helped win World War II and put astronauts on the moon, there has been strong bipartisan support for continued investment. For example, in the late 1990s, Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich advocated for tripling the National Science Foundation budget, and there was successful bipartisan effort to double research funding for the National Institutes of Health.
But that consensus is now under assault from the libertarian right, which has begun to view agencies such as the National Science Foundation as just one more wasteful government enterprise that constrains risk-taking entrepreneurs. Some, like Silicon Valley guru Peter Diamandis, acknowledge that federal research funding spurred past innovations, but now, they say, it just gets in the way. Better to rely on super-rich magnates such as Elon Musk to fund research. Michael Arrington, former editor of the widely read Silicon Valley blog Tech Crunch, speaks for a growing number of conservatives when he complains that Washington should “just leave Silicon Valley alone.”
Picture: National Science Foundation [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons