Sunday, January 18, 2009
Sex, science and profits: Kealey
This book asks whether governments should fund science. It starts with a review of the history of technological advancement. This section is like a cross between an economic history of the western world and guns germs and steal. The books title seems to be tying to trade in on the popularity of Guns and Germs which might cause people to dismiss it as pop history and miss its important arguments about current science funding.
The second section is an analyse of the industrial revolution and shows how its discoveries stemmed not from government funded pure scientists providing insights that were then used by industrialists but from tradesmen making gradual improvements to the machines they used every day. These new machines then provided evidence for the theoreticians to build up scientific theories from.
The third section looks at how contemporary science is done and examines if government funding of science increases or decreases the rate of progress (and economic growth). It includes a convincing chapter on why patents serve to harm the public.
This is an entertaining well crafted book that lays out a compelling argument for free market (rather than state subsidised) science. The book seems to have been widely ignored outside libertarian circles where he is preaching to the converted.
One thing the book does not explore is the use of other methods to incentivize science. The use of betting markets and prizes are two ways that are probably underused.