Thursday, December 16, 2010

Time to democratize science?

Yesterday, I read this article in New Scientist
The argument Hind makes goes roughly as follows. There's something wrong with academic research in economics because they've been in favor of deregulation and been supportive of policies that eventually lead to the financial crisis, while the warning voices were not listened to. I'd agree on that. What's wrong with that research, according to Hind, is that "financiers paid [many university economists] handsomely." That certainly didn't help objective research, but I doubt it's the central problem. The streamlining that's troublesome in economics can also be seen in other fields, just that in economics mistakes cause real-world disasters. An insightful article on this is Colander et al's The Financial Crisis and the Systemic Failure of Academic Economics.

Anyway, given this troublesome bias allegedly caused by funding sources Hind concludes
"[I]t is surely time to consider an alternative. If we are serious about science as a public good, we should give the public control over the ways in which some - and I stress "some" - of its money is spent.

I propose taking a portion of the money that subsidises private industry and giving it to new bodies set up to allocate resources on the basis of a democratic vote. Scientists could apply to these bodies for funding and we could all have a say in what research is given support."

Well, a lot of science funding comes from the national science foundations. And their agenda is set by national politics for control of which we go and cast our vote on election day. That this didn't prevent the issue with economics research demonstrates there's shortcomings in the academic system which spoil objectivity other than bribery. So much about Hind's motivation for his argument.

Leaving aside the shaky reasoning, I am afraid then that what Hind means with "democratic vote" is not a representative democracy. If his "alternative" is supposed to be something new, he must be talking about a grassroots democracy; the wisdom of the masses and all. That interpretation of his proposition of "democratisation" also goes well with him being the author of a book called The Return of the Public that according to the blurb "outlines a way forwards for a new participatory politics." But back to the New Scientist article, Hind explains the benefits of letting the public decide on research funding by referendum:
"Think what such a system could achieve. With public support, the few economists that predicted the financial crash could have gained greater access to publicity as well as more research resources. Public concern with environmental degradation could guide much-needed funds into alternative energy research."

I have no clue why that should be. In fact, I suspect a public "voting" on what scientific research projects deserve funding would make matters significantly worse rather than better. The main reason is that it would set incentives for researchers to produce results the public wants to hear rather than rely on their own sense of what is important. Hind continues:
"There is no good reason I can see why science funding could not be made subject to democratic decision-making. Yes, it will hand power to non-experts, but so does the present system: non-experts in the state and private sector often have a decisive say in what scientists study."

The present system does give non-experts the power to set general guidelines, but the details are left to experts. And that is, imho, good as it is. The problem with the academic system is definitely not that "the taxpayer" has too little say in what researcher's study but rather that the system itself suffers from internal problems. I've written on that many times and don't want to repeat the details here. For more check e.g. my posts Science and Democracy III and We have only ourselves to judge each other. The title of the latter says it all: The only people who can plausibly have an informed opinion on what research projects are worth pursuing are working in the field themselves. The problem with the academic system is, in short, that their opinions are unfortunately influenced by all sorts of external pressures which has the result that the grants are not efficiently used. The cure isn't to replace expert's judgement with that of uninformed people, but to make sure the judgement is unbiased.

In contrast to Hind, I can see several good reasons why science funding should not be made subject to public vote, except for setting the general agenda by assigning funds to the respective agencies and their programs. The reasons are the same reasons why pretty much all democracies on the planet are representative democracies. First, the public opinion changes from one day to the next. That's no basis on which one can pursue research. Second, the public opinion is easily influenced by those who have enough money to spend on media relations and search engine optimization. This works completely against Hind's own argument that the problem is the influence of wealthy people and cooperations.

The third and most important point is that the very reason academic research is mostly funded as a public good rather than through individual investments is that despite its recognized relevance for the well-being and progress of our societies it's such a long-term investment that very few people would privately invest money in it. Asking them to then decide on where the money they wouldn't individually invest should be spent, one has zero reason to believe that the money would be well spent.

(A fourth reason why the public opinion may not be suitable to call upon directly for decision making is that it may be inconsistent, but that's not a relevant point here. For more on that see my post The Nature of Laws.)

Hind explains his opinion:
"Certainly the public will sometimes support research that seems fanciful to informed insiders. We won't always spend our money wisely. But the opportunity to exercise power is a great educator. The successes and failures of democratically funded science would promote a much more vigorous public debate about the purpose of research."

The big problem is that it may take decades or even centuries to figure out what a success or a failure is. The feedback loop in this education is way too long to be effective; it's not something that will lead to an optimization. That's the reason such a lot of research is pursued as public service to begin with.

Let me be very clear here. I write this as a taxpayer myself that I am not qualified to make certain judgements. I preferably delegate my voice to somebody who has the time and makes the effort to obtain and survey all the relevant information on some decision rather than making a sloppy and uninformed decision myself because, after all, I have a job. In other words, I believe representative democracies are a good system (though there's no doubt they could use some improvements). There is place in our societies for direct public votes and we have tools for exactly this purpose. The funding of research projects just clearly isn't one of them.

71 comments:

whatsinaname said...

"Basic Research is what scientist do when they don't know what they want to do" - Wehrner von Braun.

Plain bad idea. I can't convince anybody I know about the utility of LHC.

Oh, you can always try out democracy and hope that opinions of 10,000 monkeys over 10,000 years will produce the Collected Works of Shakespeare.

Bee said...

The LHC tunnel would make a great inline skating ring ;-p

Uncle Al said...

