It's hard to escape the sense of concern in the scientific community that something has gone awry with the mechanisms by which public funds are allocated for research. Before putting forth several proposals for change in the current arrangement, I feel it is important to point out certain realities--moral hazards, perhaps--that must be taken into consideration by anyone presuming to tamper with the status quo:

* A robust government demands answers for the investment of public wealth, whereas a healthy scientific research effort will measure success by generating some answers and a lot more questions.

* The public must be able to ascertain what it gets for its investment more swiftly than most research projects require for their completion; and elected representatives of the public naturally want to show results for their supportive votes.

* The resulting tension between scientists and policymakers cannot be resolved: Public representatives in legislatures want...

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