Monday, March 31, 2014

Atkins: It's Elizabeth Warren's world ... but Dem stardom comes with big risks

Atkins: It's Elizabeth Warren's world

... but Dem stardom comes with big risks 
Boston Herald columnist Kimberly Atkins

WASHINGTON — She’s held elected office for only a little more than a year. She’s not on any ballot — and she swears she won’t be until 2018. Still, Elizabeth Warren is 2014’s most powerful star for the Democrats. But that star can flame out if she can’t help her party fend off a series of dire challenges.
Warren has taken on two jobs in addition to being the senior senator from Massachusetts. She’s a key campaigner for a host of Democratic candidates across the country. She’s also a political icon, a superhero to progressive Democrats — now known as the Warren wing of the party. With control of the Senate 
at stake in this year’s midterm 
election, Warren has emerged as a powerful weapon for Democrats. And as a result she’s everywhere. But that status comes with risks.
Within minutes of Scott Brown’s announcement that he was forming a committee to explore a Senate run against New Hampshire incumbent Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Warren’s team shot out a fundraising email on Shaheen’s behalf — though conveniently, the email link lets donors split their contributions between Shaheen’s and Warren’s campaign accounts if they wish.
A Brown win would be a major blow to the Warren brand — even before she bought further in by 
tying herself to Shaheen.
Not content to fight just her own grudge matches, she has already inserted herself into tough races across the country, making sought-after endorsements and raising cash through her PAC for a Level Playing Field. Not bad for a first-term senator, but if, as some polls and pundits suggest, the Democrats are on the verge of losing Congress entirely, she’ll be wearing it.
Warren, so far, has managed to deftly fan the flames of her hero status while still expertly maintaining her public reputation as the People’s Senator. The faithful affectionately call her “E-Dubs.” Yes, she has reached the cult status of celebs with shortened monikers such as the Biebs and J.Lo.
Warren manages to stay popular while keeping the press at arm’s length. Well known for eschewing the media except for carefully-chosen appearances, you won’t find her chatting with reporters in the halls of Senate office buildings as her colleagues do. Instead, her office releases YouTube videos, usually of her floor speeches or berating Senate committee hearing witnesses such as corporate executives accused of cheating consumers. She even takes on the administration, like last week when she laid into a Department of Education official for the agency’s decision to keep its contract with troubled student loan servicing company Sallie Mae. And yes, she even pops up in the Bay State for carefully-planned public appearances.
Her new book, “A Fighting Chance,” hits store shelves in April, and she can probably rely on her progressive fan club to ensure it has respectable sales. But there is little even the political phenom known as E-Dubs can do about what any pol will tell you are the only numbers that
matter. And that’s the election
 results in

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Are You There God? It's Me, Hobby Lobby: corporate personhood one step further

Are You There God? It's Me, Hobby Lobby

Everything you need to know about the high-stakes religious-freedom case that could redefine corporate personhood.

