What Kind of Research Should Our Government Support?

Pretend that you are a scientist who has been selected to advise a government agency that provides funds to support mathematics and scientific research. You have been sent the following brief abstracts of 15 proposed research projects that have been submitted to the agency. Discuss the pros and cons of funding each of these projects (the projects were adapted from http://temp.onlineethics.org/edu/precol/classroom/lesson5.html).

Development of High Energy Rocket Fuel For Mission to Mars The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has proposed sending a series of manned rocket ships to Mars in order to establish a permanent space colony there within the next decade. This proposed research would examine the combustion properties of a newly discovered group of high energy chemicals that can be made from coal and other plentiful raw materials. The goal would be a more energetic rocket fuel that would allow the Mars spaceships to carry a larger payload

New Artificial Kidney A new type of plastic shows promise of being used as a thin film in an artificial kidney that can filter and cleanse blood just as effectively as a real kidney. This proposed research would test the ability of this plastic film to filter all of the poisons out of human blood that are filtered out by a real kidney. Human volunteers who are waiting for kidney transplants will be used in this research. The plastic material is extremely expensive so, if the research is successful, the artificial kidneys will cost more than a kidney transplant, but those that can afford them won't have to wait for the availability of kidneys that matches their blood types

Use of Organ Transplants From Death Row Inmates The ability to save and prolong human lives by transplanting organs has created an increasing shortage of available organs. A potential sources of such organs is death row inmates. This research would explore the potential for reducing the waiting time for human organs if the organs of those who are condemned to death were automatically available upon execution without requiring permission of the condemned person or next of kin.

Genetically Engineered Tobacco A variety of tobacco has been developed by selective breeding techniques that has only half the nicotine and tar of the average tobacco plant. This new variety is very expensive to grow because it is not as resistant as other varieties of tobacco to several insect pests. This research is designed to perfect a technique of incorporating into the new low nicotine and tar variety the gene that makes other varieties resistant.

Migratory Behavior Of the Humpbacked Whale Efforts to protect the humpbacked whale from pollution and from its predators has been made difficult by the fact that not enough is known about this species migratory behavior. This proposed research will use a small electronic device that can be attached to the whales' back with no ill effects to track the whales as they move between their Summer and Winter feeding areas and to determine where they go to mate and raise their young.

Protecting a Government DNA Data Bank A small sample of blood or loose skin from any human being can be used to obtain a DNA fingerprint that is a virtually infallible way of identifying that individually from a future sample obtained from that same person. The government would be able to use a computer data bank of stored DNA information from all U.S. residents for many purposes such as tracking down criminal suspects, identifying missing persons, positively identifying people for income tax and social security purposes, etc. One problem with the scheme is that the data bank would need to be available only to those authorized by the government to use it. This research is aimed at finding ways of protecting such a data bank from access by unauthorized computer hackers.

Testing An Experimental AIDS Drug On Rhesus Monkeys A potentially highly effective new drugs for the treating AIDS patients has been developed. There is concern however that this drug may have several severe side effects in humans that would not occur in the usual laboratory animals like mice and rats in which it has been already tested. Before it is tested on humans this research proposes to test it on Rhesus monkeys. These monkeys, although rare and expensive have been used in research in the past because they are often very similar to humans in their toxic responses to drugs.

Effects of Eating Fast Foods On Health Fatty, high cholesterol, foods have been blamed by health scientists for increasing obesity and susceptibility to heart disease in the public. Scientists who disagree with this assertion propose to provide food from McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, KFC and other fast food restaurants to elementary school children in ten low income neighborhoods in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. By following the health of these children over the following twenty years they hope to disprove the allegation that fast foods cause poor health.

Development of Disposable Business Clothing One of the inconveniences for frequent business travelers is the need to constantly pack and unpack clothing. Textile scientists have proposed testing the use of a very cheap new fabric that they think can be adapted to the production of shirts, suits, underwear, dresses and virtually every other essential item of clothing. Their goal is to demonstrate that such clothing can be produced in such a cheap manner that a business traveler could simply purchase new clothes at his or her destination and throw them out when the trip is over.

Googolplex-Calculus In many historical cases, the results found in theoretical mathematics have had a practical or "applied" value, often not foreseen, or even understood, until many years after their discovery, such as research on mathematical logic that is now fundamental to computers and computer science, or, to quote Angelo Mingarelli, "How could Giovanni Ricci-Curbastro and Tullio Levi-Civita have known, in 1900, that their basic theory of tensors, a very abstract theory for their time, would become the cornerstone of 20th century physics... that someone called Albert Einstein would come along and in 1916 would use their theory to produce a new theory of gravitation, or general relativity, as it is called these days, a theory that would change philosophy and launch our new era?" The authors propose to extend the fruitful omega-calculus field that could revolutionize the study of change: The theory of googolplex-calculus.

Scientific Validity of Astrological Predictions Most scientists reject astrology as one of many forms of superstitions and mysticism that has no true predictive or interpretive value. An organization of scientists who believe in astrology proposes to do a scientific study to demonstrate its validity. They intend to test the ability of astrological predictions, based on the positions in the sky of the sun, moon, stars and planets to predict which days are most favorable for a person to buy a lottery ticket.