ECON Private Research Dollars

John K Clark (
Wed, 28 Jan 1998 22:55:01 -0800 (PST)


"Geoff Smith" <> On Wed, 28 Jan 1998 Wrote:

>Could someone please give me some good examples of how private
>scientific research is "better"(interpret that as you will) than
>public research. I am presently involved in a debate with my
>university peers and professors, and I need some more ammunition.

Well, just this month a very small company, Geron Corporation, found a ,
perhaps the, key to cellular aging. Last year another small company found a
way to clone mammals.

The breakthrough on High Temperature superconductors was made by IBM at their
Zurich laboratory, Muller and Bednorz, both IBM employees received Nobel
prizes. The very same IBM lab also made what is unquestionably the single
most important advance in Nanotechnology up to this point, The Scanning
Tunneling Microscope and earned another Nobel prize for IBM employees Binnig
and Rohrer. IBM is also where the newer Atomic Force Microscope and Magnetic
Resonance Microscope were invented. They used these machines to make the
smallest possible logo, spelling out the name "IBM" atom by atom a few years

IBM didn't do everything, the first laser was made in May 1960 at the private
Hughes Research Laboratory by Harold Maimam. 60 years ago Bell Labs discovered
that some radio waves come from space and built the world's first radio
telescope, more recently Bell Labs revolutionized Cosmology by detecting the
3 degree Kelvin black body background radiation from The BIG BANG and got
a Nobel Prize for it. Bell Labs also invented the transistor and got another
Nobel Prize for that. Texas Instruments invented the integrated circuit,
INTEL invented the microprocessor to fulfill a contract from a Japanese
calculator company.

A lot of good work comes from private universities. MIT was started in 1845
by Erastus Bigelow, using the vast fortune he made in the power loom
manufacturing business. CAL TECH is also a privet institution, so is Harvard,
so is Yale, so is Princeton, so is Carnegie Mellon, so is The Institute For
Advanced Study, so is Stanford. Speaking of Standford, Calvin Quate of that
privet university used an Atomic Force Microscope invented at IBM to make the
worlds smallest transistor. He was able to make lines less than 100
nanometers wide.

Most of the world's great telescopes were built with private funds donated by
rich men, including the largest of all, the 394 inch Keck on Mauna Kea,
a second private instrument of equal size recently became operational just
a few hundred feet away. I think it's interesting that one of the biggest
contributors to Big Science, Charles Yerkes, made much of his money by
building street car lines, until government put him out of business when
they decided they could run them much, much better. None of the men who
gave money for these things expected their telescope to make a profit.
If government wasn't around to steal a large pat of their money people like
this would give even more.

I don't want to oversell my case, there is no doubt that some good science
has come from government funded research, and that's not surprising
considering that government has trillions of dollars at it's disposal. Even a
monkey throwing around that kind of money would occasionally do some good.

John K Clark

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