| Fri Mar. 21, 2014 3:00 AM GMT   - from Mother Jones
On Tuesday, the US Supreme Court will hear arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Inc., the most closely watched case of the year. The stakes are high. Thanks to novel legal arguments and bad science, a ruling in favor of the company threatens any number of significant and revolutionary outcomes, from upending a century's worth of settled corporate law to opening the floodgates to religious challenges to every possible federal statute to gutting the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act.
Hobby Lobby is a privately held, for-profit corporation with 13,000 employees. It's owned by a trust managed by the Green family, devout Christians who run the company based on biblical principles. They close their stores on Sundays, start staff meetings with Bible readings, pay above minimum wage, and use a Christian-based mediation practice to resolve employee disputes. The Greens are even attempting to build a Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC.
The Greens contend that health insurance plans cover contraception will force them to choose between violating their religious beliefs or suffer huge financial penalties for violating the law. They don't object to covering all contraception, only the emergency contraceptive pills Plan B and Ella and intrauterine devices (IUDs), which they (erroneously) believe are abortifacients. But the Greens aren't the ones who'd be providing the health insurance with contraceptive coverage. Their corporation, Hobby Lobby, would be.
So in September 2012, Hobby Lobby sued the US Department of Health and Human Services, challenging the contraceptive mandate on the grounds that it unconstitutionally and substantially burdens the company's religious beliefs. The company is asking the court to find that it has the same religious-freedom rights as a church or an individual, a finding no American court has ever made.
"By being required to make a choice between sacrificing our faith or paying millions of dollars in fines, we essentially must choose which poison pill to swallow,” David Green, Hobby Lobby's founder and CEO, said in a press release when the case was filed. "We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate."
On many levels, the Hobby Lobby case is a mess of bad facts, political opportunism, and questionable legal theories that might be laughable had some federal courts not taken them seriously. Take for instance Hobby Lobby's argument that providing coverage for Plan B and Ella substantially limits its religious freedom. The company admits in its complaint that until it considered filing the suit in 2012, its generous health insurance plan actually covered Plan B and Ella (though not IUDs). The burden of this coverage was apparently so insignificant that God, and Hobby Lobby executives, never noticed it until the mandate became a political issue.
The most well-publicized and controversial element of the case is Hobby Lobby's assertion that a for-profit corporation can have the constitutionally protected right to the free exercise of religion. It's a strange notion, but the court opened the door to this argument when it ruled in Citizens United that a corporation has First Amendment rights. So now the justices will have to consider whether corporations can pray, believe in an afterlife, and thus, be absolved of ACA's contraception mandate. But that's hardly the only thorny issue the court has to grapple with.
For Hobby Lobby to prevail, the company has to, among other things, meet what's known as the Sherbert test. It requires plaintiffs in religious-freedom cases to first show that their religious beliefs are sincere, and then prove that a government regulation or law poses a substantial burden on those beliefs. Given those criteria, a skeptic might wonder how burdensome the mandate really is for Hobby Lobby when, until just recently, it was mostly in compliance with the law.
The fact that Hobby Lobby once covered the drugs it now objects to is "evidence that these cases are part of a broader effort to undermine the Affordable Care Act, and push new legal theories that could result in businesses being allowed to break the law and harm others under the guise of religious freedom," says Gretchen Borchelt, senior counsel and director of state reproductive health policy at the National Women's Law Center.
Motives aside, theoretically the court in Hobby Lobby is being asked to make an entirely subjective judgment as to the sincerity of a plaintiff's religious beliefs and whether a government regulation poses a "substantial burden" on them. Such things aren't easily measured, and doing so puts the courts at risk of passing judgment on the religious beliefs themselves, a big constitutional no-no. That's why back in 1990 the court abandoned the Sherbert test for something more straightforward: Is the law generally applicable or does it single out a specific religious belief for punishment?
In Employment Division v. Smith, the court said it was okay for the state of Oregon to deny unemployment benefits to a couple of counselors at a drug rehab program who'd been fired for using peyote, which was illegal at the time. As members of a Native American church, they argued that denying them benefits violated their right to practice their religion by using peyote. Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion, wasn't buying it. He wrote that the Oregon law was constitutional because it didn't single out any particular religious practice. It applied to everyone. He wrote:
The rule respondents favor would open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind—ranging from compulsory military service to the payment of taxes to health and safety regulation such as manslaughter and child neglect laws, compulsory vaccination laws, drug laws, and traffic laws; to social welfare legislation such as minimum wage laws, child labor laws, animal cruelty laws, environmental protection laws, and laws providing for equality of opportunity for the races.
If Scalia had had the last word on this subject, the court might not even be considering Hobby Lobby. For this case and many of its potentially wide-ranging ramifications we have Congress and Bill Clinton to thank.
The Supreme Court ruling in Smith outraged members of Congress, who in 1993 passed the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA), which Clinton signed into law. That act forced the court to once again look at things like religious sincerity and to try to measure how much a government mandate burdens any one religious belief—something courts generally don't like to do. "Courts are wary of scrutinizing sincerity of claims," says Caroline Mala Corbin, a professor at the University of Miami law school. "They're worried that it will bleed into judgment of the religious belief itself. And if there's one thing courts don't want to do and aren't allowed to do under the Establishment Clause is to pass judgment about people's religious beliefs."
That's why Corbin thinks the court will steer clear of the sincerity question. Even the government hasn't touched it. As Lori Windham, a senior counsel for the Becket Fund, which is representing Hobby Lobby, says, "Neither the government nor the courts have disputed the sincerity of the Green's objections to these drugs and devices."
But in the Hobby Lobby case, there might be a good reason for the court to take a closer look at whether this legal challenge is politically, rather than religiously, motivated. Not only had the company never objected to covering the kinds of birth control that are now central to its lawsuit, but the reason Hobby Lobby now balks at covering these forms of contraception is based on a false premise—one the court will have to accept as true in order to find in Hobby Lobby's favor.
The company argues that emergency contraception pills, such as Ella and Plan B, destroy fertilized eggs by interfering with implantation in the uterus. Hobby Lobby's owners consider this abortion. But the pills don't work that way. When Plan B first came on the market in 1999, its mechanism for preventing unplanned pregnancies wasn't entirely clear. That's why the FDA-approved labeling reflected some uncertainty and said that the pills "theoretically" prevent pregnancy by interfering with implantation. Since then, though, there has been a lot of research on how these pills work, and the findings are definitive: They prevent pregnancy by blocking ovulation. In fact, they don't work once ovulation has occurred. As Corbin recently wrote in a law review article, "Every reputable scientific study to examine Plan B's mechanism has concluded that these pills prevent fertilization from occurring in the first place…In short, Plan B is contraception."
Labels on these products have been updated in Europe to reflect the science, and the Catholic Church in Germany dropped its opposition to local Catholic hospitals providing emergency contraception to rape victims after reviewing the evidence. The science is so clear, in fact, that even Dennis Miller, an abortion foe and director of the bioethics center at the Christian Cedarville University, concluded that emergency contraception drugs don't cause abortions. Last year, he told Christianity Today. "[O]ur claims of conscience should be based on scientific fact, and we should be willing to change our claims if the facts change." (IUDs generally work like spermicide, preventing conception.)
Yet the Becket Fund's Windham insists that the question of the science is not before the court. So basically, the Hobby Lobby case requires the court to decide whether a corporation has sincere religious beliefs that would be compromised by having its health plan cover the contraception that it once covered because it believes that contraception causes abortions, even when it doesn't. Got that?
Of course, the case isn't just about Hobby Lobby. The Supreme Court is using it to address dozens of similar lawsuits by other companies that, unlike Hobby Lobby, object to all forms of contraception. But the inconvenient set of facts here are just one reason why the case hasn't garnered a lot of support outside the evangelical community. Many religious people are uneasy with the idea of corporations being equated with a spiritual institution. At a recent forum on the case sponsored by the American Constitution Society, the Mormon legal scholar Frederick Gedicks, from Brigham Young University, said he was offended by the notion that selling glue and crepe paper was equivalent to his religious practice. "I'm a religious person, and I think my tradition is a little different from an arts and craft store," he said.
Women's groups fear a ruling that would gut the ACA's contraceptive mandate. The business community, meanwhile, doesn't want to see the court rule that a corporation is no different from its owners because it would open up CEOs and board members to lawsuits that corporate law now protects them from, upending a century's worth of established legal precedent.
No one seems to really have a sense of how the court might rule. On one side, court watchers have speculated that with five six Catholics on the bench, Hobby Lobby has a decent shot of prevailing. But then again, one of those Catholics, Chief Justice John Roberts, is also sensitive to the interests of corporate America. He seems unlikely to do anything that might disrupt the orderly conduct of business in this country and make the US Chamber of Commerce unhappy, as a victory for Hobby Lobby could. Scalia is an ardent abortion foe, but his view of Native American peyote users might incline him to find for the government.
Finding a reasonable way out of this case won't be easy. The litany of bad outcomes has some legal scholars rooting for what might be called "the Lederman solution"—a punt. Georgetown law professor Martin Lederman has suggested that the lower courts have misread the contraceptive-mandate cases by assuming firms such as Hobby Lobby have only two choices: provide birth control coverage or pay huge fines to avoid violating their religious beliefs. He argues that while the ACA requires individuals to purchase health insurance, it doesn't require employers to provide it. If companies choose to do so then the insurance companies must cover contraception without co-pays. Hobby Lobby and the other companies currently suing the Obama administration can resolve their problems by simply jettisoning their health insurance plans and letting their employees purchase coverage through the exchanges.
An employer that drops its health plan would have to pay a tax to help subsidize its employees' coverage obtained through the exchange or Medicaid, but this option is actually far cheaper than providing health insurance. And if a company doesn't even have to provide insurance, much less a plan that covers contraception, Hobby Lobby doesn't have much of a case that the ACA burdens its free exercise of religion.
Lederman's analysis gives the court an easy out in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, allowing it to avoid the dicey questions of whether corporations have religious-freedom rights, whether scientific ignorance is a religious belief—or even whether the plaintiff is sincerely religious or simply part of a larger Republican-led political effort to kill off Obamacare.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Koch Group, Spending Freely, Hones Attack on Government


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WASHINGTON — Americans for Prosperity — the group backed by David H. and Charles G. Koch that has been pouring millions of dollars into competitive Senate races to the rising alarm of Democrats — was also among the politically active groups on the ground in this month’s special House election on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
But its agenda had little to do with the fate of David Jolly, the Republican candidate who won that race. The group’s ground troops — including those who knocked on doors, ran phone banks and reached out through social media to gauge ways to motivate voters — were part of a much greater project, with a prize much larger than a congressional seat.
Americans for Prosperity turned the Florida contest into its personal electoral laboratory to fine-tune get-out-the-vote tools and messaging for future elections as it pursues its overarching goal of convincing Americans that big government is bad government.
As the group emerges as a dominant force in the 2014 midterm elections, spending up to 10 times as much as any major outside Democratic group so far, officials of the organization say their effort is not confined to hammering away at President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. They are also trying to present the law as a case study in government ineptitude to change the way voters think about the role of government for years to come.


A screen shot from a campaign advertisement paid for by Americans for Prosperity.CreditAmericans for Prosperity

“We have a broader cautionary tale,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity. “The president’s out there touting billions of dollars on climate change. We want Americans to think about what they promised with the last social welfare boondoggle and look at what the actual result is.”
Leaders of the effort say it has great appeal to the businessmen and businesswomen who finance the operation and who believe that excess regulation and taxation are harming their enterprises and threatening the future of the country. The Kochs, with billions in holdings in energy, transportation and manufacturing, have a significant interest in seeing that future government regulation is limited.
Democrats say their own research has shown that voters are skeptical about candidates who benefit from political spending by superrich businessmen with an antigovernment ideology.
“The notion that two billionaires are bankrolling Republican candidates because they support an agenda that is good for the Koch brothers and bad for middle-class families is very persuasive to voters,” said Matt Canter, the deputy executive director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
The little-noticed Florida field operation and a similar one in Virginia during the governor’s race last year were part of the group’s effort to apply the well-honed, data-centric business practices of the Koch brothers, as well as undisclosed donors, to devise an approach that is not only smarter, sleeker and sprier, but also one that provides more bang for the big bucks.
In Florida, the group tested the effectiveness of messages, including sentiment toward the president’s health care law. The organization’s Facebook page features photos of its grass-roots activists knocking on doors in Florida, clad in white T-shirts emblazoned with a green visage of Ronald Reagan.
“We’re focused on optimizing our efforts,” said James Davis of Freedom Partners, a Koch-influenced trade association that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars to Americans for Prosperity and other conservative groups. “Being in the field and testing during the slower periods, and in smaller areas, allows you to refine strategy and tactics so that you can make the larger investments with confidence.”
Two years ago, Americans for Prosperity spent more than $100 million, but Mr. Obama was re-elected and Democrats held the Senate, despite the group’s investment in Indiana, Wisconsin, Florida and other key states. Afterward, the organization underwent a rigorous self-analysis, as it usually does in election cycles: Did it have the right personnel in the right positions? How effective was its work in the field? Was it using data well? Was its messaging right?
“There was an awful lot of introspection there,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist. “A.F.P. is dedicated to research. They are dedicated to doing this in a quantifiable way.”
The group, for instance, analyzed the available data, determining which of their ads performed best, and held focus group sessions. Among the most recognizable changes from 2012 is that Americans for Prosperity is now producing testimonial-style ads and carrying out an elaborate field effort, spending more than $30 million already in at least eight states with crucial Senate races and in some House districts as well.
Many of Americans for Prosperity’s current ads feature women talking directly to the camera, explaining how Mr. Obama’s health care law has hurt them and their families. The group just repurposed one of its original ads for Colorado, where Republicans see a new opportunity, with a woman saying: “Obamacare doesn’t work. It just doesn’t work.” The tag line now urges voters to call Senator Mark Udall, the Colorado Democrat facing re-election, about the law.
Democrats and others have challenged the specifics of the ads and the use of actors in some of the spots, but Americans for Prosperity has not retreated.
The organization also switched to a more business-minded approach in the production of its ads, moving from largely relying on a single company to soliciting bids from a larger number of firms, according to people outside the Koch network with knowledge of its efforts.
The change in advertising strategy is a response to an analysis that found that the group’s 2010 and 2012 ads often failed to tell moving personal stories about how a particular policy, such as health care or renewable energy, was affecting the lives of real people, said Mr. Phillips, Americans for Prosperity’s president.
“Too often we were looking at broader, kind of macrolevel statistics, instead of looking at the impact of a policy,” he said. “Too often we did kind of broader statistical ads or messages, and we decided that we needed to start telling the story of how the liberals’ policies, whether it’s the administration or Congress, are practically impacting the lives of Americans each day.”
The personal nature of health care gave the group an opportunity to move away from the “collections of clips and canned imagery and text” that it had relied on in previous cycles, said Elizabeth Wilner, a senior vice president at Kantar Media/CMAG, a company that monitors political advertising.

“I think ads that tell stories are more compelling than ads that don’t,” Ms. Wilner said, “and ads that use sympathetic figures are more compelling, generally, than those that don’t.”
Americans for Prosperity is also stepping up its ground game. The organization now has more than 200 full-time paid staff members in field offices in at least 32 states. The idea is to embed staff members in a community, giving conservative advocacy a permanent local voice through field workers who live in the neighborhood year-round and appreciate the nuances of the local issues. They can also serve as a ready-to-go field organization in future election years and on future issues — not dissimilar from the grass-roots, community-based approach Mr. Obama used successfully in 2008 and 2012.
“Too often our side will gear up for an individual issue battle or in some cases an election, but we don’t have a permanent infrastructure,” Mr. Phillips said. “What we took from studying it was that we have to have a bigger, more permanent infrastructure on the ground in these states, and this takes time.”