Average Caucasian European intelligence is a 100 IQ. The 700,000 pupil Los Angeles Unified School District, annually given the California Academic Performance Index test, averages 84 IQ. Nobody can imagine why California is swirling down the toilet. A physical sciences PhD needs about a 130 IQ, especially in physics. If you wish to be clever in mathematics, a 150 IQ barely gets you going.

The average person is unqualified to do anything but run its own life. The only consistantly less functional entity is government. There are too many researchers, too few berths for them, and not nearly enough mmoney to keep it all going. Science is increasingly prostituted by funding and run by management with other goals.

What is the answer? Hire the unpleasant. Separate financial button sorting from resserch pursuit. Google only hires the most objectively qualfied (pathological) candidates. Google is unstoppable, and rolling in cash. Nobody claiming technical cleverness should be allowed to graduate college into the discipline unless objectively in the top, oh, 30% of all applicants? Top 20%? We don't need and have no places or funding for those who are merely good enough amongst their peers.

A smiling idiot who dresses well, has a low golf handicap, holds his liquor, makes small talk, and kisses ass with world class fervor is... an idiot.

Plato said...

Hi,

I think understanding the idea of "control over a political system" and it's representatives(duly democratically elected), people have become dissatisfied with that political representation?

I am trying to go past all the verbiage of a system with all it's information as having a underlying motivation for it's writer "to reveal the idea?"

Profit or non profit, these companies or institutions, are like a person that doesn't age, yet society as it gets older sees where it has become wiser as the dominant political demonstrations have be usurped toward something robotic, and has no objectification other then to "profit for itself." A economic machine viewed untouchable by some idea of a algorithmic code. It serves itself well?

A caring society/individual owner of a company might be the wiser choice once we see where politic functions no longer represent the people if it is dominated by companies and institutions.

This overlapped representation of an assumed democracy is what Hind might be revealing, is his take on where society is right now with the understanding that consumerism can change society more drastically then companies can usurp the right of democratic selections? This is economically based?

Uncle Al, you have no heart?:)

Best,

Daniel Lemire said...

We already have kickstarter (see http://www.kickstarter.com/).

...

The solution, I think, is open scholarship. Just like wikileaks allowed us to see for ourselves what the source documents say, we need to make science more accessible so that anyone can investigate for themselves.

This may sound like a terrible idea at first. But let us discuss what it involves:

(1) Open Access. Really, why on Earth would research articles by $30 a piece for people outside academia? Let the people read the research papers for themselves. To a large extend, it is a problem solved in Physics where, from what I'm told, everything that matters is already on arXiv.

(2) Open Data. If you get thousands or millions of dollars to gather data... why would you get to keep it? Instead, you should be forced to make it available to the public, in documented form. This should be a no-brainer. And yes, you should get credit for publishing the data. We have to get over the model whereas people gather the data, but only get credit for publishing related papers.

(3) Open Software. If you receive money to build software for your research, you should make it available to the public. Again, if you make available good software, you should get the credit... We have to stop crediting only the publication of research papers. (See http://www.openresearchcomputation.com/)

(4) Open Funding. Why on Earth couldn't anyone apply for a research grant? Just let the track records speak for themselves. If someone works as a patent clerk, and he is good, why wouldn't you help fund his research? Who knows, he might come up with good stuff.


Of course, the typical answer is that people outside academia, you know... people who either don't have a Ph.D., or have a Ph.D. but are without a research jobs, are just too stupid to understand, let alone try to do their own research. Do you really think that only economists with a professorship can understand research papers? That's obviously ridiculous.

Well. Claiming that "non-experts" (whatever this means) are too stupid is precisely what got people to predict that Wikipedia couldn't work. And they were wrong.

Yes, learning Physics is hard. Very hard. It takes years. But there are many people who are good at Physics who have random jobs. Heck! I don't have any kind of degree in Physics, but I can read my Physics research papers just fine... my Quantum Mechanics is a bit rusty, but I can manage.

People are not all stupid. Lots of paid researchers are bad researchers... lots of people who are not bona fide researchers can read and criticize research papers quite well.

Open Scholarship would allow anyone to check on the research of these publicly funded economists.

And if you think about it, what is science? Science is basically what happens when anyone can check the facts for themselves (see this post of mine http://lemire.me/blog/archives/2010/12/13/the-raise-of-scientific-journalism/ and read the comments.)

By the way, we have a Facebook group on Open Scholarship:

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=140408581513

Please spread the world. Join the group. Let's open up science.

Disclaimer: I am a tenured professor with a government research grant. And no, I don't think I'm (totally) crazy.

Daniel Lemire said...

We already have kickstarter (see http://www.kickstarter.com/).

...

The solution, I think, is open scholarship. Just like wikileaks allowed us to see for ourselves what the source documents say, we need to make science more accessible so that anyone can investigate for themselves.

This may sound like a terrible idea at first. But let us discuss what it involves:

(1) Open Access. Really, why on Earth would research articles by $30 a piece for people outside academia? Let the people read the research papers for themselves. To a large extend, it is a problem solved in Physics where, from what I'm told, everything that matters is already on arXiv.

(2) Open Data. If you get thousands or millions of dollars to gather data... why would you get to keep it? Instead, you should be forced to make it available to the public, in documented form. This should be a no-brainer. And yes, you should get credit for publishing the data. We have to get over the model whereas people gather the data, but only get credit for publishing related papers.

(3) Open Software. If you receive money to build software for your research, you should make it available to the public. Again, if you make available good software, you should get the credit... We have to stop crediting only the publication of research papers. (See http://www.openresearchcomputation.com/)

(4) Open Funding. Why on Earth couldn't anyone apply for a research grant? Just let the track records speak for themselves. If someone works as a patent clerk, and he is good, why wouldn't you help fund his research? Who knows, he might come up with good stuff.


