Science Shutdown: New Paradigms for Keeping Science Going

Since the federal government shut down yesterday, the scientific community has come to some uncomfortable realizations about our connection to the federal government. Here are some tweets about how science has been affected since yesterday.

This blog post by Jonathon Eisen shows you screen shots of the government-run websites scientists use every day for their research.

Check out this scientist’s perspective via a reddit thread to get an idea of the modern science environment.

The main worry for scientists working outside of industry is always money. This is true even before a government shutdown, but the closing of the federal government just emphasizes how closely chained we are to them for support. I challenged the broader internet community yesterday to see if there were any ideas for better funding models (ones that don’t rely on a functional federal government or laboratory bake sales).

Crowdfunding continues to emerge as a new possibility, but I have a really hard time wrapping my head around this as a long-term solution to support laboratories over a research lifetime. Here are some timely links of crowdfunding successes and new initiatives.

Private/Industry partnerships with academia can work in some instances. It’s a great opportunity for scientists to tap into a separate pool of funds, but as I’ve mentioned there can be entanglements. One sure way of identifying bias in any kind of scientific study is to follow the money. When you can trace it back to a corporation with a significant vested interest in a particular result, then readers have every right to be suspicious. For scientists, maintaining credibility and integrity is everything. This is my main reason for steering clear of this method of funding on a larger scale. For my research area in particular, I’m sure agricultural and plant science biotech giants like Monsanto, Dupont Pioneer, Syngenta and BASF (all of the BigAg companies we love to hate, right?) could be persuaded to invest in me, but the science bred from any of those relationships would likely not be well-received by the general public. For polarizing scientific topics it is important to maintain independence. A prime example in the case of the plant sciences (agriculture, GMOs etc) is Dr. Kevin Folta, a scientist at the University of Florida, Horticultural Sciences Department. He is financially independent of corporate research interests (Monsanto), but is still the target of internet sleuths with opposing viewpoints that try to link him to Monsanto.

We can continue to evolve funding strategies, but we also have to seriously consider solving the more systemic issues with academic science. Check out this series of articles by Henry R. Bourne at UCSF with suggestions for alleviating these problems.

In think it’s safe to say that the future of science will be uncomfortable. Scientists are still taking suggestions for alternative funding models because we still think it’s an essential function of society.



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