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CATO: against all public funding of science

Terence Kealey, a clinical biochemist at a private university (of Buckingham), wrote the lead essay for the new issue of the libertarian CATO Institute's magazine,

The Case against Public Science (CATO Unbound)
His text is deeply provocative yet insightful but ultimately wrong at many levels. While I have enough libertarian DNA in my blood so that I can imagine a better, more efficient world in which there is no public funding of science, I am also conservative enough to appreciate that the complete abolition of the public funding of science would represent a dramatic revolution and I am against such revolutions unless their positive impact is supported by really solid arguments.

In his interesting essay, Kealey overlooks many important things and makes implausible statements about others. So let's start to ask: Why is the taxpayer paying for the science?




Kealey sketches the arguments rather nicely. It is being said that scientific research brings benefits to the whole society but the discoveries are being almost instantly copied and used by everyone else – the ideas may be (and should be) easily "stolen" – which is why individual sponsors wouldn't be motivated to pay for the research and the governments should overtake and play their role instead.




He traces the history of the public funding of science to 1605 when Francis Bacon (GB) investigated why Spain was the dominant superpower at that time. He concluded that they took the wealth from the American colonies and they were discovered thanks to the scientific research which is why nations should pay for the scientific research if they want to beat Spain (which is not so hard today – apologies to Spaniards who didn't want to be announced the bad news that the 17th century has ended).

The need for the basic research is also discussed in the context of the Second World War when nuclear bombs and other devices had to be developed. Kealey later suggests that there was no link between the "great powers" status of countries and the countries' support for research and development. I beg to differ. Spain was dominant 4 centuries ago and this started his story. When Britain dominated sometime in the 19th century or so, it was also the headquarters of science (think about electromagnetism). Germany's rise to prominence in the early 20th century (1920s and 1930s, regardless of the regime) was accompanied by its leadership in science (it's no accident that the papers that established relativity and quanta were mostly written in German). And the birth of the new only superpower, the U.S., after the war also meant that the U.S. became the leader in sciences. Sometimes it's subtle to determine what is the cause and what is the consequence but the overall power status of nations has always been tightly linked to their visibility in the sciences.

Kealey finally rejects the arguments in favor of the public funding of science for two main reasons: the empirical data don't show that there is any correlation between the GDP growth and the expenditures for the scientific research; and because the fundamental assumption of the pro-public-science arguments, "copying is easy", is wrong.

Both of these reasons he uses suffer from serious flaws. Concerning the first argument, the GDP indeed shows no high-frequency correlation with the scientific expenditures and it shouldn't, for two main reasons: First, the economic impact of the research, especially basic research, arrives with a significant delay. The more basic research we consider, the longer delay we should generally expect. Some basic research isn't done for profit at all. Second, the scientific discoveries are usually spread all over the world so even whole nations that funded the science usually get no advantage that would go above the benefits shared by everyone. The nations that make the discoveries – which quickly belong to everyone – earn the prestige and other things.

Concerning the second argument, copying may be hard and expensive (every kind of work has to be paid for, not only the most spectacular work!) but the work needed to copy is clearly less valuable than the original discovery because it does depend on the original discovery. Moreover, if it were easier to discover things than to copy them, companies wouldn't ever be copying. ;-) Kealey points out that companies pay lots of money for copying but the question isn't whether the copying costs a lot but whether its value exceeds the value of the original discovery and the answer is clearly No.

But let me present my own case in favor of the public funding for science.

First, let me say that all sensible people should agree that the funding shouldn't be "arbitrarily high" and it should follow some meritocratic rules because otherwise lots of money may be wasted – the sticker "science" simply can't prevent money from being wasted. So some competition for funds is desirable and I would even say that to a large extent, it exists in the real world. Also, people should sometimes try to quantify the value of their individual findings, papers, and so on – so that the sum is equal to their salary. Imagine that you're paid just for papers and you write 5 papers in 5 years. So the value of each paper seems to be one times the annual salary. I think that if many people looked at such average papers, they would be shocked what a small pile of garbage may often cost $100,000 or so.

But these are obvious comments. For the distribution of the resources to be meaningful, there has to be an internal competition and meritocracy. Even internally, the research industry has to emulate the rules of capitalism. This is the uncontroversial part of the story, I think.

