Entertainment value is easier to see than scientific value

I was thinking about the value of entertainment. Value is subjective. Someone got paid because Hanson’s 1997 album sold well. Someone got to put money in their retirement fund because that band was successful. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the value of pop culture.

Science happened in 1997 as well. The Clustal algorithm (or one iteration of it) was published in 1997. I was using the Clustal algorithm last week to look at my sequencing data.  The first humanized monoclonal antibody was FDA approved in 1997. Humanized antibodies have become a pretty big deal.

It’s interesting to compare those two cases: the algorithm is freely available; humanized monoclonal antibodies are rather expensive drugs. One has a clear price tag, but both have clear value. Indeed, the crustal algorithm (or some similar variant algorithm) was almost certainly used to process the data that ultimately led to some of those monoclonal antibody therapeutics.

So here we have three cases: a freely available algorithm, an expensive drug, and a very successful pop culture phenomenon (MMMBOP!) all debuted in 1997. Do they not all have value?

This all leads me to an argument for government-sponsored science. These three phenomena needed different funding mechanisms. Market-based funding worked for Hanson and for humanized monoclonal antibodies; it did not work for the Clustal algorithm. It would be very unfortunate to lose any of this value just because of a commitment to market-based funding.