AquacultureHub

An Aquaculture Community Site

What do you think about this saying "Scientists... ought to address the needs and employment prospects of taxpayers..."

"Scientists in the United States and elsewhere ought to address the needs and employment prospects of taxpayers who have seen little benefit from scientific advances."

Please read this article:

http://www.nature.com/news/researchers-should-reach-beyond-the-scie...

Some worth reading opinions of my colleagues:

1)

There is nothing new about this opinion... it has been there for the defense of science, particularly abstract fundamental science. I always think of the response of Fermilab Director Bob Wilson to a congressman asking what a particle accelerator did for defending the country. He responded that it is this sort of "science that makes the country worth defending." That may be a bit glib, but In fact, I suspect that scientists are more alert than ever to the public implications of their research.
BTW, this brings up an ironic twist... we physicists often cite quantum mechanics, being at the base of all modern electronics as justification for ultimate, societal payoff from abstract research (in the case of QM, discoveries many decades earlier). Yet, I am sure that much discontent in societies around the world is due to fear about the accelerating social change, itself significantly driven about by applications of fundamental science.

The author says "But as this journal and others have pointed out, it is also clear that the needs of millions of people in the United States (and billions of people around the world) are not well enough served by the agendas and interests that drive much of modern science [and business... jgl]. There are plenty of reports that show, for example, how public investment in the Human Genome Project has paid off many times over and created firms and jobs, but rather than trickling down through society, these benefits of discovery science arguably deepen the pools of wealth and privilege already in place — creating expensive new drugs that most people cannot afford."

Well, that is fine for research not too far from application but what of cosmology for example? And what of the unforeseeable consequences of objects for study such as String Theory? They might be the ability to explore the universe, or perhaps new weapons, we cannot know. I note that it is mostly business judgements that drive the development and application... Harvard MBAs, not scientists. And making it worse, there are often the unintended consequences to some promising innovation. Let us talk of ethics in the business community and government, particularly relevant today as Wall Street runs unchecked.
j

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

2)

... which brings up one of my favorite Ben Franklin quotes when asked
about the usefulness of his experimentation with static electricity by
flying metallic conductors up kites, to the observer's question "what good
is it? He famously replied: "what good is a newborn baby?"

G

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

3)

Yes, this is a familiar narrative, from a long time ago, in an empire far, far away:

> "Scientists in the Soviet Union and elsewhere ought to address the needs and employment prospects of workers, who have seen little benefit from scientific advances."

At that time, free from a Universal Ideology that would, like communism, steer all sciences towards the ultimate goal of history, the West was busy creating the infrastructure of science *precisely* to prevent such political dictate: academic autonomy, peer reviewing, national science foundations, free higher education, etc. People remembered that scientists won wars, invented vaccines...

It is interesting to ponder what Universal Ideology might be interested to guide the XXI century science. Are "the taxpayers who have seen little benefit from scientific advances" real people?

2c,
d

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Please check out the attached files

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

4) This editorial from Nature has so many red herrings in it, one hardly knows where to begin. But lets just start with the opening premise that we should wonder whether our research is so precious that someone should go to jail for not paying their taxes and therefore supporting it.

This editorial from Nature has so many red herrings in it, one hardly knows where to begin. But lets just start with the opening premise that we should wonder whether our research is so precious that someone should go to jail for not paying their taxes and therefore supporting it.

Perhaps, as a graduate student of the 60s, I could turn this story around as was done to us when we suggested maybe we didn't want our taxes to go to pay for more nuclear weapons, or for napalm in Viet Nam. We were told that when you took the total dollars for these weapons and divided that by the number of taxpayers, it would mean we were only paying, individually, a few dollars for these weapons. So, we should go home and find something else to complain about.

So, I would rebut the AAAS speaker and say, why are they so worried about paying a few cents for some research -- useful or useless, who cares. Of course, this also says nothing of the great disparity of money spent on research vs money spent on the military and now Trump wants to increase the military budget by $56 billion.

