Every year, Uncle Morty has a little too much eggnog and takes the opportunity to rant about taxpayers bearing the burden of financing your research. If that scenario is a familiar one, consider this your holiday gift from Wired. Reporter Brandon Keim makes a sound, if not eloquent, argument for NIH funding of basic research based on successful programs coming out of what were considered risky proposals. His examples include a rotavirus vaccine and NCI's work on paclitaxel (brand name: Taxol).
In 1970, researchers at the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health (the country's clearinghouse for medical research funding) discovered the compound. The NCI spent $700 million developing Taxol (paclitaxel's brand name), and clinical trials dragged on through the 1980s before the drug was approved in 1992. It has since saved hundreds of thousands of lives.
Keim also runs through several of the highly speculative -- but tremendously promising -- research programs NIH is supporting right now, such as the Protein Structure Initiative.
Take that, Uncle Morty.