Of course, the typical answer is that people outside academia, you know... people who either don't have a Ph.D., or have a Ph.D. but are without a research jobs, are just too stupid to understand, let alone try to do their own research. Do you really think that only economists with a professorship can understand research papers? That's obviously ridiculous.

Well. Claiming that "non-experts" (whatever this means) are too stupid is precisely what got people to predict that Wikipedia couldn't work. And they were wrong.

Yes, learning Physics is hard. Very hard. It takes years. But there are many people who are good at Physics who have random jobs. Heck! I don't have any kind of degree in Physics, but I can read my Physics research papers just fine... my Quantum Mechanics is a bit rusty, but I can manage.

People are not all stupid. Lots of paid researchers are bad researchers... lots of people who are not bona fide researchers can read and criticize research papers quite well.

Open Scholarship would allow anyone to check on the research of these publicly funded economists.

And if you think about it, what is science? Science is basically what happens when anyone can check the facts for themselves.

By the way, we have a Facebook group on Open Scholarship:

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=140408581513

Plato said...

Joseph Stiglitz: "If science is defined by its ability to forecast the future, the failure of much of the economics profession to see the crisis coming should be a cause of great concern."

The economic system does not have this built into it, so how is "any correction" ever going to take place, unless it is it's own ultimate demise, yet, there are those that interfered to save it? So, there was interference you see?

How does this relate to science and funding as to public control?

Is't it assumed that political direction, institutional directives, by grants and funding, play some influence over direction that partially is by government process and the other by gifting? There can be no attachments to the institutions by such gifting "other then" the tax deduction for a non profit??

Yes, I know this is the question of public control. Imagine being ruled over by a mob mentality yet this is not what we expect of a well informed public do we?:)

Eric said...

I would say that there should be a much more effective way of allocating money. However I don't think it can be done strictly by having "deciders" with high I.Q as uncle thinks. It really requires a select group of people with a combination of attributes:

1. Good knowledge of the subject, though being among the top recognized people in the field may not necessarily be an attribute. Advances are often unpredictable and someone recognized heavily as an expert will undoubtedly have some entrenched positions by that stage of their career.

2. High moral conduct which includes most importantly the ability to admit errors in judgment on a position that is starting to prove wrong. One can't underestimate how rare this is and how stubborn especially talented people often are.

3. Last but not least, good critical thinking ability. Probably about 75% of the U.S. Public right after 9/11 thought that Iraq had something to do with it. They put together the "emotion" of anger after 9/11 with the "fact" that Iraq had previously been aggressive. They then came to the completely wrong conclusion that Iraq instigated it.

One really has to try to ignore one's emotions when making
Decisions to actually kill people. Hell, probably hundreds of thousands of people have died unneccessarily because of the moral weakness of not being able to back down and because of their poor critical thinking ability. So very high intelligence is not always necessary if it lead to inflexibility and arrogance.

Needless to say, if one is choosing people to define where to allocate money for research the requirements are the same but without the comparatively dire consequences if wrong. As far as choosing the public to make these decisions you would likely fail on all three points made above. However the usual criteria of getting people that are intelligent and knowledgable, item 1, will just as often fail on items 2 and 3.

Uncle Al said...

Does the Standard Model have ab initio mass? No. Is there any evidence for the Higgs? No. Are any SUSY partners detected? No. Is any quantized gravitation predictive? No. Do neutrino and anti-neutrino reaction channels balance? No. Is any aspect of contemporary physical theory not a dog's breakfast of fantastical mathematics and empirical excuses? No.

A globe of the Earth shows Euclid is disastrously incomplete. That does not obtain from looking within Euclid. Newton was Euclidean, Einstein was not.

There are no mistakes in rigor of derivation. Physics must transcend its empirically defective assumptions. Somebody inside must listen to somebody outside who does not share the illusion of knowledge.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7kzsZreG0o

I loaded quartz in that balanced Eötvös rotor
And by some chance found a signal in its chart,
And there it hung, rotor torquing out the scandal,
But the physicists all were loathe to take part...
For professors all said, "Beware!
You're on a gravity trip."
The profs all said, "Beware!
Keep your hands off scholarship."
And a chemist will drag you under
By the fancy shoes on his wicked feet.
Sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down,
Sit down you're rockin' the boat.

A chiral universe cannot be modeled with achiral postulates - and demonstrably so. Somebody should look.

kaleberg7 said...

The problem with much of economics is that it isn't a science. If the LHC finds evidence for a Higgs boson of mass X, you can bet an awful lot of theories that predicted a mass of Y are going to get shoved out the window. In economics, that just doesn't happen. There just doesn't seem to be an empirical component.

Look at the current recession. It was completely predictable, and many economists actually did predict it. You might imagine economists all over the world re-examining the theories that showed some predictive value and trashing theories that did not, but that is incredibly unlikely.

I've heard the complaint that string theory isn't even wrong. Even if that is so, string theory is in a much better place than academic economics which is demonstrably wrong.

Arun said...

Once upon a time, religion was the instrument of control; now it is economics (dogma) and the media.

The whole cold war, was in a sense, a battle over economics dogma. The end of the cold war simply marks one economics religion run rampant.

Bee said...

Hi Kaleberg,

Yes, I would agree and that's esp. true for macroeconomics. There was an interesting article in the Globe and Mail recently, Why macroeconomics 'gives economics a bad name', that makes the point well:

In the course of a long conversation, Columbia economics professor Jagdish Bhagwati remarked the other day on his fellow practitioners’ remarkably wide range of assured opinions on everything from Federal Reserve policies (he likes them) and European bailouts (which have been botched) to Chinese currency manipulation.

