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Does Government Get Cancer?

Arlen Specter's move to the Democratic Party and his vote to push through the Stimulus reminds me of a comment made by my undergraduate thesis adviser. Specter has had cancer, and medical research is close to his heart. As part of getting his vote, about $6 billion was added to NIH funding as part of the Stimulus bill.

My undergraduate thesis was on a device for mapping ST-segment elevation to quantify heart damage. The thesis was way too ambitious for undergrads, but my thesis partner and I were too naive to know and very passionate about medical electronics. We pulled all-nighters for months on end, got funding from Hewlett Packard and a prize for Best Thesis from Siemens. All this would be good training for the all-nighters I spent designing stethoscope transducers.

So during those all-night sessions, we'd discuss the social benefits of technology. At that time, South Africa's only focus on technology was weapons development. As idealistic students, we wanted to see government money going into medical devices and other socially redeeming programs.

In one of those late night conversations, my thesis adviser looked at me paternalistically and said, "Clive, governments don't get Cancer. That's why they don't spend money on it."

I guess Arlen Specter proves that sometimes "Governments do get Cancer" and it does actually shifts their priorities.

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