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Five Fundamentals Principles Underlie the Program Support for Scientific Research

By: Vannevar Bush in 1945. From Physics Today 51, no. 02. 1988.

Certain basic principles must underlie the program of Government support for scientific research and education if such support is to be effective and if it is to avoid impairing the very things we seek to foster. These principles are as follows:

(1) Whatever the extent of support may be, funds must be stable over the years so that long-range programs may be undertaken.

(2) The agency to administer such funds should be composed of citizens selected only based on their interest in and capacity to promote the agency’s work. They should be persons of broad interest in and understanding of the peculiarities of scientific research and education.

(3) The agency should promote research through contracts or grants to organizations outside the Federal Government. It should not operate any laboratories of its own.

(4) Support of basic research in public and private colleges, universities, and research institutes must leave the internal control of policy, personnel, and the method and scope of the research to the institutions themselves. This is of the utmost importance.

(5) While assuring complete independence and freedom for the nature, scope, and methodology of research in the institutions receiving public funds and while retaining discretion in allocating funds among such institutions, the Foundation proposed herein must be responsible to the President and Congress.

Only through such responsibility can we maintain the proper relationship between science and other aspects of a democratic system. The usual controls of audits, reports, budgeting, and the like should, of course, apply to the administrative and fiscal operations of the Foundation, subject, however, to such adjustments in procedure as are necessary to meet the particular requirements of research.

Primary research is a long-term process – it ceases to be essential if immediate results are expected on short-term support. Methods should permit the agency to commit funds from current appropriations for programs of five years or longer. Continuity and stability of the program and its support may be expected (a) from the growing realization by the Congress of the benefits to the public from scientific research and (b) from the conviction that will grow among those who conduct research under the auspices of the agency that good quality work will be followed by continuing support.

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