Superconductivity and acquired immune deficiency syndrome are remote from each other on the spectrum of research problems. But, like most other scientific matters of our time, they exist in a political dimension, since Washington controls money and policy for research. The different responses accorded these problems by the Reagan administration provide a tale of values—and it’s not a pleasant one.

The political response to superconductivity was swift, sure-footed, and backed with money. It showed that government can move rapidly and sensibly—especially when Japan is pushing research in a hot field, huge problems remain to be solved, and the eventual market potential is in the billions.

In contrast, the Administration’s response to AIDS has been indifferent and pennypinching and a debacle in leadership....

How will history remember this President? Given his ignominious response to what could evolve into the greatest health crisis of modern times, Ronald Reagan could go into the...

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