March 04, 2006

Public funding of science

An editorial in Nature illustrates how public funding of scientific research contrasts with private funding. The editorial deals with how policy-makers evaluate "research programmes that consume billions of dollars of taxpayers' money." Proper evaluation is critical for making wise spending decisions in the future. But the whole process seems to be (oh great surprise) rather inefficient. After evaluation is done, policy-makers do not really use the information for new funding decisions. The process is also not very transparent - in the US, for example, much of it is carried out by the secretive White House Office of Management and Budget (and I guess that the situation in other countries is even worse).

Finally, the evaluating process is quite expensive and scientists have to give up research time to help with it. The Nature editorial even hints that evaluation as currently done may not be cost-effective. Clearly, policy-makers should evaluate the evaluation process to guide future evaluating processes. Then they should evaluate this second-tier evaluating process, and so on and so forth. Let me suggest to start the other way round, evaluating whether policy-makers are worthwhile in the first place.

The fact that underlies all these artificial complications is that policy-makers have no way of knowing the costs and benefits of what they do with taxpayers' money. In contrast, Gary Comer knows very well how much his funding efforts cost him and how much satisfaction he gets from them.

No comments:

Post a Comment