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Why Six Presidents Opposed State-Sponsored Science — And Why You Should Too

Tuesday, November 29, 2016 11:30
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Andrew Johnson opposed the Smithsonian Institution all his life, James Buchannan vetoed the Morrill Land-Grant Bill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt halved the federal government’s research budgets, Harry Truman vetoed the National Science Foundation bill, Dwight Eisenhower dedicated much of his farewell address to regretting the government funding of university science, and Lyndon Johnson complained that the National Institutes of Health had produced no measurable health benefits. What inspired these presidents’ antipathy? What can we learn from it? We often hear about the accomplishments of state-funded science, and yet we have few ways of measuring its failure. While we can easily note the prima facie folly of shrimp treadmills, the true negative effects are often the science that is foregone in order to advance government priorities. The distortions caused by this scrambling of incentives and actors were duly noted by some of the more prescient of our former presidents. Terence Kealey, Cato Institute Senior Visiting Fellow, former president of the University of Buckingham, and author of the landmark book, The Economic Laws of Scientific Research will explain why successive presidents understood we could improve science by keeping the government out.

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