Ep. 159 Terence Kealey on the Myths of Public Funding of Science

Our guest today is Terence Kealey, Professor Emeritus of clinical biochemistry at the University of Buckingham in the United Kingdom, where he served as Vice Chancellor until 2014. He is also a Research Fellow at the Cato Institute. Professor Kealey trained in medicine at Bart’s Hospital in London and obtained his doctorate at Oxford University following which he pursued a career in clinical biochemistry research, before joining the faculty at Buckingham University. 

He is the author of 3 books. The first, published in 1996 and titled The Economic Laws of Scientific Research is a sweeping exploration of the relationship between government and science and argues against public funding of scientific research. The second, Science, Sex, and Profits, published in 2008, continues the same theme and develops the notion that science is not a public good but is organized around what he terms “invisible colleges.” His third book, Breakfast is Your Most Dangerous Meal, was published in 2014 and links government intervention to very unhealthy nutritional advice.

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  1. David C. Noris on 02/26/2021 at 6:24 PM

    I greatly appreciated Prof. Kealey’s challenging this facile presumption of non-excludability of knowledge, and will enjoy returning to this idea. It does seem to me, however, that open-source software exhibits an extreme example of a certain kind of ‘spillover’ that pokes holes in the walls of the ‘invisible colleges’. It is a feature of the best-designed open-source software that one can make use of it (build upon it, etc.) readily without needing to know a great deal about how it is put together. Similarly, many mathematicians make use of results (theorems) from logic into whose details they would dread to delve. Again, the same applies to reagents, cell lines, etc. (although ‘scandals’ have been described in which cell lines turn out not to be what they were thought to be).

    Regarding the discussion of inflation 26:45–29:50, I would suggest that the fueling of corruption in Afghanistan by inflationary injections of cash by US & EU might make a fruitful analogy. I recall an interview in which a military officer described the existing channels of corruption as the only means through which Afghanistan could possibly have absorbed the resources the US was pumping in. The endemic mediocrity Michel described at one point here would play an analogous role to that corruption.

    • Michel Accad on 02/26/2021 at 9:05 PM

      Thank you, David. I’m glad you enjoyed the conversation. On your point about the open-source software, it remains true that only someone who can read and write software at that level can meaningfully make use of it. Similarly for your other examples. Prof. Kealey’s point is simply that knowledge is de facto excludable based on the expertise required to understand and make use of it.

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