The controversial part of the story is whether the basic research community, if I unify and call it in this way, should be getting finances from the public. Three weeks ago, a friend of mine in Southern Bohemia told me the fundamental reason why scientists should be paid (and why he thinks that the salaries should be much higher than what I think):
The society should bribe the scientists so that their discoveries are more likely to be used to benefit the society and not against it.
In my opinion, this is the most natural perspective one should take to understand what's going on. You don't need to expect that average citizens will quantify and enforce some perfect justice, rewards for scientists who wouldn't be rewarded otherwise, and so on. They may be assumed to act in the usual egotist way. The reason why citizens as a group pay money to the scientists is simply to possess the results, at least partially, and to expect the scientists to feel loyal and to use the results so that the other citizens aren't harmed.

If you analyze the current situation, you will see that it's distorted relatively to a laissez faire utopia. But it's distorted in several ways and the other side of the coin is completely overlooked by Kealey.

So it's true that scientists – and sometimes unproductive scientists – are getting lots of money from the taxpayer which makes them richer than what they would otherwise be (and this also creates the annoying class of "average and subpar also scientists" who are almost entirely left-wing). But the other observation is that no scientists are "owning" or controlling the human society even though they possibly could.

Let me mention an oversimplified, not quite realistic, but not quite impossible example. The Manhattan Project could have been paid by a wealthy friend of the top physicists. They could have used it against the American nation and other nations and turn them into slaves of this group that is in possession of the nuclear weapons. The most disobedient cities or towns would be detonated away every Monday.



Yes, this story may sound like Humanist Cafe's sick dream about the Gulf of Arkansas and other "denier states" conquered by the sea level rise except that my story could have happened. Science often gives one some rather amazing powers that are sometimes expected and sometimes unexpected (I wish you lots of faith that your humble correspondent hasn't developed any string M-bomb). The development of the nuclear weapons could have been advancing in pretty much the same way as it did in the real world but if the funding flows were different, the bomb could have been used very differently, too.

That's one simple reason why ordinary citizens, even though who don't care about the scientific truth at all, contribute to the research. It's an insurance that they will be able to impose the society's laws saying that new potential discoveries won't be used against the citizens etc. The citizens are a part of the story – they have paid for some of the research – so they can also "punish" their employees, the scientists, and so on.

The idea of Richard Feynman and his friends who enslave the American nation may look extreme or unfair to you but it could have been them who decides what the word "justice" means so your opinions and feelings could have very well been irrelevant. I could say that many other "progressive" changes in our society, including the abolition of slavery, were anti-free-market in a sense because the owners had to abandon some powers that they used to enjoy. Today, we like to think that the slaveowners have never "owned" the slaves except that they did – and they could physically prove their ownership in any way you ask – and the liberation of the slaves was therefore a confiscation or nationalization much like many other cases of it.

Finally, as always, champions of pure science such as myself should emphasize that the most basic research isn't being pursued for economic profit, not even in the very long run, but due to the passion for the truth. People just want to understand how the Universe works. It's popular among the extreme free-market advocates to say that such a thing – research that seems almost obviously free of practical implications – shouldn't be funded at all.

But take it pragmatically. If the very basic research takes about 1% of the GDP, it doesn't mean that every citizen is eager to spend about 1% of her income to fund science. When it comes to the taxation, such rules don't hold in the funding of science and they don't hold for any other entries in the budget, either. It's more realistic to say that about 10% of the society is willing to pay 10% of their income for pure research. The remaining 90% would prefer to pay for other things and the tax system just averages all these amounts over whole nations.

Think about it. I am saying that 10% of the society finds it appropriate for 10% of the GDP – and their own income – to be paid for the scientific research. If you had 30 classmates, I am saying that about 3 people in your class attribute this "10% relevance" to the basic scientific research. Think about various classes you have attended and you will probably agree that it's a very realistic estimate.

Some of the people who don't want any money to be paid to the scientific research simply belong to the "aggressive part of the 90%" that doesn't want to admit that some people have different preferences than themselves. If you changed the redistribution of the tax revenue so that everyone would decide where his money goes, you would ultimately see 1% or so going to basic science, anyway. It's the percentage that the society as a whole finds reasonable and so do I, we could say. If your ideas about the "right funding for science" is much lower than 1%, for example zero, that's fine but you and your soulmates are not the only people in the society. Moreover, the very same complaint could be raised against every other item in the government's budget – warfare and law enforcement, construction of infrastructure, education, unemployment support, anything else.