“In my judgment, macroeconomics is what gives economics a bad name. You don’t get that kind of variance – totally opposed points of view – in fields like public finance or trade. Consensus is never there, but the disagreements are always reasonable within certain parameters.”


Best,

B.

Arun said...

The problem with much of economics is that it isn't a science.

So if Republicans in the US can start enough of a public controversy over evolution, then the theory of evolution will no longer be science? Oh, I forgot, climate change is no longer a scientific result as per the incoming Republican Congress. See how easily science can be swept away whenever it doesn't suit the interests of people with lots and lots of money?

Phil Warnell said...
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Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

If truth came down to be what people thought it should be, I would agree science could be democratised. However it is quite the opposite, as science is to find what should be thought to be true, rather then what we would like it to be. The role of democracy is then to decide what best to do with these truths, for the benefit of all.

That is if science wants to avoid going the way of religion, what people believe to be true must be sought to be eliminated from the equation, rather than given more weight. To do so it must first be recognized, as to be understood, it is nature that makes the decisions on what stands as truth, and not the masses, to reveal it has nothing to do with what we would like it to be, or even what is right or wrong, yet always what stands to be the best solution.

Science therefore cannot be directed by either a democracy or an oligarchy, even one formed of its own disciples, yet only by its benevolent dictator nature. The role of the masses is to have none other than being its trusting patrons, as to have more to hopefully become disciples, with the only requirement is in having and maintaining faith in the philosophy.

Best,

Phil

Steven Colyer said...
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Steven Colyer said...

Bee, I didn't click on that Macroeconomics link yet, but I'll tell you before I do so why "Macro" as we called it in business school failed:

Their holy grail equation, that which computes GNP, has a HUGE "X Factor", that is to say an unknown factor, that being the amount of assets (of which "money" is but one form) exchanges hands in criminal activity, which includes everything from counterfeiting to smuggling opium from Afghanistan to working "under the table" to avoid paying taxes and alimony to ex-wives. They have absolutely NO idea how large that figure is.

That last one btw is pretty huge in America these days. Well, in any event, what does it matter?! The politicians are capable of taking any old economic "data" and twisting it to their advantage. Have you ever heard the modern-day Cicero (a dark side of the force Cicero, to be sure) known as Sean Hannity? The Rush Limbaugh with a brain? Economics is dead once the pundits (snakes) get their hands on it.

Marketing Research was and still is a fantastic way to collect the most accurate data with the least effort, but that doesn't change the fact that an introductory course in the sames come with a required textbook titled "How to Lie with Statistics." It does, and I found that title disgusting. After reading it, I found the title to be tongue-in-cheek, as it teaches how NOT to be hoodwinked by "figures." But it's still a disgusting title IMO.

Aaron Sheldon said...

Economists, they're just like regular scientist, but without the error bars.

Am I the only one who has noticed that not one Economics paper has ever reported their systematic error or contained a limitations section?

The problem with Economics is that it is not science.

Bee said...

Hi Arun,

I believe what Kaleberg meant to say is that if you have a "theory" that accommodates every possible outcome, it's not science. It is of course highly problematic for our democracies if people with money and influence can bend public information to their own benefit. What I find much more troublesome however is that the problem seems to persist within the community itself. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Robert: I've told you often enough not to add your URL to your comments. (Which was btw off-topic. This post is not about peer review.)

Robert L. Oldershaw said...

BP Piscium

Red Giant star

X-ray point source at its center emitting huge, long twin jets.

Mistaken for a protostar at first.

Now known to be a regular old star that accreted too much mass/energy onto its central nucleus.

http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/1007/1007.3981v1.pdf

Eureka! The proverbial smoking gun!

RLO

Zephir said...

/* I can't convince anybody I know about the utility of LHC... */

It actually has just the utilization as a salary generator for few thousands of experimentators and theorists (which are actually fighting each other, so they don't need LHC for anythink). Collider research is overgrown remnant of cold war arms race and it has definitelly no usage. We have no usage for any particle revealed in colliders during last seventy years, so we can be sure, no such usage can be expected for current research during next fifty years.

Zephir said...

/*...Physics must transcend its empirically defective assumptions... (+ usual erotoric blurbs follows)..*/

Physicists just following their fixed ideas, in the same way like you. You shouldn't preach water & drink wine in a single comment.

Zephir said...

/* If the LHC finds evidence for a Higgs boson of mass X, you can bet an awful lot of theories that predicted a mass of Y are going to get shoved out the window. ..*/

This is naive stance. Theorists are already thinking about as many Higgs bosons, as they can imagine, so that the research may continue without problem (just the basic SUSY model considers them eight). The economic criterions doesn't work in mainstream physics, which is perpetual mobile machine of salaries. For example, string theory has been disproved recently - do you think, string theorists even notified it?

http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2010/12/lhc-spots-no-black-holes-eliminates-some-versions-of-string-theory.ars

Kerstin said...

Apparently, he's not the only one...
http://republicanwhip.house.gov/YouCut/Review.htm

Bee said...

"Now, what’s also true is a lot of companies don’t invest in basic research because it doesn’t pay off right away. But that doesn’t mean it’s not essential to our economic future. Forty years ago, it probably didn’t seem useful or profitable for scientists and engineers to figure out how to increase the capacity of integrated circuits. Forty years later, I’m still not sure what that means. (Laughter.) What I do know is that discoveries in integrated circuits made back then led to the iPod and cell phones and GPS and CT scans -– products that have led to new companies and countless new jobs in manufacturing and retail, and other sectors.

