Skip to main content

I'll Take "Things That Smart People Do" For $400

  • Author:
  • Updated:

Science is one of those things that educated people tend to think ought to be subsidized. What's more, educated types tend to think we should increase the supply of scientists by mucking about with the way we educate children and increasing visas for science types. We always just thought that this was because the people running the science industries are highly effective propagandists and lobbyists.
Felix Salmon suspects we're being a bit naive. He points to recent calls from former Harvard President Larry Summers calling for funding life scientists and Business Week columnist Michael Mandel calling for funding of energy and environmental R&D, and concludes that something much less complex and much more human might be at work.

Isn't interesting how Davos Man is perfectly happy with the idea of government subsidies in the realm of scientific research, while being very, very uncomfortable with the idea of government subsidies for, say, agriculture?
I'm not saying that either Summers or Mandel is wrong. But all this does strike me a little bit as the overeducated shilling on behalf of the overeducated. When the elected representative of an agricultural community asks for more life-science research, or when the former president of the world's foremost research university asks for more agricultural subsidies, then I think we might be moving towards consensus. But for the time being, I'm tempted to conclude that no one has quite as much objectivity as they like to think they do.

We mentioned this theory to one of our breakfast companions just now and she thought we were all too innocent. "Clearly," she said, "Summers is just long a bunch of life science R&D properties."

The kind of subsidies Larry Summers likes