These are some of the reasons why I am no fan of the utopias such as "abolish all public funding for science". While it's clear that the existing system of the funding of research is extremely far from the principles of the free markets, the society would reorganize itself in such a way that the net funding would be roughly similar even in a free-market-based setup. Moreover, I believe that the general "abolish all public funding for science" is driven by some general negative sentiments against scientists and science itself and not by solid free-market-based or economic arguments. This observation is also supported by the fact that Kealey and his soulmates overlook the powers that the discoverers have given up even though they didn't need to do so.

Via Preposterous Universe

Incidentally, Sean Carroll and Matt Strassler primarily discuss a smaller topic, the stopped NSF funding for political science. I think it's right to stop it; it's not a science foundation's business to fund political science which isn't really a science. It should only fund research that may be agreed to be impartial in the scientific sense and political science just isn't an example. It would be great if the funding for various professional women's and professional blacks' departments could be slashed, too.

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reader Bee said...

You might find this reference useful: http://spiral.imperial.ac.uk/bitstream/10044/1/5280/1/Haskel%202010-01.pdf


reader Smoking Frog said...

As I kid, I dreamed of having technology that no one else had, and I still like the idea, but I certainly wouldn't use it to "enslave the American nation." For example, I'd like my car to be able to lift vertically out of heavy traffic and fly away at high speed. If I did this too often, I'd be caught, so I wouldn't. I'd only do it once in a while, so there'd only be rumors of a mysterious flying car, which many people would dismiss.


I think I got the idea from Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer Abroad. Very entertaining. I recommend it. Tom, Huck, and Jim go to the St. Louis World's Fair and meet a crazy professor with a flying machine. While he's distracted, they get into the machine and accidentally take off. They end up in Africa. Tom has forgotten his pipe - it's on the mantle at Aunt Polly's house. He sends Jim back to get it. Jim pleads that he can't possibly find his way back to America. Tom tells him: Nonsense, just head due west until you see some land sticking down from the north. That's Florida. Keep flying and you'll see the mouth of the Mississippi. Turn right, fly up to Hannibal, land in the back yard. Don't let Aunt Polly hear you.



Jim gets there, sneaks into the house as quietly as he can. Aunt Polly calls from the other room, "Jim, is that you?"


Which reminds me: I don't know that people nowadays like to think that the slaves weren't really "owned"! They clearly were owned. Some slaves in Missouri got free under abandoned-property laws. One slave told a judge that his owner hadn't even bothered to meet the woman he had married before he married her; the owner is supposed to make sure the woman is right for the slave!


reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Smoking Frog, your extra skills from your fantasy are strong but not too strong. Obviously, if you can't even escape the cops, it's not too impressive a new source of speed.


I agree with you on the slaves-as-assets. What I meant was that we like to say that the slaveowners didn't have the "moral right" to own the slaves, so the ownership was morally invalid. However, what one can own or not depends on local and immediate social conventions - and the society's decision to enforce or protect various kinds of ownership, and if something is explicitly formulated as a law, it's usually agreed by most to be an "ethical rule", too.


reader Smoking Frog said...

But I could escape from them, at least at the time I thought up the idea, since they didn't have helicopters in those days.



The ownership was morally invalid. It's just that some people didn't think so. Law and morality are two different things. The northern Founding Fathers didn't think it was morally OK, and some Southerners freed their slaves voluntarily.


reader Noname said...

I'm always amused when people use the web, a well-known offspring of
pure scientific research given for free to the world, to promote
anti-science views, or speak badly of basic science, or, as in this
case, to go against public support for science. For me, that already
shows that the author fails to appreciateat the most basic level what
science gives to society and therefore I lose interest in whatever else
he or she has to say.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Noname, fine but the web is just one medium that replaced another, and by using it, the author doesn't indicate that he prefers it over the previous mediums. He may have been just forced to switch.


I don't think it's correct to say that the web is a product of pure science. Perhaps if you said a by-product, it could be a tolerable proposition. But one can't declare something a product of pure science just because it was created for pure scientists' work.


There are many things similar to the web that were created purely in the commercial world and I think it's at least questionable whether the commercial or the public sector has created a greater number of such things per invested dollar. For all these reasons, I find your reaction too emotional, superficial, biased, and perhaps ideological.


reader Eugene S said...