That’s why I’ve set a goal of investing a full 3 percent -- not 2 percent, not 2.5 percent -- a full 3 percent of our Gross Domestic Product into research and development. That has to be a priority. (Applause.)"


Remarks by the President on the Economy, White House Press Release Dec 6th 2010

Bee said...

Hi Kerstin,

Thanks for the link. That's outright creepy. Best,

B.

Steven Colyer said...

Why is it creepy, Bee? Is it creepy because politicians who know nothing about Science wish to have the most outrageous science research projects defunded? Is it creepy because they wish to engage the public's opinion (i.e., Democracy) to be at first the whistleblowers, then the gatekeepers via their votes, of "bad" (opinion) scientific research, even though they can't run their own lives let alone be in a position to judge others?

Or does the American flag in the background creep you out?

The flag is what creeps me out. More on the other stuff in a bit. What creeps me out about the flag is an obvious not-too-subtle attempt to inject "love of country" into the debate. You know how disgusted I am about those who seek to compare Religion and Science; increase that an order of magnitude for Politics and Science. Apples and oranges are one thing, acorns and apples are worse.

Well, we've been down this waste-of-time road (e.g. Creationism "Intelligent" Design) before. Of course it will only get worse now with a Republican congress, so here's a tip for would-be American researchers:

See if you can segue your research conclusions into potential weapons applications. That's right, weaponize your papers. The Republicans love their bombs. Or make your papers oily, that is to say show how your results will help Big Oil make even more money than it's already making. Or throw in just enough religion to get money from Templeton. I.e., be creative!

/end sarcasm/

As far as the first 2 things, which basically comes down to non-experts telling experts where to apply the money, isn't there already too much of that going on? God forbid (figure of speech for you atheists) we ever get a Science President! The last two of those we had were Engineers, Jimmy Carter and Herbert Hoover. Carter created The Department of Energy. Hoover inherited the blowback from the excesses of the Coolidge administrations and suffered thereby, as Carter did with the right-wing excesses of Nixon-Ford.

Barry Obama has also inherited excessive problems, from Dumbo the Wonder President, and so will also likely be a one-termer. Right now we have a Nobel laureate, Stephen Chu, heading up The Department of Energy. The guy who replaces him when the Republicans get back from their four-year holiday will most likely be a Texan Creationist Anti-Green Oil & Gas Industry pimp (who loves Jesus), and mark my words, things will go from bad to worse.

So enjoy these sunny (by comparison) days! And help us Europe, you're our only hope. By "our" I mean Humanity's not America's. I'm afraid it's a bit late for the US of A. The cancellation of the SSC was a clear sign where we're headed: Next-quarter profit thinking trumping long-term thinking.

Have a nice day. :-)

Zephir said...

The incoming GOP majority has a new initiative called YouCut, which lets Americans propose government programs for termination. YouCut's first target was that notoriously bloated white elephant, the National Science Foundation.

Zephir said...

/*..Thanks for the link. That's outright creepy... */

Could you list the number of cities, which you visited during your scientific "carrier"? THIS is creepy - such wasting of resources of tax payers must indeed stop.

Bee said...

Zephir's comments here offer us a very nice documentation for why a grassroots democracy is a bad idea when it comes to judging on scientific research projects, esp. basic research. Let me add that in an earlier post he informed us, after criticizing my work, that he hasn't read a single one of my papers. His taxes also don't pay and have never paid for my salary.

Bee said...

Hi Steven,

I find it creepy for the reason that it embarrassingly proudly presents a complete misunderstanding of the merits of the present democratic system as well as the working of the NSF. The NSF might be governmentally funded, but the government does not decide who obtains the grants. That's done by the NSF's review system that is essentially a community intern process headed by the program managers. The website suggests that a random selection of people, most of which likely just know that they dislike the title of some proposal, have a better way of telling what research is worth funding. If people believe this to be a sensible way of procedure, it's creepy what it means for your country.

Besides this, if one wants to reduce US governmental spending the place to start is military expenses (see e.g. this recent article in Time Magazine). Compared to the billions spent there on questionable project, who cares about a million going to some researcher to think about the foundations of current theoretical paradigms, thinking that however has the potential to drastically change the course of our future.

Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...
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Steven Colyer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven Colyer said...

Deconstructing Dan Hind's opinion piece at New Scientist:

Social and natural sciences research has played a key role in precipitating the crises that now face us. It can play a key role in providing the solutions.

This is his conclusion, which is heartfelt, well meant, and too general to assail. Hind's heart is in the right place. It's his way of getting there that is flawed:

I propose taking a portion of the money that subsidises private industry and giving it to new bodies set up to allocate resources on the basis of a democratic vote. Scientists could apply to these bodies for funding and we could all have a say in what research is given support.

No we should not. It will force scientists to become politicians, many cannot or will not and the loudest mouths will get the money. Trying to think of a worse idea. Cannot.

...and ...

If we want to avoid a future of steepening inequality, conflict and environmental degradation, we need to take more responsibility for the ways in which that money is spent.

So Science journalists can soapbox ideas as well. If Hind has his way, Earth Science will get the greatest funding at the expense of the others. Count me out.

Bee said...

Hi Steven,

"It will force scientists to become politicians, many cannot or will not and the loudest mouths will get the money."

They would waste time not only on political games, but - maybe more importantly - on marketing and advertising.

