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The decline of government funding for science, other than military-related projects, has left a gap in modern science that will hinder progress if not corrected. One of the responses has been an increase in private "patrons" funding science. There are certain advantages to this. Many of the earliest scientists were funded by wealthy patrons if they were not independently wealthy themselves, and that allowed them to pursue research that no one else felt mattered. "Science" itself was considered an odd hobby, not a serious project with universal implications. But we tend to remember the successful early scientists, not the numerous attempts to make alchemy work or other strange projects. Now, with the return of the importance of private funding, will science be distorted by the desire to please the funders?


Historically, research has been funded by grants. Government agencies and foundations announce that they want to fund X, and you, the scientist, write a proposal about why you’ll be awesome at X. If they agree, they give you money to do X.

That system has fallen apart. Thanks to funding cuts, getting government grants is like squeezing water from a stone. And many private foundations have, in turn, swaddled their grants in red tape. Many scientists spend more time writing grant applications than actually doing science. Private philanthropy—especially the kind that writes big, blank checks—is appealing.

The problem is, blank checks never come without strings. Something’s always exchanged: access, status, image. That’s where sugar-daddy science comes in. (Hat tip to Heidi N. Moore, who inspired the term with her Twitter critiques of what she calls sugar-daddy journalism.) Research labs cultivate plutocrats and corporate givers who want to be associated with flashy projects. Science stops being a tool to achieve things people need—clean water, shelter, food, transit, communication—and becomes a fashion accessory. If the labs are sleek, the demos look cool, and they both reflect the image the donor wants, then mission accomplished. Nothing needs to actually work.


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The problem with sugar-daddy science 1413 Nolondil 27-Sep-19 17:32
Re: The problem with sugar-daddy science 241 Nth 29-Sep-19 16:40

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