Freedom of Research: Absolutely Essential to Progress

The first meeting of the World Congress for Freedom of Scientific Research took place in Rome earlier this month. Heart in the right place, but shackling freedom to the modern (increasingly socialist, increasingly bloated, unelected, anything but free) structures of "representative" democracy seems to be a losing proposition these days. When was the last time you voted on the destructive policies - or existence at all - of the FDA? You are most certainly not free when unelected, unaccountable government employees have veto rights over everything you do and own. From the declaration:

Freedom of Scientific research is required by democracy, is a basic civil and political right and is one of the main guarantors of human health and welfare.

Freedom of scientific research is part of the fabric of democratic theory because all democracies are founded upon the value of the individual, individual choice and upon the premise that one of the first and most important functions of democratic government is to preserve and promote the liberty of citizens and do no harm. That liberty includes freedom of thought and freedom of belief.

Freedom of scientific research is a basic civil and political right because it is a dimension of freedom of thought and freedom of speech.

Freedom of scientific research is one of the main guarantors of human health and welfare for three main reasons. The first is because scientific freedom has produced some of the principal discoveries that have lead to increases in healthy longevity worldwide. Secondly we have all benefited directly and indirectly from scientific discovery. We all benefit from living in a society, and, indeed, in a world in which serious scientific research is carried out which utilises the benefits of past research. We all also benefit from the knowledge that research is ongoing into diseases or conditions from which we do not currently suffer but to which we may succumb. It makes us feel more secure and gives us hope for the future, for ourselves and our descendants, and others for whom we care. Almost everyone now living, certainly everyone born in high income industrialised societies, has benefited from the fruits of past research and it is scientific research that will discover ways of combating the new dangers, which constantly arise. Finally, in the domain of human health, medical needs are seldom simply that. They are often also opportunities to go on living or to be free; free of pain, free or more free in the sense of being mobile or more mobile, more able effectively to operate in the world. Health is important not simply because we all value health and all want long and healthy lives. It is important also because poor health is confining and good health is liberating.

For these reasons, we believe it is time to reaffirm the case for freedom of scientific research.

As I said, heart in the right place, but the path to freedom is not to be found in bloated modern democracies. The path to freedom is in a strong rule of law, firm property rights, and an absolutely minimalist government that cannot interfere in the free exercise of trade, investment and the pursuit of happiness.

Freedom of research is, in essence, economic freedom, which is no different from personal freedom - the freedom to invest and work in whatever arrangements you can freely agree upon with other people. The most rapid progress occurs in free marketplaces, free for the exchange of ideas, free for association with others for mutual benefit, free for the exchange of goods. Any and all interference by centralized entities - such as governments - is inefficient and serves only to slow things down, make goods more expensive, and ensure that some research never happens at all. This is unconscionable wherever it occurs, but for medicine most of all:

"We've taken the position that the law is illegal," Dr. Day, 59, says. "This is a country in which dogs can get a hip replacement in under a week and in which humans can wait two to three years."


Canada remains the only industrialized country that outlaws privately financed purchases of core medical services. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other politicians remain reluctant to openly propose sweeping changes even though costs for the national and provincial governments are exploding and some cancer patients are waiting months for diagnostic tests and treatment.

Democracy at work, right there - and this is where the US is heading at its present rate. No thanks, not for me.

But back to the World Congress: the presentations and abstracts are worth your time, for all the whole affair seems to have little to do with actual freedom and far more to do with winning control over "democratic" appointed bureaucracies and entrenched institutions.

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