Hind is certainly right that science funding from large corporations with their own interests and agendas isn't healthy for objectivity. Just that his proposition isn't a suitable cure for that problem. His argument is completely flawed already by that he's generalizing from pharmaceutical research and some fields of economics to all of science. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

When science is viewed only from the perspective of what material benefits it can provide science has ended. That’s being what people such as Congressman Smith and many like minded fail to realize is science isn’t simply an engine of progress and enlightenment, yet more importantly its philosophy. Then again perhaps some of them do recognize it as being such and thus as Stephen eludes there lies the problem.

Of course this has all happened before, where a civilization rose initially inspired by philosophy which held the discovery of knowledge as valuable holistically in respect to humanity, later to find it valuable only as what materially in can bring to eventually dismiss it all together when society and its leaders only able to tolerate as to accommodate one philosophy. The irony being the philosophy dismissed can be attributed as the very beginnings of what these same politicians and their followers find so unrelated to their concerns. Not to worry as perhaps society can recover in half the time from the consequences of such thinking.

” “Somebody who only reads newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else. And what a person thinks on his own without being stimulated by the thoughts and experiences of other people is even in the best case rather paltry and monotonous. There are only a few enlightened people with a lucid mind and style and with good taste within a century. What has been preserved of their work belongs among the most precious possessions of mankind. We owe it to a few writers of antiquity (Plato, Aristotle, etc.) that the people in the Middle Ages could slowly extricate themselves from the superstitions and ignorance that had darkened life for more than half a millennium. Nothing is more needed to overcome the modernist's snobbishness.”

Best,

Phil

Plato said...

Hi Phil,

that the people in the Middle Ages could slowly extricate themselves from the superstitions and ignorance that had darkened life for more than half a millennium.

Being part of society, one can loose sight of the effect of what is outside them self, whilst the struggle to be free and enlightened meant to see what we as a group are doing as a common vision.

How superficial we could be when we are amazed at the "medium mystified interpretations of the times," as directing the global vision according to stanza number....and selected statistics backs up by what we are saying according to this institution[seen it done]).

Are you persuaded, and how well do these statistics read toward bias?

Uncle Al might have been right to that extent, but one hopes that the truth shall win out and we will discover how we had been contained to ourselves and our current environs.

What can materialize outside of that, once we change inside?

That is the difference between what we think of as robotic, a economic system that we think is working, but fails to recognize the value of the human condition at all levels, whether rich or poor, we extent the hand according to what is right and just, not just distancing ourselves from something we think is working well. That is being irresponsible.

So how do we extricate ourselves from the "statute of brain matter" to see that it's contents extent beyond the matter defined, to see that all thoughts have the ability to work as it should "without human interference while holding mechanistic views," and works well as a machine.

Not by rote, repeatability and sameness of all voices, but the inevitable distinction that an idea can well up from the struggle to be free of such illusions. Socrates was again listening for something distinctive? Maybe it was the very idea that "some thing" could emerge out as a better perspective about "depth" in that society?

Best,

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

” So how do we extricate ourselves from the "statute of brain matter" to see that it's contents extent beyond the matter defined, to see that all thoughts have the ability to work as it should "without human interference while holding mechanistic views," and works well as a machine.”

From my own perspective this can only be accomplished when science is not simply considered as merely a tool of humanity, yet rather as the central philosophy it needs to adopt, as to both have it defined and guided. However, unlike other philosophies, where belief is often seen as all that’s required, having and maintaining faith in science comes with the necessity to have an understanding of why it should be so trusted; rather than simply believed. This then has it capable of going beyond at best being provided with a understanding of what it means to be, to capture the joy found only in discovering there being reason as to believe what it might become.

“It may also be asked (in the way of doubt rather than objection) whether I speak of natural philosophy only, or whether I mean that the other sciences, logic, ethics, and politics, should be carried on by this method. Now I certainly mean what I have said to be understood of them all; and as the common logic, which governs by the syllogism, extends not only to natural but to all sciences, so does mine also, which proceeds by induction, embrace everything.”

- Francis Bacon, “Novum Organum” (New Instrument) (1620)

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

You said that very well. I would like to add that it's also a matter of diversity. Material outcomes are simply not a motivation for every bright mind. Therefore, insisting on it being the justification for science bears the risk of no longer attracting these people. That is not to say that science with the goal of material outcome will not, along the line, lead to progress. Just that narrowing down on it reduces the pool of creative thinkers to draw upon. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

Yes I would certainly agree and yet my dream of what being a better world is one where all become full time scientists, with other endeavours part time, as being those necessary only to sustain and or amuse us. This might not have science to be democratised, as Hind would have envisioned, yet rather have democracy work in the interests of science and thus for the betterment of humanity.

However I must admit there once was a time that I thought there be reason to find that nature itself might prohibit such a realization; however this has long since changed. What has caused me to change my mind stems from the revelations of science itself. One of these being found in a recent PI lecture given by John Mighton, where he demonstrated that the bell curve, although perhaps impossible to eliminate, can be significantly altered, such that what many consider as being restrictions of nature false as able to have affected to invoke positive change; well at least when it comes to have more understanding, then liking mathematics. This among many other things has given me reason to believe I was wrong to think this better world being merely a dream, yet now instead more convinced than ever it possible; that is if only we trust science as to be able to have it achieved.

So perhaps if all our children were instructed as to be guided by those such as Dr. Mighton, in the future there would be less reason to fear the likes of Congressman Smith, as most provided with what’s necessary to have them able to discern, rather than simply come to believe, what stands as a being good investment respective to themselves and humanity more generally.


Best,

Phil

Plato said...

Hi Phil,

Social Return on Investment (SROI) is critical to the ethical pursuit of our mission

Nice to see.

Both you and Bee touch on it, as to being something more substantial then the matter defined, can be "as a measure perhaps" can be seen in a different light, as you mention in terms of the Bell Curve.

