Elsewhere online
March 17, 2014

Big Donors Increasingly Driving Direction of Science Research

Billionaire philanthropists with big ideas on topics like health care, astronomy, and ocean health are increasingly financing major scientific work, and accordingly setting research priorities, as budget cuts squeeze the country's science institutions, The New York Times writes.

The article notes a string of ambitious projects launched with eight- and nine-figure contributions by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen; Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman; and others, many with Silicon Valley roots but some with fortunes in finance, energy, and other fields. Their scope ranges from tackling intractable diseases and unlocking neurological mysteries to building undersea exploratory craft and giant telescopes.

The increasing privatization of big science is being met with a mix of gratitude and concern in the research community, according to the Times. "For better or worse, the practice of science in the 21st century is becoming shaped less by national priorities or by peer-review groups and more by the particular preferences of individuals with huge amounts of money," said Steven Edwards of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.