Need I go on? Of course we would like to see all of our work benefit people, but as the 1936 article that Tom Ranker sent around shows, who is to know when or if it will benefit people. And those who set out to benefit people usually wind up benefiting themselves through patents.

Who at Nature wrote this short-sighted editorial? I hope it is effectively responded to...

Best,
L

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

5)

These are the kind of arguments that those of us working in STEM fields should remember when thinking about all the other areas of research in academics; people in the humanities and social sciences are subjected to the "what's it good for" criticism all the time, and scientists don't always stand in the fullest solidarity with their colleagues across campus.

Unfortunately, unlike Etchemendy we are at a state institution, so occasionally it is in our self-interest to explain our value in a way that is convincing to the people that give us our money. Oddly, we do this uncomplainingly in grant proposals, it only starts to feel like a major imposition when asked to justify our expense to the people that provide us with G and S funding.

D

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

6)

Reading this editorial it strikes me how starkly Nature (the journal) is a commercial enterprise driven by "full cost accounting." Its not even so notable today, since Trumpism moves us all toward the full glory of government (and government science) morphed into a business with 'customers' and 'product' and a bottom line that's calculated every quarter. Gone... is the idea that government should aim for the long-term benefit of society over timescales longer than a fiscal year (and never-mind longer generational questions). American government is full-on here for 'quantity' at the expense of 'quality' of life. Trumpism is the latest step in a myopia that severs government and science from the really important (even existential) questions. The full-cost model of universities (both the STEM and arts and humanities bits) is only being degraded in parallel.

Reading this editorial it strikes me how starkly Nature (the journal) is a commercial enterprise driven by "full cost accounting." Its not even so notable today, since Trumpism moves us all toward the full glory of government (and government science) morphed into a business with 'customers' and 'product' and a bottom line that's calculated every quarter. Gone... is the idea that government should aim for the long-term benefit of society over timescales longer than a fiscal year (and never-mind longer generational questions). American government is full-on here for 'quantity' at the expense of 'quality' of life. Trumpism is the latest step in a myopia that severs government and science from the really important (even existential) questions. The full-cost model of universities (both the STEM and arts and humanities bits) is only being degraded in parallel.

If taxpayers are our customers and education, research, improved quality of life, is our product, then its not so obvious we couldn't do better if we didn't have a government that was so woefully uneducated sitting between what we do in universities and how taxes are spent. Consider that... we create about 30,000 scientist per year ( https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/does-the-us-produce-too-m/)
Most of these scientists become part of a real economy defined by business, innovation, technology, or the "economicaly justified" science of building destructive weapons. No more than 1 in 10 becomes part of a University. If a new consumerism were to allow us to take our product to the public, I'd wager that a large fraction of this 30000 would vote with their dollars to support science. If only for the selfish desire to be 1/10 at a university. There's enough tax dollars in this segment of the population alone to keep a scientific university establishment going.

All of this begs the question, that our current state of government is simply a monument to our failure to educate the voting population of this country.

-- JK

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

7) 

As a student studying the philosophy of science,Thomas Kuhn's book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), left a great impression on me. Among other things, his book talks about scientific dogma and how new data can overturn "settled" science.

Here's a link to an overview of Kuhn's work:
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/thomas-kuhn/

As you know John, I'm just a Newtonian physicist dealing with nothing more exotic than nonlinear oceanic and atmospheric turbulence. I'd dabbled in cosmology in between undergraduate studies in mathematics and physics, and never really pursued an understanding of quantum mechanics. But, I'm aware that there are still exciting and interesting ideas and controversies at the edges and overlaps of those fields.

As of 2008, the accepted wisdom of our universe as ever-expanding was summarized in this Harvard web site.

https://www.cfa.harvard.edu/~dfabricant/huchra/hubble/

It refers to a couple of "great debates" about the empirically-derived value of Hubble's constant and the nature of our universe, which ultimately were converging in 2008 due to the data acquired through the Hubble Telescope.