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

High Fallutin' Nazis by Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman New York Times MARCH 18, 2014, 1:39 PM
High Fallutin’ Nazis

Here comes another billionaire who thinks that anyone who talks about income inequality is a Nazi; this time it’s Ken Langone, co-founder of Home Depot. I don’t have anything useful to say about this, other than the observation that there must be a lot of these guys. I mean, there aren’t that many billionaires, so that coming up with multiple examples of the genus who not only believe that progressives are just like Hitler but are willing to say so in public must indicate that a substantial proportion of our billionaires share this belief, but more privately. Luckily, great wealth doesn’t bring great political influence in modern America — does it?
But Jonathan Cohn’s report on Langone brought to mind an earlier rant by the same guy, in which he denounced yours truly and my “high-fallutin’ thoughts and ideas.” And I think, now that I remember that, that this rant (and others like it) gives a partial clue to the mystery of the continuing popularity of the Wall Street macro canon, despite its total failure in practice.
For what, after all, was Langone raging against? Well, me, of course. But not, presumably, against “high-fallutin” ideas in general: Langone can’t really be a stupid man, and I’m sure that when it comes to, say, information systems for inventory management hes’ quite willing to accept the idea that some things are technical and require some knowledge.
No, what I think he’s really raging against are two things. First is the idea that understanding economics, as opposed to other issues, might involve some kind of special expertise. This is an all too common problem with the wealthy, and maybe especially among self-made men: they think that their personal financial success means that they understand the economic system, and bristle at the notion that macroeconomics may be more than the sum of individual business strategies.
The other source of his rage — and this, I think, gets to the right-wing canon — is fury at the notion that sometimes scarcity doesn’t rule. For many people on the right, it has to be true — just has to be true — that prosperity is limited by the willingness of productive people (that is, people like them) to produce. The idea that sometimes the problem is instead lack of demand, that the failure is a system malfunction rather than a lack of sufficient effort, is anathema. Among other things, it suggests that sometimes people succeed or fail for reasons that have nothing to do with their personal talents and virtues or lack thereof, a suggestion that they — who believe that their personal success was entirely earned — find deeply offensive.
And so when you say that this is a depressed economy in which deficits don’t crowd out private spending, in which printing money doesn’t mean inflation that expropriates their hard-earned wealth, they don’t listen to the argument, let alone pay attention to evidence. They take it as a personal affront, and start yelling about your high-fallutin nonsense.

The car dealers' racket: "crony capitalism"


The car dealers' racket

Consumers shouldn't need government consent to buy Tesla vehicles, or any product, but New Jersey is now third state to say otherwise.

By Michael Shermer LA Times
March 17, 2014

The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission last week voted to prohibit Tesla from selling its electric vehicles directly to consumers, a decision endorsed by the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers and Gov. Chris Christie. New Jersey is the third state, after Texas and Arizona, to block Tesla from direct sales, all under the guise of protecting consumers. Some free market.

Of course, auto dealers prefer an arrangement in which they have exclusive rights to sell a certain manufacturer's product. I know because my father owned a Ford dealership for decades in Montrose, Calif., and we were proud to represent such an honorable American product. And there's nothing wrong with a manufacturer offering to sell its products only through designated retailers. This is common practice in many industries so that manufacturers don't compete against themselves and undercut their retailers.

But there's also nothing wrong with a manufacturer offering to sell its products directly to consumers. This too is common practice, as evidenced by the billions of dollars that are exchanged online between manufacturers and consumers. Some bricks-and-mortar businesses have suffered as a result. But as conservatives like to say, that's the free market at work.

Except when it comes to industries that grease the wheels of politicians. Tesla's chief executive, Elon Musk, tweeted that Christie "has gone back on his word" and that "his administration, under pressure from auto dealers, may shut down Tesla in NJ as soon as today." Note that three members of the motor vehicle commission are from Christie's cabinet and four more were appointed by the governor, including the chairman.

This move against Tesla is nothing more than naked economic protectionism of the type that Adam Smith railed against in 1776 in his book "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations." This work, which conservatives treat with almost biblical reverence, is one long argument against the mercantilist system of protectionism and special privilege. Smith demonstrated that practices similar to what is being done to Tesla may benefit other producers in the short run by protecting them from competition, but in the long run they harm consumers and thereby decrease the wealth of a nation: "In the mercantile system," he wrote, "the interest of the consumer is almost always constantly sacrificed to that of the producer." Whereas in a capitalist system, Smith explained, "Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production."

In the old mercantilist system — what we today call "crony capitalism" — instead of consumers telling producers what they want, government agents and politicians tell consumers what and how much they can buy, and at what price. This is done through tax subsidies for corporations (estimates vary, but Fortune 500 companies combined receive about $100 billion annually), regulations (to control prices, distribution and sales), licensing (to control wages, protect jobs, exclude newcomers) and other deals between industries and politicians.

New Jersey is not only stopping Tesla from selling cars to consumers. They are, in essence, saying that we the government will tell you where you will be allowed to buy your cars. This move against Tesla reminds me of a wickedly satirical essay by the 19th-century French economist Frédéric Bastiat titled "The Petition of the Candlemakers," in which he lampoons special-interest groups — in this case, candle makers — who have petitioned their government for protection from a certain producer of light:

"We are suffering from the ruinous competition of a foreign rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light, that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price.... This rival … is none other than the sun.... We ask you to be so good as to pass a law requiring the closing of all windows, dormers, skylights, inside and outside shutters, curtains, casements, bull's-eyes, deadlights, and blinds; in short, all openings, holes, chinks, and fissures."

Elon Musk has been compared favorably to Steve Jobs. Imagine where we'd be if, in the 1980s, typewriter manufacturers lobbied to block Apple from selling its computers directly to consumers. The very idea is absurd. Consumers should be free to buy any product they want from any manufacturer without the consent of the government. And if anyone should understand this simple principle, it should be conservatives.

Michael Shermer is the publisher of Skeptic magazine and a monthly columnist for Scientific American. His next book is "The Moral Arc of Science."

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Billionaires With Big Ideas Are Privatizing American Science: questions about the future of research for the public good.

