Reliance On Grants

Recently I have noticed an interesting trend in the pages of The Scientist. Recognizing that the government plays an important role in their future, scientists are beginning to mobilize for greater involvement in the political process. In many ways, this can only be seen as a positive step. There is one aspect of this growing trend that troubles me, however. Whether it was the story on communicating with Congress by Robert Finn [page 14], the commentary by Raymond DuBois [page 10], or the lett

Oct 28, 1996
Matthew Mcdonald

Recently I have noticed an interesting trend in the pages of The Scientist. Recognizing that the government plays an important role in their future, scientists are beginning to mobilize for greater involvement in the political process. In many ways, this can only be seen as a positive step.

There is one aspect of this growing trend that troubles me, however. Whether it was the story on communicating with Congress by Robert Finn [page 14], the commentary by Raymond DuBois [page 10], or the letter by Eliot Brinton [page 11] (all published in the Sept. 16, 1996, issue of The Scientist), many seem to view greater government funding as the panacea for these competitive times.

Although government-funded research has been the hallmark of the last few decades, relying too heavily on grants is dangerous. Many in the United States feel that the economy is healthy and growing, albeit slowly. But is it really? With a national debt of more than $5 trillion, how long will it take before buying big government on the backs of our future generations will catch up to us? As is evident by the limited success of President Clinton and the Republican Congress to even address the deficit, how can we next account for the longer-term and more precipitous national debt?

Second, insisting that we saddle our grandchildren with even more liabilities is akin to "taxation without representation." Being 26 years old, I actually have to take into account that Medicare and Social Security will not be around for me and my family. How can I then justify a call for more government funding when my offspring will certainly inherit a country with an even lower standard of living?

In addition, if we allow our profession to become even more dependent upon federal grants, we place ourselves in great jeopardy of being even more affected by the whims of politicians and the electorate. The government that giveth can taketh away.

There may be hope, however. Although not popular in the short term, we should think about lobbying for less government in return for lower regulatory and administrative burdens.

Like the rest of America, science must learn to wean itself from a bloated, indebted federal government. If we act early enough, this can come with some guidance on our part. Although I will be the first to admit that this plan is not the most desirable option, if we do nothing, we may risk losing much more.

Matthew S. McDonald
Department of Microbiology and Immunology
University of California, Los Angeles
School of Medicine
10833 Le Conte Ave., 12-151 Factor
Los Angeles, Calif. 90024-1747
E-mail: mattym@village.ios.com