Science, Money, and Politics: Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion

To introduce his new book Science, Money, and Politics: Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion, Daniel S. Greenberg present ten examples how government funding has subverted the ends of science.

Praise for the book:

"Daniel Greenberg has constructed a tour de force exploration of the world of science policy and politics over the past forty years, with pleasant forays into the worlds of big science, university research shops, government labs, scientific societies, and granting agencies. . . . [Greenberg] stands without peer as the outside science observer in Washington, and brings to his work both a fine appreciation for the work of scientists and the possible abuses of a system which funnels over $15 billion per year into basic research. . . . This is a superb book, and should interest scholars and laypersons alike interested in how the scientific enterprise has become what it is over the past fifty years."—Jonathan Engel, Journal of the History of Medecine

"The culmination of 40 years of pounding the science-policy beat. It is a masterly overview of how big science and big government have operated together in post-war America. . . . It is probably fair to say that, through the medium of his newsletter, Science and Government Report, Mr. Greenberg pretty well invented a new way to cover big science—as a form of government spending no different, in budgetary terms, from defense procurement or agricultural support."—The Economist

"Washington-based journalist Daniel S. Greenberg delves further into his favorite issue in Science, Money, and Politics: Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion. Debunking science industry and policy myths left and right, Greenberg combines archival research and interviews with scientists and politicians in the know to explore why and how research has happened in the postwar U.S. . . . He goes on to describe the sycophancy, backbends and, sometimes, dishonesty practiced by researchers, and the willingness of some government scientists to keep their mouths shut when it behooves their bosses. A disturbing, compelling, and well-researched conspiracy story of the "I knew it!" variety."—Publishers Weekly

"Greenberg's profoundly important new book depicts American 'Big Science' as a classic self-perpetuating bureaucracy. . . . [It] is better documented than most National Academy of Sciences reports yet reads as briskly as a Dashiell Hammett detective story. . . . For four decades, Greenberg has been the conscience of American science writers. . . . We need more Greenbergs. . . . This admirable book should be required reading for science policy makers, science journalists, and any American who gives a damn whenever science—one of the nation's crown jewels—falls into irresponsible hands."—Keay Davidson, Scientific American

"Greenberg's . . . attack on the big-science machine merits attention."—Kirkus Reviews

The Hidden Dynamics of the Great American Scientific Enterprise
10 Findings from an Irreverent, Exhaustive Exploration of the Scandalous, the Outrageous, the Ridiculous, the Wasteful, and, Yes, Much Good, in Scientific Research

by Daniel S. Greenberg, author of Science, Money, and Politics: Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion

1.   You hear it repeatedly: The federal government is cutting financial support for scientific research, and America is losing its scientific supremacy. That ominous message, delivered to Congress by money-seeking scientists, is routinely and uncritically parroted by a gullible press. But it's self-serving nonsense. U.S.-government support of scientific research has steadily risen for decades, and currently exceeds the combined research spending of Europe and Japan. Shame on these scientific alarmists and their misleading prophecies of doom. By commonly accepted measures of scientific strength, the U.S. is the world leader in virtually every field of research, often by a wide margin. Scratch the myth of the lost lead.

2.   The same goes for the constant lament that the American public is intensely hostile to science, and that the alleged hostility retards funding for research. Generous, rising budgets are the financial reality in science, while repeated surveys of public attitudes toward science belie the claims of hostility. Polls consistently find that the public is enamored of science and strongly favors abundant government support of research, including long-term investments in basic research. Down goes another myth.

3.   Nonetheless, the claims of an urgent need to win public favor for science have opened the U.S. Treasury to an assortment of promotional schemes in behalf of science—including, several years ago, a bizarre government-financed project, led by a Nobel laureate in physics, to create a scientific TV counterpart to L.A. Law and NYPD Blue. The mythical hero of this saga was positioned at the head of a laboratory on the leading edge of research in fields ranging from nuclear weapons to human consciousness—intertwined with romance and professional rivalries. The major networks took one look, and said, No thanks. The outcome was fortunate for the good name of science, since the script was so wacky that several prominent scientific advisers on the project urged restraint and respect for scientific reality.

4.   But doesn't the U.S. face a serious shortage of scientists and engineers? The alarmists of scientific decline and neglect have been proclaiming that danger for 40 years. The truth, however, is that Ph.D.'s are in oversupply in many fields, unable to find jobs suitable to their training. In the biomedical sciences, Ph.D. production far exceeds job openings. One result is the growing practice of serial post-doctoral appointments—a low-wage "holding pattern" for surplus Ph.D.'s. For sound economic reasons, increasing numbers of American students are shunning scientific training and the questionable opportunity to serve as scientific stoop labor for grant-laden professors.

5.   The scientific enterprise prospers from public and political recognition of the value of research—for health, prosperity, national security, and a clean environment. But, in pursuing its economic well-being, science does not rely solely on good will. It lobbies, hard and effectively, for government money. Lobbying for science is a major sector of Washington's thriving lobbying industry. At a minimum fee of $20,000 per month, lobbyists-for-hire hustle pork-barrel appropriations for scientific clients in universities. Scientific associations maintain lobbying staffs to keep the money flowing to their rank and file, while members of Congress, eager to please the academics back home, pack spending bills with special helpings of designated pork. Universities rarely boast about getting money by this backdoor route, since pork violates the pious commitment to impartiality and objectivity in the award of federal research money. But many top-line schools arduously chase pork-barrel appropriations. Do you get a whiff of hypocrisy? No wonder.

6.   Science occasionally encounters serious disappointments in its quest for money in Washington. The greatest atom smasher ever planned—the colossal Superconducting Super Collider (SSC)—met its doom in 1993 when Congress terminated funding after $2 billion had been spent on the project. The backers of the SSC attributed their defeat to ignorance and hostility to science. But the real cause was their disregard for responsible use of the taxpayers' money. The project was sold to Congress with a price tag of $4 billion and baseless assurances that other countries would foot a large part of the cost. When Congress pulled the plug, the cost estimates had risen to $12 billion and counting, and no other country had offered any financial assistance.

7.   But we mustn't overlook Bill Clinton's role in the SSC debacle. While seeking to demonstrate frugality in his first year in office, Clinton was confronted by two high-cost, high-tech mega-projects: the SSC and the Space Station. The SSC was under construction in Texas—Bush country—while contracts for the Space Stations were spread around the nation, with the biggest share in vote-rich California. At a White House meeting with his science adviser and budget officials, Clinton gave the nod to an all-out drive to save the Space Station, while the SSC was left to languish, and eventually die, on Capitol Hill.

8.   Which brings us to science advice for the president—a topic that has spawned the tragicomedy of Dr. Strangelove and C.P. Snow's earnest pleas for politicians to heed scientists. In reality, the role has been fairly mundane ever since a full-time science adviser was appointed to the White House by President Eisenhower. No science adviser has ever been admitted to the president's inner circle. Richard Nixon was particularly aggrieved when one of his science advisers challenged the presidential commitment to a supersonic civilian airplane in testimony to Congress. Distrustful of his science advisers, Nixon cast them all out of the White House, saying he would call upon them if he needed advice. Somehow he got along without them. As revealed in secret White House tapes, Nixon had a low opinion of his science advisers. He told his aides that he wanted "geniuses" to advise him on scientific matters, but, instead, was served by mere ex-university presidents.

9.   Leading scientists cherished having one of their own on the presidential staff and persuaded President Ford to restore the job abolished by Nixon. Science advice thus returned to the White House, but scientists had learned a searing lesson: loyalty and discipline are supreme values in politics. Never again has a scientist in the service of the president spoken publicly against a presidential position. Assuring money for research has become the dominant objective of scientists at the interface of science and government. And as this goal has gained importance, scientists have receded from participation in public affairs. Arms control and human rights were once key issues in the American scientific community, but they no longer resonate with the leaders, the members, or the professional organizations of science. When the Gingrich-led Republican Revolution threatened federal research budgets, scientists rose up in unison, barraged Congress with angry petitions, and saved their budgets. On other political matters, science tends to be quiescent.

10.   A relentless quest for money pervades science—and almost anything goes to acquire it, including commercial deals between universities scientists and industry that trade away basic traditions of science: openness, collegiality, and protection of human subjects of research. In scientific journals and in conferences, conscience-stricken scientists despair over ethical erosion in their profession. Debates rage over codes of conduct to assure ethical behavior, but the lure of mammon remains a powerful force in the life of science.


Copyright notice: ©2001 by Daniel S. Greenberg. This text appears on the University of Chicago Press website by permission of the authors. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of Daniel S. Greenberg.

Daniel S. Greenberg
Science, Money, and Politics: Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion
©2001, 540 pages
Cloth $42.50 ISBN: 978-0-226-30634-6
Paper $20.00 ISBN: 978-0-226-30635-3

For information on purchasing the book—from bookstores or here online—please go to the webpage for Science, Money, and Politics: Political Triumph and Ethical Erosion.

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