Funding scientific research

The Science and Technology page articles "Virtual `Life' Evolves in the Lab" and "Spinning Straw Into Gold Happens Only in Fairy Tales," Aug. 19, represent opposite faces of the same coin. The first is an enthusiastic celebration of the power of computing. The second is an accurate and balanced view of a science-related matter.

Economic constraints, however, have had opposite consequences on the two basic approaches to science - experimental and theoretical. Theoretical science flourishes because once one has bought more powerful computers, one must use them to their full potential.

Experimental science requires a huge variety of hardware and can be much more expensive. Consequently, it is greatly inhibited, and only exaggerated claims, combined with first-class public relations, seem effective. Small, unfashionable research projects tend to disappear. But historically, researchers have made the most fundamental and important discoveries with such projects.

So why have we let our science-funding policies become so distorted by economic pressures? I expect it is the dominating influence of money. David J. Turner, Bristol, England

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published, subject to condensation, and none acknowledged. Please address them to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115.

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