Billionaires With Big Ideas Are Privatizing American Science

As government financing of basic science research has plunged, private donors have filled the void, raising questions about the future of research for the public good.
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Last April, President Obama assembled some of the nation’s most august scientific dignitaries in the East Room of the White House. Joking that his grades in physics made him a dubious candidate for “scientist in chief,” he spoke of using technological innovation “to grow our economy” and unveiled “the next great American project”: a $100 million initiative to probe the mysteries of the human brain.
Along the way, he invoked the government’s leading role in a history of scientific glories, from putting a man on the moon to creating the Internet.The Brain initiative, as he described it, would be a continuation of that grand tradition, an ambitious rebuttal to deep cuts in federal financing for scientific research.
“We can’t afford to miss these opportunities while the rest of the world races ahead,” Mr. Obama said. “We have to seize them. I don’t want the next job-creating discoveries to happen in China or India or Germany. I want them to happen right here.”


Wendy Schmidt and her husband are advancing ocean studies.CreditBéatrice de Géa for The New York Times

Absent from his narrative, though, was the back story, one that underscores a profound change taking place in the way science is paid for and practiced in America. In fact, the government initiative grew out of richly financed private research: A decade before, Paul G. Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft, had set up a brain science institute in Seattle, to which he donated $500 million, and Fred Kavli, a technology and real estate billionaire, had then established brain institutes at Yale, Columbia and the University of California. Scientists from those philanthropies, in turn, had helped devise the Obama administration’s plan.
American science, long a source of national power and pride, is increasingly becoming a private enterprise.
In Washington, budget cuts have left the nation’s research complex reeling. Labs are closing. Scientists are being laid off. Projects are being put on the shelf, especially in the risky, freewheeling realm of basic research. Yet from Silicon Valley to Wall Street, science philanthropy is hot, as many of the richest Americans seek to reinvent themselves as patrons of social progress through science research.
The result is a new calculus of influence and priorities that the scientific community views with a mix of gratitude and trepidation.
“For better or worse,” said Steven A. Edwards, a policy analyst at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “the practice of science in the 21st century is becoming shaped less by national priorities or by peer-review groups and more by the particular preferences of individuals with huge amounts of money.”
They have mounted a private war on disease, with new protocols that break down walls between academia and industry to turn basic discoveries into effective treatments. They have rekindled traditions of scientific exploration by financing hunts for dinosaur bones and giant sea creatures. They are even beginning to challenge Washington in the costly game of big science, with innovative ships, undersea craft and giant telescopes — as well as the first private mission to deep space.
The new philanthropists represent the breadth of American business, people like Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York mayor (and founder of the media company that bears his name), James Simons (hedge funds) and David H. Koch (oil and chemicals), among hundreds of wealthy donors. Especially prominent, though, are some of the boldest-face names of the tech world, among them Bill Gates (Microsoft), Eric E. Schmidt (Google) and Lawrence J. Ellison (Oracle).
This is philanthropy in the age of the new economy — financed with its outsize riches, practiced according to its individualistic, entrepreneurial creed. The donors are impatient with the deliberate, and often politicized, pace of public science, they say, and willing to take risks that government cannot or simply will not consider.
Yet that personal setting of priorities is precisely what troubles some in the science establishment. Many of the patrons, they say, are ignoring basic research — the kind that investigates the riddles of nature and has produced centuries of breakthroughs, even whole industries — for a jumble of popular, feel-good fields like environmental studies and space exploration.
As the power of philanthropic science has grown, so has the pitch, and the edge, of the debate. Nature, a family of leading science journals, has published a number of wary editorials, one warning that while “we applaud and fully support the injection of more private money into science,” the financing could also “skew research” toward fields more trendy than central.
“Physics isn’t sexy,” William H. Press, a White House science adviser, said in an interview. “But everybody looks at the sky.”
Fundamentally at stake, the critics say, is the social contract that cultivates science for the common good. They worry that the philanthropic billions tend to enrich elite universities at the expense of poor ones, while undermining political support for federally sponsored research and its efforts to foster a greater diversity of opportunity — geographic, economic, racial — among the nation’s scientific investigators.
Historically, disease research has been particularly prone to unequal attention along racial and economic lines. A look at major initiatives suggests that the philanthropists’ war on disease risks widening that gap, as a number of the campaigns, driven by personal adversity, target illnesses that predominantly afflict white people — like cystic fibrosis, melanoma and ovarian cancer.
Public money still accounts for most of America’s best research, as well as its remarkable depth and diversity. What is unclear is how far or fast that balance is shifting, since no one, either in or out of government, has been comprehensively tracking the magnitude and impact of private science. In recognition of its rising profile, though, the National Science Foundation recently announced plans to begin surveying the philanthropic landscape.
There are the skeptics. Then there are the former skeptics, people like Martin A. Apple, a biochemist and former head of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents.

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Eric E. Schmidt
FORTUNE: $9.3 billion
Wendy & Eric Schmidt have given more than $100 million to the Schmidt Ocean Institute. At no cost, the institute lets scientists use its research vessel, Falkor, to explore deep mysteries around the globe, including undersea volcanoes and unfamiliar forms of life.

Initially, Dr. Apple said, he, too, saw the donors as superrich dabblers. Now he believes that they are helping accelerate the overall pace of science. What changed his mind, he said, was watching them persevere, year after year, in pursuit of highly ambitious goals.
“They target polio and go after it until it’s done — no one else can do that,” he said, referring to the global drive to eradicate the disease. “In effect, they have the power to lead where the market and the political will are insufficient.”
And their impact seems likely to grow, given continuing federal budget wars and their enormous wealth. Indeed, a New York Times analysis shows that the 40 or so richest science donors who have signed a pledge to give most of their fortunes to charity have assets surpassing a quarter-trillion dollars.
There are also signs of a growing awareness, among some philanthropists, that this influence brings a responsibility to address some of the criticisms leveled at them. Last year, a coalition of leading science foundations announced a campaign to double private spending on basic research over a decade — to $5 billion a year — as a counterweight to money rushing into health and other popular fields.
“Today, federal funding of basic research is on the decline,” the group said. “The best hope for near-term change lies with American philanthropy.”
A New Template
When Mr. Ellison, chief executive of the Oracle Corporation, heard a Nobel laureate biologist give a talk at Stanford about artificial intelligence, he was mesmerized. It was the early 1990s, and the idea of applying fast computers to genetic riddles was new. “I had never experienced anything like it,” Mr. Ellison recalled.
He invited the scientist, Joshua Lederberg of Rockefeller University, to visit him at his California estate. The visit went so well that Mr. Ellison handed the scientist a key to the house and asked him to think of it as his second home. Dr. Lederberg took him up on the offer, and over many dinners in what he would call “the most gorgeous setting in the world” — complete with Japanese teahouse, strolling gardens and ponds of ornamental fish — the men discussed many things, from Mr. Ellison’s early interest in molecular biology to the idea that great wealth can do great good.
In 1997, the friendship gave birth to the Ellison Medical Foundation. Hundreds of biologists have benefited from its patronage, and three have won Nobel Prizes. So far, Mr. Ellison, listed by Forbes magazine as the world’s fifth-richest man, has donated about half a billion dollars to science.
It’s not that Mr. Ellison is the biggest or most visible of the philanthropists. (That distinction probably belongs to Bill Gates, who has donated roughly $10 billion for global public health.) But his work is very much a template for the new private science.
In the traditional world of government-sponsored research, at agencies like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, panels of experts pore over grant applications to decide which ones get financed, weighing such factors as intellectual merit and social value. At times, groups of distinguished experts weigh in on how to advance whole fields, recommending, for instance, the construction of large instruments and laboratories costing billions of dollars.
By contrast, the new science philanthropy is personal, antibureaucratic, inspirational.
For Wendy Schmidt, the inspiration came in 2009, from a coral reef in the Grenadine islands of the Caribbean. It was her first scuba dive, and it opened her eyes to the riot of nature.
She talked it over with her husband, Eric, the executive chairman of Google, and the two decided that marine science needed more resources. (The government’s research fleet, 28 ships strong in 2000, has shrunk by about a third and faces further cuts.) So they set up the Schmidt Ocean Institute in Palo Alto, Calif., and poured in more than $100 million. The centerpiece is a ship nearly the length of a football field that, unlike most research vessels, has a sauna and a helicopter pad.
“We want to rapidly advance scientific research, to speed it up,” Mrs. Schmidt said in an interview.

