Yes, that's two cheers, not three. I am indebted to Claire Wolfe for this interesting link: the Green Bank Observatory, home of the Green Bank Radio Telescope ("the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope"), is going semi-private.

This decision was forced upon them. They would happily have continued receiving full funding from the National Science Foundation, but the NSF cut them off. (Money is tight everywhere.) Then, as explained in Wired,

Green Bank employees scrambled to find a way to move forward. “Really, the only path out was to do something never done before,” says Karen O’Neil, the site director. So they petitioned to retain a fraction of NSF funding and make up the difference with private contracts—a model then unheard of. Eventually, the NSF agreed to fund about 60 percent of Green Bank’s operations in 2017, tapering to 30 percent in 2018.

It's a sad statement* that this was "something never done before," but the Green Bank team deserves kudos for thinking outside the government box, and looking for private funding. This is usually anathema to scientists, as I wrote four years ago:

This dependence [on government funding], now for two generations, has had predictable results. Few in the sciences can even conceive of any source of funding other than the government. Many now feel that they have a right to such funding -- to the end that if their funding is cut, they cry that their freedom of speech is being curtailed. Worse, many look with disdain or contempt at private sources of funding; it's viewed as impure or dirty, or just somehow unbecoming the noble scientific enterprise. (I well recall a discussion at my university, about how to get funding to continue operating the particle accelerator. When a non-academic floated the idea of renting a limited amount of time on the accelerator to commercial interests, the academics were aghast -- the accelerator was for research, not for sordid commercial use. Never mind that renting it out 10 hours a week might pay for 20 hours a week of research time.)

So, two cheers for Green Bank. They lose a cheer because they're still taking NSF funding (though reduced), and they also benefit from government patronage in the form of a special law which restricts others from using radios. Still...it's a step in the right direction: the separation of science from state.

* It's another sad statement that Wired called this action by the Green Bank Observatory "going rogue," instead of "going private" or "going independent." Does an infant "go rogue" when it stops breastfeeding?

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