St. Louis Sports Online

Eric Niederhoffer 

St. Louis SportsOnline

columnist & principal photographer

Kissin' Cousins: Science and Sports 25 June 1999

A recent headline in the 17 June issue of the journal Nature ("Senate seeks $750m for NIH to rebuild ageing biomedical labs") demonstrates the interest of the U.S. Senate to fund a major renovation of research facilities across the country. Seems that the infrastructure of our major and minor universities is in need of federal support; support not easy to obtain from state and city government and private industry.

Recall that recent headlines in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch have been suggesting that the Cardinals are in need of a major infrastructure boost of their own, the construction of a new stadium for the Redbirds, support not easy to obtain from MLB owners.

Both of these news items caused me to think and reflect. Is there a connection or some similarities between the two needs?

Consider the following diagram:

Baseball is a sport played in a physical structure denoted as a stadium. The sport is owned and managed by a group of private citizens. The local economy benefits in some way by attracting fans to the game and by the employment of people to facilitate the fans' entertainment. Taxes are collected by government, which redistribute the money to support public projects.

Research is one aspect of the mission of universities. In a broad sense, research is owned by people (public and scientists). We may consider the university as a physical structure in which research takes place. The public through their state government own the university and have a vested interest in the activities that take place within its walls. The local economy benefits from research activities through employment opportunities and purchases.

With the model presented in this article, we address the question of who should support infrastructure improvements.

Is it reasonable for the owners of baseball to seek financial support from government to improve their sport?

Is it reasonable for the owners of research to seek financial support from government (the National Institutes of Health) to improve their university?

Answering these questions involves evaluating the benefits of the financial investment.

Is our society better off as a result of subsidizing a sport that creates profit for a small group of owners, provides entertainment for fans, and infuses cash for the local economy?

Or is our society better off as a result of subsidizing an activity that creates profit (knowledge) for a large group (general public), provides opportunities for people, and supports the local economy?

The U.S. is a great country with the best opportunities for its citizens. It is also a place where a sport such as baseball has been able to develop into the national pastime.

Hhmm. Got an extra dime, mac?

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