I don’t buy the argument ... th[at] society should bribe the scientists

Careful Lucretius, you are playing with fire!

Don't you know who our esteemed host
is? I mean, who he reallyis?

I wish you lots of faith that your humble correspondent hasn't developed any string M-bomb)

Here are a few more quotes:

Ignorant, stupid, and unhinged individuals like you

Servile dolt!

I would recommend you to reduce your arrogant proclamations by some orders of magnitude.

I am no longer amused by your amateurish display of mediocrity

Who has crippled your mind

I am possessed of power which defies description--and yet you dare lecture to me?!



Which of these quotes came from Dr. Motl, reclusive string theorist in Bohemia's Pilsen region, and which from Victor von Doom, reclusive ruler of Latveria? You can't tell! And neither can I... because they are one and the same!


As far as I'm concerned no amount of money to keep Motl / von Doom mollified is too much! Lest we get hit by the string M-bomb!


reader Scott said...

So you just can't give up the teat, Huh!


reader Giotis said...

Nice
job Eugene; you’ve just triggered half of NSA’s surveillance alarms of the web
:-)


reader Giotis said...

And with my comment I have probably triggered the other half:-)


reader lukelea said...

Isn't this related to the economic theory of externalities?


reader Noname said...

I'm sure you can appreciate, as a blogger, the qualitative jump that the web brought. By offspring I just meant by-product. Whether there were other things provided by free-enterprise doesn't invalidate the fact that this one (and it's a pretty revolutionary one) in particular was given for free. Something many liberals just hate because it shows such altruistic behavior is possible.


reader Luboš Motl said...

It wasn't given "for free". It remained in the possession of the general citizens because those paid for the CERN projects where Berners-Lee etc. were employed, and be sure that CERN has always been very expensive.

Otherwise you are foolish if you expect that I will praise the arrival of blogs as a new paradigm. I think it has done more harm than good stuff and this website is not a blog but an antiblog:

http://motls.blogspot.com/2006/01/influence-of-blogs-and-antiblogs.html?m=1


reader thom said...

Good review! But when you said about Britain and electromagnetism, do not forget about thermodynamics and the industrial revolution, also.


reader olegmatt said...

It seems to me there is a more fundamental, more important reason why science will be killed without public support. Modern, even the most capitalistic countries, do not have an adequate legal system for protection of nontrivial, nonobvious ideas of scientists and inventors. There is no ownership for ideas. Even if it is introduced today, for science not to be killed, only in 30 – 50 years we can abolish public support for science. But, it is also clear, that only ownership for ideas is not enough. We also have to improve many other constituents of science organization and management system. For example, peer review of ideas and proposals have to be much better organized, more precise and much faster. Apparently, sooner or later it has to be privatized.
One might say that there is a Patent System. But, in reality, it is affordable only to less than 1% of population. Moreover, in my field, for example, (and I am suspicious in many others) 80 -90% of patents are based on trivial, obvious ideas. And those patents become, in reality, not a reward for innovators but a powerful means to suppress, to eliminate not so wealthy competitors.
Thus, Lubos is right the ideas of T. Kealey are too premature and very much idealistic. It is well known that without adequate financing the science in almost all countries of former USSR (including Russia) was practically demolished.


reader lucretius said...

Lubos is inimitable and will make history by being the first scientist whose “Compete Works” will contain with a volume entitled “Collected Insults” (a draft is already circulating on the web). I have sometimes wished that he would replace his Kalashnikov by something that would cause less collateral damage, but the overall effect is no doubt beneficial as clearly this anti-blog suffers less form “intellectual riffraff” than is the average for blogs.

As for the “string M-bomb” etc, the problem is that it is much more effective to pay people do design something than to pay them not to do it. In the latter case they may simply collect the money and still design it and then sell it to the Chinese, the Saudis , the Iranians or even the North Koreans. That’s, of course, why you should always ignore all advice that beings with “the society” - there is no such thing in the real world.


reader Mephisto said...

