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Letter: Science must not sell its integrity

Science must not sell its integrity

Sir: Professor Chris Adams (Letters, 3 June) uses high-sounding language to support a wrong-headed argument. Research in some branches of science is very expensive, and funding there will inevitably come mainly from government and industry.

Politicians and industrialists naturally tend to look for quick and fairly certain benefits, while undervaluing or ignoring more speculative outcomes, which may eventually be far more beneficial. There needs to be (and sometimes is) an arms-length relation between scientist and funder, so that scientific imagination and inventiveness is not too tightly shackled. Professor Adams writes blithely of scientists using "real world problems" - I have yet to meet a scientist who was not firmly rooted in the real world.

It does not do to claim that market performance is a "stricter" test: in science, market forces are notoriously an inadequate and biased criterion. The benefits of applied science are far too unpredictable and quixotic to be assessed in economic terms - except with hindsight. As for the promised benefits to scientists (better financial rewards, and other goodies), many scientists known to me (I am retired, and so disinterested) would gladly give up a little financial reward in return for better protection of their integrity, and more freedom to choose the direction of their research.


Department of Biology

Southampton University