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Gordon Moore
FORTUNE: $5 billion
Has focused his giving on physics, biology, botany, geology, ocean science, environment, forestry and conservation. Donated $200 million for the Thirty Meter Telescope, right, to be built on a mountaintop in Hawaii.

The philanthropists’ projects are as diverse as the careers that built their fortunes. George P. Mitchell, considered the father of the drilling process for oil and gas known as fracking, has given about $360 million to fields like particle physics, sustainable development and astronomy — including $35 million for the Giant Magellan Telescope, now being built by a private consortium for installation atop a mountain in Chile.
The cosmos, Mr. Mitchell said in an interview before his death last year, “is too big not to have a good map.”
Eli Broad, who earned his money in housing and insurance, donated $700 million for a venture between Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to explore the genetic basis of disease. Gordon Moore of Intel has spent $850 million on research in physics, biology, the environment and astronomy. The investor Ronald O. Perelman, among other donations, gave more than $30 million to study women’s cancers — money that led to Herceptin, a breakthrough drug for certain kinds of breast cancer. Nathan P. Myhrvold, a former chief technology officer at Microsoft, has spent heavily on uncovering fossil remains of Tyrannosaurus rex, and Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, a hedge fund, has lent his mega-yacht to hunts for the elusive giant squid. 
The availability of so much well-financed ambition has created a new kind of dating game. In what is becoming a common narrative, researchers like to describe how they begged the federal science establishment for funds, were brushed aside and turned instead to the welcoming arms of philanthropists. To help scientists bond quickly with potential benefactors, a cottage industry has emerged, offering workshops, personal coaching, role-playing exercises and the production of video appeals.
Advancement Resources of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, did its first workshop in 2002 and has now conducted hundreds across the country, mostly to coach scientists and medical institutions in what it calls the art of donor development. “We help make their work accessible to people who do not have scientific backgrounds but do understand money,” said its founder, Joe K. Golding.
Medical institutions are even training their own scientists and doctors in the art of soliciting money from grateful — and wealthy — patients. And Nature ran a lengthy article giving tips on how to “sell science” and “woo philanthropists.” They included practicing an “elevator pitch” — a digest of research so compelling that it would seize a potential donor’s attention in the time between floors.
Practice in front of the mirror and “with anyone who will listen,” it advised. When the pitch is smooth enough, “aim high.”
Government Gloom
In November 2012, the White House issued a thick and portentous update on the health of the nation’s research complex. Produced by Mr. Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, it warned of American declines, emphasized the rise of scientific rivals abroad and called for bold policy interventions.
“Without adequate support for such research,” the experts wrote in their cover letter, “the United States risks losing its leadership in invention and discovery.”
The financial outlook had fallen far and fast. Congress had long reached across party lines to support government research, for its economic and military rewards and because the distribution of billions of dollars plays well come election time. After rising steadily for decades, federal science financing hit a high point in 2009, in the early days of the Obama administration, as Congress, to stimulate the economy amid the global financial crisis, allocated about $40 billion for basic science.
That bipartisan consensus eroded with the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterm elections and the budget battles that followed. Spending on basic research has fallen by roughly a quarter, to $30 billion last year, one of the sharpest declines ever.
The cutbacks translate into layoffs: A group of scientific societies recently surveyed 3,700 scientists and technical managers and reported that 55 percent knew of colleagues who had lost jobs or expected to lose them soon.
In an interview, the director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis S. Collins, called 2013 one of his agency’s darkest years ever, with fewer grants awarded and with jobs and programs cut. In decades past, research financed by the institutes won more than 100 Nobel Prizes. The cutbacks, Dr. Collins said, were “profoundly discouraging.”
Largely unmentioned in the gloom is the rise of private science. The White House report mentioned philanthropy only in passing. “We didn’t do it justice,” said one of the authors, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the report’s preparation.

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James Simons
FIELD: Hedge funds
FORTUNE: $12.5 billion
Has given $1.1 billion for math and science, including $375 million for autism research. Also raised $13 million to save the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, left. It is on Long Island and is 2.4 miles around.

