Friday, April 19, 2013

Wasteful government spending on research grants? Depends on what you consider wasteful.

I read with amusement this article regarding the $880,000 grant to researchers to study reproduction in snails.  Reading the post, I was sure that the author must not have a full understanding of the science behind the work. After all, a scientist or team of researchers have clearly devoted years of time and effort into understanding snail reproduction.  Surely, there must be some underlying scientific merit to the project that the post author was incapable of fully appreciating.  So, I looked up the abstract for the project.  According to the abstract, findings from the project will ultimately "illuminate the extent to which the preservation of genetic diversity within populations, species, and ecological communities is integral to the preservation of biological diversity".  (In other words, the significance and impact of this project seems limited.) Also, the abstract goes on to discuss the integration of this project with educational experiences for minority students. 

My take on this?  Rather than having a potential significant impact on human genetics or serious disease, this research project is an expensive way to expose many underprivileged children to various aspects of science and the research process.  While I, like the author of the post, also have difficulty understanding the reasoning for funding this particular project, I believe that ultimately it may inspire some kids from underrepresented segments of the population to pursue research careers.  While this has nothing to do with snail reproduction, it does have potential to impact the broader science field as a whole. 

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