I consider libertarians to be deluded utopians. I do not mean to offend libertarian readers of this blog, just to express my attitude to this profoundly misguided ideology. I know there are pure utopian libertarians called anachrocapitalists who want to abolish state completely and there are moderate ones who are called minarchists and who recognize at least some functions of the state. Anarchocapitalists believe that if there was no state, people would be living peacefully, mutually accepting each others rights to private property. Everybody would be following his own selfish interests and that would increase the well-being of the whole society etc. Wenn each single square meter of land and each cubic meter of air will be privately owned, the Paradise on Earth will rule, because the wise private owners take care of their property much better than the evil state. This is a right-wing marxism, equally deluded and misguided. A witty but truthful caricature of this can be found here
http://world.std.com/~mhuben/onelesson.html
These people have no idea about history, no idea about society, no idea about anything. They completely ignore the struggles for power that shape human history and have no understanding of the historical roots of modern democratic states.

PS: I am obviously for public funding of basic research. I am also for public funding of schools and public funding of health care and for state protected natural reservations. The public health care system in Europe operates much cheaper and more efficient than the US market based system.

http://www.businessinsider.com/americas-health-care-system-is-bad-2013-4


reader lucretius said...

1. I am all in favour of "abolishing the state completely" provided they start with the Chinese state, the Russian state, etc. When the succeed, the West should consider this.

2. My own experience in the US, the UK and some other countries makes me doubtful about you last statement. No well informed and sane person would choose to be treated in the British Public Heath Care system rather than in the US. There are, of course, european public health care systems to which some of your comment applies. FOr example, the Swedish system is much better than the British one but like all state run health care it is based on "rationing", which means that you often have to wait over a year for an important operation and lots of Swedes choose to be treated abroad. There is also another important point; almost all the medical technology used in the Swedish Health Care comes from the US.

I strongly recommend everyone interested in this to watch this video, particularly near the end:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbTEzhaXZ3w


reader Mephisto said...

1) concerning healthcare. I am a healthcare professional with experience from Czech Republic, Germany and Austria and I consider the health care system of these countries to be quite good. You are right about the brittish NHS, it is a tragedy. I have some colleagues of mine who went working as doctors to GB and they were horrified. The doctors are well paid there but poor patients... but lets not discuss health care on a physics blog. The problem is complicated and market/public funding is only one dimension of the problem, there are others factors too

2) The idea of abolishing state is a complete utopia. I'll explain why. One of the main forces shaping human history is struggle for power, for control over resources. Suppose you abolish the state (i have no idea how, just hypotetically). You will have only local communities with local laws. There will be local leaders in these communities. But there will be a power vacuum. Sooner or later there comes someone who will try to dominate the other communities. He will try to conquer them, they will have to defend. Each community must then have a private army. The armies start fighting, much blood will flow and in the end, there will be one winnner, the new Dictator. The human history will repeat itself (tribes, tribal unions, small kingdoms and finally states - all accompanied through countless bloodsheds)

Every single society in human history had some ruling elite who controled the resources of the society and who used brute force (military, police) to stay in power. The conservatives are those who want to keep the status quo of the society with its current ruling elite, the progressives want some change. Over much of human history, dictators ruled (monarchs, ceasars, pharaos, kings). Over much of bloodshed we finally adopted democracy. Democracy is the rule of the majority over minority, at least hypotetically. The dictatorship of democracy is only for 4 years. After that, there is possibility of change through elections. The real ruling elite of today are super rich people of business and powerful corporations. These people have enough money to sponsor their political parties who then do favors for them while in office. These people wont give up power. Unless you can root out the human desire for power, stateless society cannot exist. Read Animal Farm from Orwell. Even in libertarian utopia, some animals would respect the private property of other animals more than other animals.

I will watch the video.

This is a cute collection of quotes about libertarianism

http://world.std.com/~mhuben/quotes.html


reader lucretius said...

I am not sure if you noticed the irony in the first part of my answer. "Abolishing the state" in Russia and China will take some doing. In fact, attempts have already been made but it has the unfortunate habit of coming back form the dead, in a form that pretty closely resembles the one that got "abolished"...


reader Mephisto said...

the video: I am no fan of the Nothern social states (but I love their nature). The socialism there is too much for my taste. I do not want to pay 50% taxes. I am for mixed systems - some things are better public others market. But he said one thing in the video that I consider misleading. He said that most inovations in medicine come from US market system. Yes, that might be truth, but the US based biotechnological and pharmaceutical companies are not part of health care system and have nothing to do with the quality of health care. They are pure profit megacorporations. The develop pharmaceuticals and get very rich by selling these pharmaceuticals. Legal and illegal drugs, weapons, energetics are the best businesses. Medicine is a typical applied science and applied science can be privately funded. Basic research is different and needs public funding (imho). So we need to differentiate between pharmaceutical companies and between the actual quality of health care


reader Dilaton said...