Phil:"reason to believe I was wrong to think this better world being merely a dream, yet now instead more convinced than ever it possible; that is if only we trust science as to be able to have it achieved."

That it can be reduced to a professionalism of the trade, that "further inquirers to the creative pool had been narrowed," is not the idea that such a pool be given to the trade alone?

Only scientists can think so?

This would be foolhardy in thinking as to limit "the potential," as to outcome?

Underestimating the potential is quickly realized when access to information "allowed insight to be further extended?"

It should be understood that selected scientist do gather to consider the directions of advances in experimental procedures as to being adopted, as much as, a capital investment is presented to it's stock holders.

It has to be a good plan.

Does any politician have the potential without the trade or is he/she biased according too?

Democratically, the people have decided. People, have to be better informed, and that comes with access to information.

Best,

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Plato,

The thing I found most compelling as consistent with Dr. Mighton's theory regarding education, is the close connection he draws between our ability to learn with our sense of wonder. That is Mighton was to realize that wonder is a part of the fundamental nature of children and is only diminished relative and respective to their exposure(s) in life. I found this to resonate strongly with me, for as all children I was a wonderer and one fortunate for the most part to have remained so. So as it may be true that time forms to be in part the path to wisdom and yet best achieved when the effects of time are sought to be keep at bay. Some might recognize this as being a paradox and yet I find it to be a symmetry, indicative as to what it has necessarily conserved.

Best,

Phil

Zephir said...

/*...His taxes also don't pay and have never paid for my salary..*/

My country is paying taxes to European Union like others. From my taxes the projects like LHC are payed. For example, your recent work has been supported by the European Cooperation in Science
and Technology (COST). My taxes are right here.

Eric said...

Speaking of Obama making a speech that was creepy, your and our friend who edits "Not Even Wrong" linked to a very similar speech and he described it as "inspiring". I read the speech and Obama said much the same thing about sustaining research in a time of belt tightening. He also said any budget cuts would explicitly exclude cuts in national security.

I happened to mention that in a comment I posted to Mr. Woit's blog, and I did it without even a third of the vitriol that regularly Bee allows here. (Go Bee!) Mr. Woit excluded it, of course. I have to tell you Bee his level of intellectual intolerance makes you look soooo good.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Zephir,

Despite having to admit as not knowing where your taxes go, yet I do know the most burdensome form being when one’s patience is being taxed. We thus are fortunate that Bee and Stefan as to be so generous as finding the general benefit this blog provides for most has being so taxed as worth it, even though difficult to bear.

This leads me to wonder, if a poll were taken of those who frequent this blog, as to discover which among us present as being the most taxing in such regard, what result would it reveal? The reason I mention this is to agree that one of the central principles on which democracy is founded, is to have a process assuring there is no taxation absent of representation.

So this is to concede that an open democracy does have some utility in respect to science, as although it not much good for finding which inquiries the most worthy of funding, it can lend a better understanding of the general perception in regards to the problems looking to be addressed.

Sincerely,

Phil

Bee said...

Zephir: It was one of my coauthors who acknowledge support of COST. And that, btw, was for their sponsoring of a workshop. It has nothing to do with his, and certainly not with mine, salary. Besides this, you don't even know what the workshop was about that you are claiming is a waste of money. We are quite lucky indeed nobody gives a shit about your opinion. Best,

B.

Zephir said...

/*..We are quite lucky indeed nobody gives a shit about your opinion...*/

You're out of reality, as usually. The incoming GOP majority has a new initiative called YouCut, which lets Americans propose government programs for termination. YouCut's first target was that notoriously bloated white elephant, the National Science Foundation.

Zephir said...

I've intimate experience with various crackpots, so I can understand, they will never give up their ideas - not even at death bed. Both string theory, both quantum gravity theory were proven fuzzy, yeilding to many possible solutions due the insintric inconsistency of their mutually contradicting postulates. Under such situation it has no meaning to continue in this research - end of story.

Of course, this simple fact can be never explained to theorists involved into such research, who are having good times from it. So I even don't consider, they'll ever accept it.

Max Planck: "Die Wahrheit triumphiert nie, ihre Gegner sterben nur aus."

Bee said...

Zephir: You are not only repeating yourself, you are also repeating comments that have been made earlier in this post by other people which, evidently, you didn't bother to read. Why don't you read my reply to Kerstin's and Steven's comments and stop clogging our comment section with pointless and uninsightful repetitions? Thanks,

B.

Bee said...

PS: The GOP doesn't give a shit about your opinion either.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

”The GOP doesn't give a shit about your opinion either.”

Actually the whole point of the GOP gimmick is to have it appear they are giving a voice to unqualified opinion being a demographic which Zephir has clearly demonstrated he is qualified to be included in:-)

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

But in addition the unqualified people have to be US-citizens ("The first YouCut Citizen Review of a government agency"). It would be more than odd if an American party paid attention to non-citizens' opinions on a national organization. (That the website doesn't ask for any identification of one's citizenship only demonstrates how nonsensical it is.)

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

That is why I said it was a gimmick to have it appear they were giving the unqualified a voice, which means that they themselves are not allowed to have them qualified; shades of Russel’s Paradox:-)

” I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

-Groucho Marx

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

Yes, it's hard to take seriously, and if you add the ineffectiveness of cutting a dollar here or there if you're at the same time pumping hundreds of billions into the military it's obviously to catch the eye rather than to improve things. One can't even say the initiative is very innovative, as I recall similar attempts to curb governmental spending e.g. in Germany and probably other countries as well. In Germany however, it was not an initiative of one particular party but an independent organization and it wasn't targeted at science spending. (If I recall correctly they got upset about things like the amount of money spent on renovating the restrooms in the parliament building etc.) Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

I find the whole thing consistent with a party that would have George Bush Jr. as president and Sarah Palin their next serious consideration. It has me to wonder if the Republicans have given any thought about enlisting the aid of Dr. Mighton, who I mentioned earlier, in having their member’s and supporter’s bell curve’s altered positively; as that would clearly give us all some reason for hope.