Science policy has always been shot through with politics. Little surprise, then, that political sensitivities have been stoked by the injection of philanthropic money into this traditionally public sphere.
The official reticence about private science may reflect, in part, a fear that conservatives will try to use it to further a small-government agenda. Indeed, some of the donors themselves worry that too much focus on private giving could diminish public support for federal science.
“It’s always been a major worry,” said Robert W. Conn, president of the Kavli Foundation, which has committed nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to science and is part of the private effort to increase financing for basic research. “Philanthropy is no substitute for government funding. You can’t say that loud enough.”
Representative Lamar Smith would beg to disagree. Mr. Smith, a 14-term Republican from Texas, helped found the House Tea Party Caucus and, after the Tea Party ferment swept the Republicans to power in the House, became chairman of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
Last year, after a meteor exploded over Russia and injured more than 1,200 people, Mr. Smith declared that new sensors in space were “critical to our future.” Then he held a hearing to showcase a satellite-borne telescopemeant to scan the solar system for speeding rocks that could endanger the planet. Money for the venture comes from leaders of eBay, Google and Facebook, as well as anonymous private donors.
“We must better recognize what the private sector can do to aid our efforts to protect the world,” Mr. Smith said.
In decades past, that job would have belonged to NASA. But at the hearing, the project’s head, Edward T. Lu, a former astronaut and Google executive, testified that the spacecraft’s cost — $450 million — was about half what the government would have spent.
Committee members enthusiastically suggested that the private endeavor pointed the way toward a new era of lower federal spending.
“Congratulations!” said Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican. “I’m totally supportive.”
In the recent interview, Dr. Collins of the N.I.H. acknowledged that the philanthropists were “terrifically important” for filling gaps and taking advantage of new opportunities. The science, he emphasized, “has never been at a more exciting moment.”
Still, he and other experts are quick to add that the private surge is far too small to replace public financing.
The N.I.H. budget alone runs to about $30 billion — half for basic research. At least for now, said Dr. Press, the board chairman of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, private giving is “still a drop in the bucket.”
Uncharted Billions
For all that, the government knows very little about how much philanthropic money is flowing into science, or how it is being spent.
Science analysts say that knowledge is vitally important: Without it, the government cannot get a comprehensive picture and strive for a smart balance in the nation’s overall science plans.

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Anousheh Ansari
FIELD: Telecommunications
Set off a boom in scientific prize competitions with a $10 million award for the first private craft that could send three people into space. In 2006, she trained for, right, and completed a trip to the International Space Station.

The issues are considered social as well as intellectual, and so, in their own grant-making decisions, federal agencies strive to ensure that their money does not flow just to established stars at elite institutions. They consider gender and race, income and geography.
Yet even as the federal government finely monitors its own investments in science research, philanthropy remains largely uncharted territory. (The government does carefully track science financed by private industry, but that research tends to produce such practical things as drugs, jets and gadgets, rather than fundamental insights into the mysteries of nature.)
“People assume we do it,” said John E. Jankowski, a senior analyst at the National Science Foundation, which not only finances research but also tracks science budgets. “But we don’t, because of resource constraints.”
The task is daunting. If government science is centralized, science philanthropy is determinedly not: It is an agglomeration of donors, from the wealthiest patrons to people who write modest checks to their favorite charities.
The National Academy of Sciences has repeatedly urged the government to step up its monitoring of the uncharted billions. And recently, Dr. Jankowski said, the National Science Foundation began developing a pilot survey, to be completed in about a year.
If budgets allow, he added, the agency plans to “ultimately fund” a comprehensive survey.
In the meantime, Fiona E. Murray, a professor of entrepreneurship at M.I.T., has taken a different tack, studying not the donors but the recipients — particularly the nation’s research universities.
To simplify the task, she looked at the 50 leading universities in science-research spending, places like Columbia and Stanford, Duke and Harvard, Michigan and Johns Hopkins.
What Dr. Murray found sheds light on the scope of the phenomenon, as well as questions about who benefits. Private donors now account for roughly 30 percent of the schools’ research money, she reported, adding that the rise of science philanthropy may simply help “rich fields, universities and individuals to get richer.”

The new patrons are responsible for one of the most striking trends on these campuses: the rise of privately financed institutes, the new temples of science philanthropy.
In Cambridge, Mass. — home to M.I.T. and Harvard — they include the $100 million Ragon Institute for immunology research, the $150 million Koch Institute for cancer studies, the $165 million Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research, the $250 million Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, the $350 million McGovern Institute for brain research, the $450 million Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and the $700 million Broad Institute for genome research.
“If I’m a rich person, I’m going to give to a leading institution — to Harvard or Princeton,” Dr. Murray said in an interview. That pattern, she added, “poses big issues” for the nation.
A Focus on Disease
If the map of the world of private science has yet to be drawn, one thing is clear: Much of the money is going into campaigns for a cure.
This private war on disease has resulted not only in significant advances in treatment, but also in what experts describe as a major breakthrough in how biomedical research is done. The method opens up blockages that have traditionally kept basic discoveries from being turned into effective treatments — especially for rare diseases that drug companies avoid for lack of potential profit.

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Bill Gates
COMPANY: Microsoft
FORTUNE: $76 billion
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has spent $10 billion on global health, including tuberculosis, vaccines and the push to eradicate polio and malaria, which is transmitted by some mosquitoes, left.