Hahaha Lumo,

..."I wish you lots of faith that your humble correspondent hasn't developed any string M-bomb" ... :-D


I am sure these can be efficiently countered by my system of F-defense missiles :-P!


As I read this article, I guess it would probably be better for public fundamental science funding in the US to let each citizen decide how his personal taxes should be used indeed ...


reader Noname said...

I know this US taxi driver in need of a hip operation. He told me he would have to pay so much in the US for it that he would go bankrupt. He's going to have it done in Vietnam, his wife's country.


reader Noname said...

Sure, nothing is for free, isn't that too obvious to mention? However, it is clear that CERN didn't profit directly from the commercialization of the web (it goes against its statutes). If it were possible, the funding problems it has would be a thing of the past. This should make governments think twice when they discuss CERN support. And if it was Steve Jobs who came up with this idea, we would enjoy it today too, only paid at a much higher price.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Sure, nothing is for free, isn't that too obvious to mention?


I didn't mention that CERN projects weren't for free because it was obvious or because it wasn't obvious. I mentioned this mistake of yours because you have used this wrong assumption in your reasoning, and by my having found that this key assumption is wrong, I have shown that your whole way of looking at the world is defective.


reader Mephisto said...

Hi Lubos, a certain fraction of your blogs is concerned also with economics topics. I just watched a very good documentary about the background of the 2008-2012 economic crisis. If you have the time, watch it. I learned quite a lot from it, for example about how all these CDOs and CDS's work and who was responsible for the crisis. It is not ideological I promise

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpuGPG_6e0w

or if you prefer a Czech version

http://www.stream.cz/uservideo/605120-www-zlo-cz-inside-job


reader Man said...

Lubos, why do you not publish anymore? I think this is the greatest tragedy of your madness


reader cynholt said...

Mephisto,

Ayn Rand’s brand of libertarian philosophy is iatrogenic, IMO. It is no surprise to me that her former student, a self-proclaimed champion of “free markets” presided
over an era of institutionalize theft, massive corporatism and the beginning of the end of the American Empire. Emperor’s new clothes for both Rand and Greenspan.

Her brand of philosophy is iatrogenic to the extent that it claims to extolindividualism, personal liberty, creativity and it ends up producing the exact opposite (just as Stalinism claimed to extol equality,
classlessness etc, and produced the opposite).

A free market capitalist society requires voluntary altruism above everything else, and Rand claims altruism is the root of all evil, extolling selfishness. So it is no surprise that when Randians get into government (Greenspan, Ryan, etc), they end up making laws and decisions that empower the corporate Borg, social authoritarianism and
bubble-blowing economics — the exact opposite of what they might claim philosophically to desire.

I’ve read enough Fed minutes and enough of Greenspan’s speeches to know that his belief in the Efficient Markets Hypothesis and neoclassical economics was real. Greenspan might have known his policies
were creating bubbles and institutionalizing theft, but he believed that the market would subtly and without disruption correct for it.
Ironically, he may have been correct, but the correction (2008-present) was far uglier and more disruptive than he might ever have imagined.


reader woodnfish said...

Don't worry about it Giotis. The jackbooted nazi dumbasses at the NSA couldn't find the Boston bombers and they did not find the Al Quada conference call either. Incompetance is the hallmark of government.


reader woodnfish said...

While public funding of science might be desirable the current corruption of science by public funding is more than enough proof that the current method needs a lot of improvement.


reader cynholt said...

I'm all in favor of eliminating public funding of science as long as it
can take a sizable amount of fat out the military industrial-complex as
well as the medical industrial-complex, especially when they meet. (The
two together makes a fat burger at Five Guys' look as slim and trim as a
veggie burger at Health Food Emporium!)



If that's not possible, public funding of scientific research should
be strictly limited to the basic fundamentals of science. This would
include such things like research at the cellular and DNA level in
medicine and research at the atomic and cosmic level in physics.



