“The type of science that I do is sometimes known as”curiosity-driven science”—this means that my work will never result in a marketable product, a useful machine, a prescribable pill, a formidable weapon, or any direct material gain—or if it does indirectly lead to one of those things, this would be figured out at some much later date by someone who is not me. As such, my research is a rather low priority for our national budget. There is just one significant source of monetary support for the kind of research that I do: the National Science Foundation, or NSF.
“The NSF is a US government agency, and the money that it provides for scientific research comes from tax dollars. In 2013, the budget of the NSF was $7.3 billion.* … Remember that this figure must support all curiosity-driven science—not just biology, but also geology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, psychology, sociology, and the more esoteric forms of engineering and computer science as well.”
—Hope Jahrens, from Lab Girl**
This is the sort of thing scientists stuggle with every day—continuing their work in the face of competition for shrinking budgets.
On my way to have dinner with a friend recently, I heard on the radio that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have donated $3 billion (billion!) to science—with a stated goal to cure all diseases by the end of this century.
And at the time I thought, well, that is a worthy goal … but how many other worthy goals are there? I was thinking of Lab Girl.
Then I read this article about it in Business Insider:
It’s ambitious framing for what is in fact a more straightforward and concrete goal. The donation, administered through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), essentially exists to shake up many funding schemes and career paths that dominate the field of modern medical research (along with most other fields of science).
In short, CZI plans to make it possible for large groups of scientists to focus on riskier projects that won’t necessarily yield results for years or even decades. That is, they want to give medical scientists the opportunity to work like coders in an ambitious Silicon Valley startup.
“That means we can look at projects that can pay off in 20 years, and 50 years,” Zuckerberg said.
So THANK YOU, Mark and Pricilla. I still think the eradication of global poverty and stopping global warming (because it is manmade) are more important. But I’m not the one with the $3 billion.*** 🙂
* And given the recent election, my guess it will be less in the coming years.
** Transcribed by me from pages 122 and 123 of my hardback copy of Lab Girl, published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.
*** And there’s always Bill and Melinda Gates—or other billionaires, some of whom participate in the Giving Pledge.