“We think it’s potentially transformative,” said Maryann P. Feldman, a professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who studies the approach.
The first success came with cystic fibrosis, which arises when a faulty gene clogs the lungs and pancreas with a sticky mucus. People with cystic fibrosis suffer from coughing, fatigue, poor digestion and slow growth, and die relatively young.
Around 2000, a surge of wealthy donors began making large contributions to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Tom and Ginny Hughes of Greenwich, Conn., had two daughters with the disease, and gave millions of dollars. The family also posed in snapshots for the foundation’s “Milestones to a Cure” updates, and Mr. Hughes, a banker, helped the charity develop strategies to expand its fund-raising.
Year after year, the foundation held galas, hikes, runs and golf tournaments, eventually raising more than a quarter-billion dollars. With great skill, it used the money to establish partnerships across industry and academia, smashing through the walls that typically form around research teams.
By early 2012, the financial surge produced the first treatment for an underlying cause of cystic fibrosis. The drug counters a gene mutation that accounts for 4 percent of the cases in the United States — about 1,200 people. The medication thinned the deadly mucus, lessening symptoms and drastically improving quality of life.
The success begot a global rush to turn basic discoveries into treatments, a field now known as translational science. It also inspired rich donors to shower new money on disease research.
Many of their efforts are rooted deep in personal or family trauma. Sometimes, by sheer force of genetics and demographics, that impulse may risk widening historical racial inequalities in health care and disease research, disparities that decades of studies have shown to contribute to higher rates of disease and death among blacks, Hispanics and other minority groups.
A review of these campaigns finds that, as with cystic fibrosis — whichmainly strikes people of Northern European descent — a significant number are devoted to diseases that disproportionately affect white people.
Ovarian cancer strikes and kills white women more often than minority women. In 2012, after his sister-in-law died of the disease at age 44, Jonathan D. Gray, the head of global real estate at the Blackstone Group, the private equity firm, gave the University of Pennsylvania $25 million to set up a center to study female cancers.
Melanoma, the deadliest of skin cancers, also strikes and kills whites preferentially. Debra Black, wife of the financier Leon Black, survived a bad scare. Soon after, the couple teamed up with Michael R. Milken, the former junk-bond financier, whose charity FasterCures gives advice on how to accelerate research, to found the Melanoma Research Alliance. It quickly became the world’s largest private sponsor of melanoma research, awarding more than $50 million for work at Yale, Columbia and other universities.
Of course, the pervasiveness of most diseases means most philanthropists give comfort and medical relief across the lines of race and ethnicity. When Mr. Milken, for example, learned that he had prostate cancer, he set up a foundation to fight it. The charity has raised more than half a billion dollars, helping save not only him but also many black men, since they develop the disease more frequently than white men do.
So, too, the techniques of translational science, inspired by philanthropy, are now being applied in a federal effort against sickle cell anemia, a blood disorder that mainly strikes black people and has long been something of a research orphan.
Scientists first described sickle cell anemia in 1910 and uncovered its genetic basis in 1949. The discovery, by a team that included Linus Pauling, a Nobel laureate twice over, was central to the creation of the field of molecular medicine. Yet with little financing for sickle cell research, either public or private, no drug has been developed that targets the disease’s underlying cause, even though it has crippled and killed millions of people.
The government effort began with Dr. Collins, the N.I.H. director, who as a biologist had helped uncover the cystic fibrosis gene. As the new cystic fibrosis treatment emerged, he pressed the government to adopt the breakthrough translational method, federal budget cuts notwithstanding. Today, the N.I.H. translational science center has an annual budget of more than $600 million and seeks new drugs for rare diseases, which number in the thousands.

Continue reading the main stoBillionaires for Science
Some other noteworthy philanthropists who have shown a deep interest in science.

Lawrence J. Ellison
$48 billion
Aging, brain, stem cells.
David H. Koch
Koch Industries
$40 billion
Food allergies, medical research and prostate cancer, which struck him.
Michael R. Bloomberg
Bloomberg News
$33 billion
Environment, public health, obesity, tobacco, road safety.
Jeff Bezos
$32 billion
Brain and child development, ocean exploration.
Sergey Brin
$31.8 billion
Parkinson's disease, which his mother has and for which he bears a risky gene.
Mark Zuckerberg
$28.5 billion
Health, physics, life sciences, mathematics.
Paul G. Allen
$15.9 billion
Brain, health, ocean science, conservation and the hunt for signs of extraterrestrial life.
Harold Hamm
Oil, gas
$14.6 billion
Endocrinology and diabetes, which he has.
Ronald O. Perelman
Revlon, investments
$14 billion
Female cancers, infertility, Parkinson's disease, medicine.
Patrick Soon-Shiong
$10 billion
Health care and medical technology.
Eli Broad
Housing, insurance
$6.9 billion
Genetic medicine, stem cells and Crohn's disease, which struck a son.
Leon Black
Private equity
$5.8 billion
Melanoma, which his wife survived.
Michael R. Milken
$2.5 billion
Epilepsy, melanoma, public health and prostate cancer, which struck him.
Thomas F. Steyer
Hedge funds
$1.6 billion
Environment and sustainable energy.

A candidate drug is undergoing clinical trials and looks promising. In December, the company working with N.I.H. on the research effortannounced that a single dose produced a “significant reduction” of pain for up to 24 hours.
Setting the Agenda
In the early 1980s, Leroy Hood, a biologist at the California Institute of Technology, proposed to make the first automated DNA sequencer, which he pitched to the National Institutes of Health as a way to rapidly identify the billions of hereditary units in every human cell. His grant proposals were rejected, so he turned to Sol Price, a warehouse-store magnate whose companies ultimately merged with Costco.
The breakthrough of the DNA sequencer led to the Human Genome Project — the federal effort that, at a cost of $3.8 billion, mapped all the heritable units — and, more recently, to the burgeoning field of personal genomics.
Science philanthropy, Dr. Hood said, “lets you push the frontiers.”
Over the years, the flood of private money has also inspired something of a reversal. In gene sequencing, in translational medicine, in the Obama administration’s Brain initiative and in other areas, the federal government, instead of setting the agenda, increasingly follows the private lead.
A decade ago, Anousheh Ansari, a Texas engineer who made a fortune in telecommunications, financed a $10 million prize competition for the first private craft that could send three people into space. Her success spawned a boom. Private donors now back dozens of science awards, and the government offers hundreds of its own, motivated, according to a White House study, “by the success of philanthropic and private sector prizes.”
Sometimes, private donors go to the government’s aid. When budget cuts threatened to shut down a giant particle accelerator on Long Island in 2006, Dr. Simons, the hedge-fund investor, who lives nearby, raised $13 million to bail it out. As a result, research teams were able to keep exploring subatomic aspects of the blast that brought the universe into existence.
If the rich donors are to be believed, their financing of scientific research in the years ahead will expand greatly in size and scope. A main reason is the Giving Pledge.
In 2010, Mr. Gates, along with his wife, Melinda, and the investor Warren E. Buffett, announced the campaign. So far, roughly a fifth of America’s nearly 500 billionaires have signed up, pledging to donate the majority of their fortunes to charity.
A Times analysis of the pledge letters made public shows that more than 40 percent of the signers plan to finance studies in science, health and the environment. With personal fortunes in excess of $250 billion, they are promising, at a minimum, to donate more than $125 billion. How much is destined for science is unclear, but several laid out objectives that are fairly extraordinary.
“We want to eradicate diabetes in our lifetime,” wrote Harold Hamm, a leading figure in the North Dakota oil rush, and his wife, Sue Ann.
Jon M. Huntsman, a Utah billionaire whose son Jon Jr. unsuccessfully sought the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, said his philanthropy would “make sure cancer is vanquished.”

Shortly before he died, Mr. Mitchell, the telescope man, spoke of his concern that American science was already losing its competitive edge. He cited the discovery of the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle seen as imparting mass to the universe. The finding was made at a particle accelerator in Europe after tight budgets shut down a rival machine near Chicago.
“We have no excuse” for losing the lead, Mr. Mitchell said. “We need to fix it.”