I don't know about anyone else here, but I'm getting rather sick and
tired of being bombarded with junk studies like this one -- coming out
of the medical-industrial complex, no doubt. Here's your tax dollars
hard at working paying for medical research, which is firmly grounded in
what Richard Feynman would definitely describe as a cargo cult science:



" Dancing and more dancing! Endometrial and ovarian cancer survivors
are invited to participate in our dance-based study. Women must be
within 5 years of completing treatment, married (or partnered for more
than 1 year), and aged 19 and over. This couples based dance
intervention would require 4 compensated clinic visits with no medical
procedures. Participants will have 10-weeks of ballroom dance lessons at
no cost to them. Rhythm@uabmc.edu or call 205-975-7223 or 1-866-283-7223 to see if you are eligible."



http://www.uab.edu/news/reporter/clinical-trials



Studies like this one are based on hocus-pocus, hand-waving science
at its utter worst, making their findings about as useful as an ashtray
on a motorcycle, or a screen door on a submarine. Medical Keynesianism,
I'm afraid, is largely responsible for the funding this kind of bogus
research, but it's the responsibility of the taxpaying public to put
pressure on Congress and the White House to defund it! Let the sequester
squeeze it to death like a boa would to a rat, along with all of the
outrageous pork and subsidies going to Big HealthCare!



Don't get me wrong, I'm all in favor of funding research that leads
to better understanding of diseases and better drugs to treat diseases.
But funding research that results in promoting dancing as an effective
way to fight gynecological cancer is a total waste of time and money.
What are they going to discover from this "dance-based study"? That the
Jitterbug is more effective than the Waltz at killing cancer cells?
Anyone who falls for this shake oil also believes in the tooth fairy.



Bottom line: all research studies such as these and others should be
classified as pure, unadulterated junk, and thus banned from scientific
research, especially research that's being funded by the taxpayers. Now
if private corporations want to waste their money on research, that's
based on pseudoscience, they should be free to do so, but they shouldn't
get tax breaks for it.


reader lucretius said...

If I were Lubos I would probably make here a highly non PC comment about female logic.


But as I am not, I will only point out that it is unrealistic to expect the tax people to be able to distinguish science from pseudo-science and good projects from bad ones for the purpose of giving tax breaks. Similarly, there is no reason to think that one can't make pseudo-science masquerade as "basic fundamentals of science" just as easily as "applied science". Just ask Lubos for a few examples ;-)


reader woodnfish said...

You just made another argument for eliminating public funding, lucretious.


reader lucretius said...

Not really, or at least no more than would be the case with any other government spending.

In any case, the point here concerned giving tax breaks to private companies for “financing research”. Clearly, any tax breaks have to be based on general principles and not on judging the quality of individual applications (for a tax break).

Actually, I think the idea that companies could be given tax breaks for supporting “fundamental research”, that is, research not directly applicable to their commercial products, on the condition that the results of such research are publicly available is excellent (this is also a very good way of supporting the arts). Even if such research is not directly useful to a company it has an interest in it being of high quality, both for reasons of reputation and also because higher level of fundamental research is useful to all technology based business. Some large companies like IBM support basic research in this way although I don’t think they get tax breaks for doing it (but they should). But of course if one decides that companies can get tax breaks for supporting basic research than all research that satisfies certain objective rules will qualify. And “not appearing ridiculous to someone” is not such an “objective rule”.

Actually, companies can already get “tax credits” for “research and experimentation” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Research_%26_Experimentation_Tax_Credit ) but this seems only to refer to research relevant to their business. Companies can also to some extent support scientific research through charitable contributions, which are tax deductible, but they can only be made to registered charities and not, for example, individual researchers.

I don’t think however that this approach could entirely replace state support for “fundamental research”. Even if companies could get tax breaks for supporting research they are likely to choose the kind of thing that will bring them the most benefit, that is: work in areas close to their line of business and research that generates the most publicity. However, there is also a need to support (a certain amount) of unfashionable research with little prospect of applicability in foreseeable future. I find it hard to imagine that this could be done without some degree of government involvement.


reader lucretius said...

Lot's of people in the UK have operations in India or Malaysia because they can get them done quickly and well, while the British National Health service makes them wait for months and has a poor track record.
As for the US: last year my wife and I were in California when she had a serious accident (was hit by a bicycle and suffered brain trauma). She was kept overnight in a hospital and had two brain scans. When we got back home we received the bill for 16,000 dollars. We told the hospital that we only had Expedia travel insurance which is capped at 5,000 dollars. The hospital then reduced the charges so that they came to less than 5000 dollars. I don't know what they would have done if we had told them we could only pay 100 dollars but the system seems to me more flexible than I had imagined.