On the cheap:
I had a good friend as a youth whose father was a head of the physics department in the local university.  I asked my parents what discoveries he had made and they said far less than his skills would have permitted.  He would have the students build all the equipment to be used in any experiments.  He did not go up to Tallahassee and ask the politicians for vast sums with which to buy equipment commercially.  This may have prepared his students quite well, but it did little for his fame.

He was not alone.  You remember that Charles Darwin learned that a man named Alfred Russel Wallace was about to publish on the theory of evolution, so Darwin had his own work printed up at his own expense.  From the little I know, Wallace ultimately had a far better grasp of what was going on, but you know quite well who has the enduring fame. 

My impression is that early work was funded by the scientists doing the work.  There were exceptions.  Tycho Brahe got generous funding from the Danish king.  I suppose it would make a nice book for somebody to trace the origin and history of public funding for science.

I would have thought it would have been lavish and early.  After all, urban society has always needed to attract members from the fecund countryside.  Cities don’t make enough babies.  This is I daresay is why such extravagancies as massive entertainment, absurdly audacious architecture and often brilliant art have accompanied the urban adventure.  The city needs to impress you.

Of course the money spent on science and other shows proclaiming the importance of mass society has been very lavish of late.  That will not change I suppose, but it might slack off a bit.  In fact recent economic difficulties already are biting into science budgets in a number of countries. 

I skip over the issue of the way scientists apparently deliberately cultivated professionalism, read taxpayer money, in order to exclude the group that was then the most productive of science – clergymen in England who funded their own work.  “Why not?” they might have asked.  The clergymen were supported by tax money.

A scientist gets respect if he can spend a lot of money … if he can produce results of course.  Similarly a military officer gets respect if he loses a lot of men … if he wins of course.  There is a movie “Oh What a Lovely War” about WW I.  It features songs sung by men in the trenches, one of which was “They Were Only Playing Leapfrog.”  It was a protest song.  An officer would order a battle in which men got killed in the gruesome numbers of that conflict and the only evident purpose was that the officer could get a promotion before a somewhat senior officer.

The tightening of the purse strings has drawn attention.  (Creative Tensions NATURE vol. 484 no. 7392 April 5, 2012 page 5 and other articles in the same issue) Like the rest of us, scientists will be under some pressure to do more with less.  This would seem a salubrious thing.

Then there is we at the other end of the scale, trying to accomplish something, even something of great importance, privately funded.  Some day, with luck, I may get to crow a bit. 

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