Best,

Phil

nulport said...

http://arxiv.org/abs/1012.2429

Read the paper's conclusion. Thus does science require more restrictive rules than democracy.

Steven Colyer said...

Holy geez, Uncle Al Nulport, where do you find stuff like that? Amazing. From the conclusion of the arXiv preprint you cited:

Human blood is known to contain ferromagnetic substances such as hemoglobin. Thus
the “magnetic balance” of the blood circulation is likely to be affected by the magnetic
properties of food we consume. Further the value of the diamagnetic susceptibility of
the human body decides its interaction with external magnetic fields such as the
geomagnetic field. Lower the diamagnetic susceptibility better the interaction with
external fields. Magneto-biology is an important area of contemporary scientific
research.

... from On the Electrical and Magnetic Properties of some Indian Spices


It is ? Magneto-Biology ? Never heard of it, but they say there's always something new under the sun.

That's it, I'm taking all the magnets off our refrigerator before they kill somebody! :-)

Bee said...

I guess he found it on the arXiv blog.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Nulport,

This type of research might not curry favour with everyone, yet variety is the spice of life, so I would suspect to discover some may find it attractive:-)


Best,

Phil

Steven Colyer said...

Hi Phil,

You're a punny man, man. Curry, however, is but one of the many diparabiomagnetic spices that the good people of India use to spice up their food and destroy the red blood cells of their children in the geomagnetic field that protects and enslaves us. Read the article! lol :-)

Hi Bee,

ArXiv has a blog?! Cool and thanks, will add it to my feed. My gut impression of arXiv however is that its initial "democratic" principles have been compromised thanks to in-house academic gatekeeping politics (the worst kind after government politics). But um, OK. Publishing at viXra has its drawbacks as well, I suppose.

And now a surprise, a surprise for Bee.

Read this article at Mad Physics about Loop Quantum Gravity. The "flavor" of the article is such that LQG ... has just been invented! Jeez, don't tell Ashtekar, Smolin,and Rovelli that! They might be offended! :-)

Which points out the basic thrust of our position I believe, which is that if the science journalists can't get things right, and the public more often than not listens to them (and Hawking's books), then having the public decide ANYthing about the future direction of Science research has to rank up there with one of the worst decisions ever, right up there with Matt Dodge line-drive punting the ball directly to DeSean Jackson yesterday.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

I will read the paper, yet I must say I’m sceptical of all this concern about the effects of low grade magnetic fields. As for instance there are some (particularly those of the new “Green” movement) who insist it prudent to have one’s house wiring shielded as to minimise ones exposure to such. This of course being the opposite of what many like minded would hold being true as convinced that the homeopathic principle being valid where low dose exposure boosts ones immunity to treats. Needless to say I’m not about to rush out to purchase my tin foil jump suit just yet or overly scrutinize my spice rack:-)

Best,

Phil

Bee said...

Hi Steven,

I'm not sure who writes the arXiv blog and the posts are, while most often interesting for one reason or the other, of very mixed quality.

Will check your link out. Best,

B.

Steven Colyer said...

Thank you Bee, but when you read the article, bear in mind it's one of those websites that promote SuperStrings as the "only viable theory of quantum gravity", which we know it's not, so they're dipping their toes into "alternatives", which is refreshing. Definitely read the replies to see what I mean.

The article itself doesn't say that LQG is "new", but it's written in such a way that if you skim-read it, yup, that's the impression. Again, read the replies.

Plato said...

Maybe more toward "PH values?" then Magnetic considerations.

Haven't read Steve's link yet.

Best,

Ps. A Merry Christmas to you all

Bee said...

Hi Steven,

I didn't find the article too bad. True, it's somewhat fuzzy on the who-what-when, but otherwise it seems to say basically "look at what they can do." Best,

B.

Zephir said...

I'm just saying the period of extensive research dealing with larger and larger telescopes and more and more giant particle colliders is over, because the results of such research are the more separated from reality, the larger devices we are using for this research. The resources of scientific research therefore should correspond the resources dedicated for its applications. The human civilization becomes poor and it should learn, how to spend resources of research in more effective and balanced way. The scientific community itself is not a good arbiter of such decisions, because its natural motivation is to grow and grow as much as possible.

My stance is not directed against science as such - on the contrary: we need to apply more science even for decision about priorities of scientific research. Illustratively speaking, we cannot spent all money in research of far side of Pluto planet just because its feasible: we should ask, what such research will be good for the rest of society, not just for close lobby of astronomers.

The contemporary generation of scientists is too separated from reality: they're fucking cold fusion, antigravity of superconductor research just because these phenomena doesn't play with their present theories well - whereas their main interest is focused to cosmology, search for Higgs boson and another stupidities, which lead nowhere.

You can believe me, my motivations are solely driven with criterions of rationality and effectiveness of research. I don't want to destroy science and free research in any way - on the contrary: my intention is to prepare better background for it. The more rich human civilization will become, the larger portion of national product it could spent for the science later. Therefore the natural interests of scientists should be to make human civilization as rich and powerful, as possible - for this purpose they should behave in less selfish and self-centred way, then by now.