Why is there no civilian counterpart to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency?

The July 21-27 issue of the New Scientist carries a story about the creation of light-senstive neurons, under the somewhat overwrought headline “Remote Control Brains.”

I have no idea whether the new technology will turn out to be useful, either in developing animals subject to remote control or in treating disease. I hope it does. But the most intriguing sentence in the article is a throw-away. Discussing a paper published in Cell by Yale’s Gero Miesenböck, the story reports:

Within an hour of the paper appearing online, Miesenböck’s phone rang: it was the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wanting to know if his work had possible military applications (he now works with them).

Well, good for DARPA, I say. Maybe there are military applications.

But where was the call from DARPA’s civilian counterpart? Oh right, I forgot: there is no civilian counterpart to DARPA.

Why the hell not? If DoD needs a research-funding unit that combines speed, flexibility, willingness to take risks on low-probability but high-potential-payoff ventures, and freedom from the tryanny of the study sections, why doesn’t the civilian sector need the same thing?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: