When I was an Undergraduate (1976-1980) the question
Would you take grant money from the dept of defense?
was in the air. There were stories of people who thought they were working on medicine who were actually working on germ warfare. There were also stories about the people who worked on the Atom Bomb (knowing what they were working on) later regretting it.
I heard this kind of discussion less in grad school (1980-1985). The last time I ever heard it brought up at all was in 1989 when a grad student asked me if I take
money from dept of defense. Since I've never been offered
such money it was a moot point (I've never applied for such money, but not out of any moral principle.) I recently met up with that grad student (now a professor) and he is working on a germ warfare grant.
The question of who you take money from is asked in some
circles- crypto comes to mind. But how about the general question- who would you take grant money from?
There are several factors that people tend to lump together, but they are different:
Do they let you publish and post and talk about your research (e.g., NSA, Microsoft, might not)
Do you have a moral objection to who the person asking you? (e.g., the military)
Do you have a moral objection to the type of work being asked of you? (e.g., helping an advertising company sell more cigarettes to minors. When you question this they reply `if teenagers don't smoke, what will they do after sex?')
Is the work of interest to you?
Do you have to have a product in the end?
Will working on this put you in actual danger? (e.g., Tony Soprano wants you do use your knowledge of resource allocation to settle a gang war.)
There are many different possibilities. Here are two extreme cases:
Al Queda wants to give you a grant to work on something you like, and you can publish it, and it has no possible practical value.
(You can replace Al Queda by whatever you think is a great evil.)
Greenpeace wants to know how to best lie to the public to force them to take action on Global Warming. You can't publish, post, or talk about it. The work is boring, and you find lying morally bad. But the cause is just! (You can replace Greenpeace and Global Warming with some other organization and cause that you agree with and think is very important.)