Public support never has guaranteed good work

Sir

Sadly, the implication in your Editorial 'Broken promises' (Nature 452, 503; 2008), that good science depends on good ideas and not good intentions, is unlikely to make much difference to politicians anxious for public favour or to scientists anxious for money.

As you declared more than 15 years ago (Nature 360, 13; 1992), “the increasingly crass politicization of biomedical research looms as something of a menace, for it presupposes first that more money for more scientists is a way to medical salvation, and second that well-meaning groups of citizen-activists and professional lobbyists have a scientifically useful role in deciding where research money should be directed. There is, alas, inadequate evidence to support either proposition.” Technology can be bought, but science depends first on ideas and luck, to which the link is more imprecise.

In that News & Views article, you give four examples where politics threatened to derail science. One of them — five years before the Clinton promise mentioned in the Editorial (it is fascinating just how many breakthroughs are promised “within a decade”) — was of the US National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration trying to stop lobbyist-driven testing of an unproven AIDS vaccine.

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Goodman, N. Public support never has guaranteed good work. Nature 453, 281 (2008) doi:10.1038/453281c

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