Subject: Re: Tom W. Bell paper
From: simo <>
Date: Sun, 03 Sep 2006 22:24:43 -0400

On Sat, 2006-09-02 at 14:26 -0700, Thomas Lord wrote:
> simo wrote:
> > Can you make a few examples of costly base research that has been
> > "privately" funded in the past 2000 years?
> >   
> There's a 1/4 done wikipedia article on "Funding of Science"
> that gives a clue.   Of course, the middle-ages boundary between
> private and public funding is, sure, a little fuzzy, but has a
> clearly private character in its administration.

Wikipedia is a nice thing, but I wouldn't trust it 100% on a metter like

> It isn't until the dust-ups in the first half of the 20th century
> that the state really moved in and, since then, it has been
> in retreat (at least in the market-oriented states).
> Sure, these days you can find some colliders, neutrino
> detectors, hubble, the ISS and so forth but, by in large,
> government funding is used more as signal than as
> primary source for funding.

You wouldn't even have the man of the moon without government funding,
let's not think of all the technology the fell down from it. And all the
primary science that costs a lot and does not give any chance of a
product in 30 years (not 5) is of course funded by governments.

>    Think of pharmaceuticals,
> genetics, rocketry, ag, energy, cryptography, user
> interface technology, micro-electronics, nano-technology,
> quantum computing, communications technology, aviation,
> structural engineering, materials science, artificial
> intelligence, land and sea based transportation,  and on
> and on and on.   Who paid for special relativity?  Where
> does Hawking draw his check?  and on and on.  In our own
> little industry, go have a look what some luminaries
> of are up to at:

I asked you of example of private funded science in the past not in the
present. In the present we have a mixed environment, a lot of science is
done in universities and they have both private and public funds.
Usually what I really see is that it is divided at 50%: the public gets
the bills and the private gets the profits :-)

> Yes, it's fuzzy.   Was Galileo a private or  a state creation?
> Which was Archimedes?  Kepler is a little bit clearer.
> The scientific tradition, from a financial perspective, is
> very much the product of a succession of choices made by
> very wealthy people, whose interests have more often than
> not been closely aligned with the state, but it is a leap to
> call that "public funding."

The question was not seeking an answer really, private and public are
distinct only since recently, you cannot really be serious in trying to
distinguish between private and public funding in past ages. In those
ages this distinction simply didn't exist. Nobles owned the land and all
the goods on it, but that was not private property, not the way we
conceive it today, and their funds were not divided in private or
public, it was just all there it was, no real distinction.

> > Btw explain also what you mean for private before 18th century in the
> > various epochs.
> >
> >   
> Very good point and I don't wish to detract from it. 
> It is not trivial to separate the state
> from private interests at certain points in history.

It's difficult now, in the past at least they were less deceiving and
didn't even try :-)

> I characterize patronage in the middle ages as private because
> it was organized outside of the usual deliberations of the
> maintenance of the state, albeit by many of the same parties.
> It was a status activity among elites rather than a function of
> the state, for the most part.  "What one does, given one's wealth"
> rather than "What we do, given our dominion." 

State in the middle ages? Yes sure that name may have been used, but it
was nothing like we know today.

> > So you equate patronage with private funding? Funny.
> >
> >   
> To do otherwise is an arguable position but not, I think, one
> that ultimately stands up.    Sans the state, patronage would
> not have been possible, true, and the fruits of patronage
> often reinforced the interests of the state, true.
> Perhaps I am unaware of some history that you are privy to
> but it looks to me like patronage was not (for the most part)
> organized so much as part of the operation of the state as it
> was organized as  a friendly rivalry among the custodians of
> the state.   One player might commission an excellent
> symphony.   Another a fine painting.   A third, a new account
> of the motions of the planets.

As friendly as Citibank and Bank of America build their building in
front of each other downtown.
Patronage was for the most part a political issue, the way to show how
wealthy a family were. There was not much friendliness in what they did.
Patronage was a weapon for the quest of power.
With a very clumsy comparison: in the modern era Russia and the USA
built up nuclear arsenals, in that time they built up art arsenals :-)

> The state has long created the demand-side of a market for
> certain scientific advances but that is not patronage -- rather
> the opposite.
> > I never seen markets put trillion of dollars on the table for a serious
> > scientific research that is _not_ going to bring out a finite product in
> > less then 5 years.
> >
> > But I am not an expert, some examples may be enlightening.
> >   
> You also haven't seen any government or all governments collectively
> put trillions of dollars on the table for serious scientific research 
> that is
> _not_ going to bring out a finite product in less than 5 years.  Not
> now, not once, not ever.

Scuse me?
Just as an example fusion research has started around 1950 in many parts
of the world. It has not yet led to anything usable, and the best
previsions is that it will perhaps led to the construction of the first
plant in 15 years. That makes it 70 (seventy) years of research funded
exclusively by states and with costs they I can only imagine very, very
high. This is not the only field where state put an awful lot of money
in fundamental research (which is not product driven by definition).

> You also make a mistake if you are saying that product orientation
> is antithetical to "fundamental" research.

It is antithetical by definition, it's not me the think it is.
Fundamental research of course usually as a consequence led to products,
I can't remember any discovery the went the other way around, simply
because product oriented research is just a refinement of well known
laws of physics to get to a product. You don't imagine a product if you
don't know it is possible to produce it in the end.