Then, more recently, some controversy emerges over empirical methodologies but with implications beyond mere decimal points.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/20/science/hubble-constant-universe...

(The New York Times has a somewhat tarnished reputation of late, but I suspect that their science writing is still of high value. But, you might tell me where they've got it wrong -- I'm still learning!)

You focus on the Big Bang and the ridiculousness of alternative views in your response to my sharing Etchemendy's brief. But, beyond cosmology and quantum mechanics, there are many aspects of STEM science that do have fundamental controversies. And then there are the social sciences...

Should universities only listen to views that (all?) their faculty and students agree with?

As an ocean and atmospheric physicist, I have been amazed at the number of scientists who claim (without adequate proof or even the foundations necessary to critically analyze such proof) that the bulk of global warming (the magnitude of which is *still* fairly uncertain) is due to human emissions of carbon dioxide. So what does it really mean when 97% of all scientists surveyed say they believe in anthropogenic global warming? BTW, the actual polling instrument was much more nuanced than the headline reports that are being used to motivate actions.

[Full disclosure: I am convinced that the planet has warmed some since the mid-20th century; I am sure that increasing emissions of CO2 from fossil fuel use have contributed at some level, but I am confident that this is not the only important factor; I am sure that the models that make future climate projections have significant physical limitations (some physics not represented at all, some physics represented very crudely).

Recent long simulations under constant present forcing conditions in ensemble runs of state-of-the-art climate models with very slightly different initial conditions show an eye-opening range of possible climate conditions:
http://www.cesm.ucar.edu/experiments/cesm1.1/LE/]

Should universities stop considering alternate hypotheses and new ideas about climate, economics, health, etc.?

What we think we know as experts in narrow fields needs to be tempered with some skepticism if we still want to call ourselves scientists (whether STEM, social, or political). And we need to be careful in thinking that we are also experts in areas well beyond our knowledge base and understanding. Or we risk becoming dogmatic gatekeepers, putting the ivory towers at risk of collapse.

Putting politically-correct thinking ahead of less-constrained thinking is indeed a danger.I think that was a point of Etchmendy's brief to the Stanford trustees. And Kuhn's book.

I find it incredible that Berkeley, iconic home of the free speech movement, has become violently anti-free speech.

Aloha,
R

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We should be clear that we in science are not locked in to some theory or model, but take accepted models to be correct until we find contradictions or amendments needed (as Kuhn said). The mistake often made (and by Kuhn too) is that the revolutions usually do not throw out the old, but add to it... as in your cited case of Newtonian mechanics. Newtonian mechanics is fine for almost everything until speeds and masses become "large", and then one needs fancier Einsteinian relativity or even worse General Relativity. But the point is that the old was not "wrong", just in need of tuning up for unusual circumstances. And BTW, there is a presently growing confrontation between the Hubble constant as derived by local (out through neighbor clusters) versus what gets deduced from looking at the surface of the Big Bang. Some are suspecting this will overthrow the accepted cosmological model (LCDM)... stay tuned. (There are UH folks are in the thick of this).
But relevant to this discussion, should one take seriously the need to consider the earth to be only 4000 years old? Or should we take seriously denial of the Big Bang based on the fact that it is very weird? We need to educate, and to question. But we must not waste too much time studying Ptolemaic cosmology with stars on moving glass spheres. Interesting, clever, but wrong.
Of course universities should take seriously alternative points of view, but what I am objecting to is that we give every whacko theory our limited attention, and particularly spend the precious time of our students. Critical thinking for sure, and being open to revisions in our accepted knowledge, but building from the intellectual edifice that already exists.

J

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Views: 20

Attachments:

Reply to This

Support AquacultureHub

AquacultureHub is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization​ with a mission to educate, learn, share & engage people in aquaculture

© 2017   Created by Admin.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service