It's no secret that science and politics are often at odds. Some cases are obvious, such as National Institutes of Health funding of embryonic stem cell research in the United States and agricultural biotechnology in Europe. But the collision often plays out in ways that, if more local, are still important in determining what science gets done and who gets to do it.
Two examples are in the news today. A while ago Larry Ellison, founder of the software company Oracle, promised to fund a new center for global health at Harvard University. But Ellison rescinded his gift when Lawrence Summers, its former president, resigned under pressure. Not national politics, but politics nonetheless.
Now that center will go to the University of Washington (UW) instead of Harvard, funded by Bill Gates and not by Ellison. The amount of the grant (from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) has not been announced as of this writing, but some say it will top $100 million, making it the biggest gift ever to UW. It's a happy ending--the science will get done--but now it will get done on the West Coast instead of on the East. There's a nice story on this development in the Seattle Times; the story includes a short profile of Chris Murray, the Harvard-educated Harvard professor who will head the UW institute.
In an unrelated story, religious conservative organizations are boycotting the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which supports breast cancer research, after it was revealed that the foundation affiliates made grants totaling $475,000 to Planned Parenthood last year. The Saint Louis Respect Life Apostolate, part of the St. Louis Catholic Archdiocese, issued an announcement urging a boycott of the Komen Foundation "due to its policy allowing affiliates to offer financial support to abortion providing facilities and its endorsement of embryonic stem cell research."
Now, a range of conservative and religious organizations apparently is trying to pressure the Komen Foundation to cut ties with Planned Parenthood. Another business leader, Gary Heavin, who founded the Curves chain of health clubs, is also involved in the effort to defund the Komen Foundation and to pressure it to cut its ties to Planned Parenthood. For an indication of just how hot this issue has become in conservative and religious circles, just Google "Komen Planned Parenthood." Since 1982, the foundation has funded more than 1000 research grants totaling more than $180 million. Less support for the foundation, of course, means less support for cancer research--and fewer jobs for cancer researchers.
For its part, the foundation says that its grants to Planned Parenthood are for the dissemination of breast-cancer-awareness information and says it has no plans to alter its funding decisions.