End public funding of science

There are probably few careers which have been so romanticised by the entertainment industry as that of scientists. Wild haired avuncular lunatics in white coats work ceaselessly to prevent the destruction of the earth by asteroids, virii or the occasional zombie outbreak, or tirelessly spend long hours in spotless labs finding cures for every disease imaginable. They all have one thing in common; an altruistic and self-sacrificing drive for solving problems for the collective good. Their results are their own rewards.

Many postgraduate students experience a similar feeling of moral purpose. After all, it is a field where hard work returns results, and there is satisfaction in understanding how the world around us works in every minute detail. An advancement in a field, if strictly verified and repeated by the shared language of the scientific method, is a permanent achievement even if not entirely correct.

Now, if you were in Darwin’s shoes, backed by an ample family fortune and a very patient wife, you would be free to pursue your passion for science over the course of decades before finally publishing the Origin of Species. The immediate economic benefits of his work can be argued, but at the time there were few applications which would result in tangible financial gain compared to the work of Edison and Tesla, whose work was driven directly by investors who expected real products in return for their support. For Darwin, the fruits of his labour was more on a personal satisfaction level rather than financial gain.

The main problem with academia today is the primary goal of scientific investigation is something different from the Teslas and Darwins of previous years. The central theme of modern science is funding. Without it, nothing can or will be done. A researcher will receive funding by convincing a board of more senior scientists that her work is important. The primary way to prove your value is through your publications. Essentially, a project is started with a publication in mind. Often, this is already drafted out before experiments even begin, and as results come in, conclusions are updated and a target journal is decided. The choice of journal is also critical; a publication in a journal which is by consensus deemed to be high level, for instance Nature or Science, is considered to have higher impact than articles in other journals. You would maybe need several articles in lower impact journals to equal one article in Nature. When a journal is agreed on, then the authors must carefully select reviewers from their peers. The combined impact of all your publications will then strongly influence your ability to draw in funding from the granting authority.

Academic institutes will be more inclined to host scientists who receive ample funding, thereby improving their standing and also getting a substantial cut of the grant money. Successful researchers will be able to hire more PhD students to labor nights and weekends in order to produce more publications, and the carousel spins on. The science Ponzi scheme rolls on until all funds are spent.

It should come as no great surprise that this system of artificial success and consensus policy creates plenty of opportunities for abuse. Since the most important goal of a publication is to be published, there is a temptation for researchers to exaggerate their findings and downplay drawbacks of their methodology. After all, if their professional career relies on their work being recognised, who can blame them? Even worse, data is sometimes found to be false and unrepeatable, figures manipulated and conclusions misleading. In 2016, over 650 published articles were retracted either due to sloppiness or fraud. It is, for obvious reasons, difficult to estimate the degree of fraud in publications, and even more difficult to distinguish human error from a conscious attempt to mislead. However, a recent study of roughly 20,000 papers revealed that 3.8% of them contain images that were either duplicated or manipulated. Since these cases only comprise a small subset of the information contained in a publication, it is fairly safe to assume that the actual degree of error is much higher.

Another way to improve the chances of publication is to choose reviewers carefully based on their attitude towards you and your work. Benevolent reviewers can fast-track you to a successful publication, while reviewers who compete with you are given the power to delay, derail or even in some cases steal your work. The potential for political cabals of researchers reviewing each other is immense. Again, the currency of publications corrupts the end goal, which is to judge science solely by its end result, and not who the researcher happens to socialise at conferences with.

Alternatively, if you are not lucky enough to be involved in a network of allies, you can always create your own. In 2015, 64 papers were retracted when it was discovered that one researcher had created fake reviewers, along with emails, and in effect reviewed their own papers. At least no one can claim that intense pressure to publish stifles creativity. The discovery of similar schemes resulted  in 250 retractions in 2015, and has been been described as a trend.

These are just a few examples of how the academic system is fundamentally broken. There are without a doubt still scientists who, as Tesla did, work diligently towards advancements that would result in concrete rewards in a market economy, and there are assuredly still the Darwins who dedicate their life to their passion to understand nature and the universe. It is unlikely however that either would thrive in the academic environment of today. Darwin would not see much funding, based on his rather terse publication record, and Tesla would not have the political skill to survive in the modern cutthroat publication industry that public science has become.

Let’s do ourselves a favour and end this charade. It is a waste of both financial and human resources. It has even claimed lives, and shortened many others, all under the grand deception of ‘altruism’. In the next article, I will explain what we must do to once again shape a new golden era of science from the ashes of corruption and fraud.

Note. See Retraction Watch for continuous updates of academic fraud.

Sean Hooper

Happy To Be Selfish

According to the Left, the interests of the needy outweigh those of the greedy. That’s why they have no problem with the government confiscating money from the rich and giving it to the poor. The selfish desire to hoard cash, masquerading as property rights, is trumped by the need to alleviate the suffering of the disadvantaged. Any qualms we might have about seizing people’s assets and stripping away their freedoms are nothing compared to the wickedness of standing aside and letting the haves prosper at the expense of the have-nots.

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© Mark

It’s this reasoning that enables leftists to be as duplicitous and deceitful as they like, and to bury any doubts they might have about the legitimacy of their actions. Their support for the principle of helping others puts a halo over their heads that nothing can dislodge. Even if they fail to make any personal sacrifices in the name of their beliefs, that they hold them in the first place is enough to put them on the side of the angels. Their own selfishness and hypocrisy is irrelevant providing the underprivileged get what they need. By extension, those who oppose leftist beliefs are inherently evil, irrespective of their personal conduct, because they are reluctant to let the government take a little of what they have to help others.

If you are able to set aside the immorality of violating people’s personal sovereignty, then the Left’s outlook makes a strange kind of sense. But only if there is no other means of improving people’s lot. If the plight of the poor can be addressed in ways other than wealth redistribution, then the Left does not have a monopoly on virtue, and to prefer other methods of tackling poverty is not a mark of iniquity. In fact, if any approach is evil, it is one that is clung to in spite of evidence that better alternatives exist. Since socialism’s record of raising people’s quality of life is patently inferior to that of capitalism, it’s clear which system is most ‘evil’.

Those on the Left claim there is more to quality of life than having money. They believe that large disparities in wealth cause ‘psychosocial’ anguish that can only be assuaged by making the rich less rich, and the poor less poor. This is a fancy way of saying that envy bums people out, and rather than identifying it as an unworthy emotion, it should be legitimised and avenged. Even if you subscribe to this theory, it is surely also true that being poor is lousy, no matter how well or badly off anyone else is. The point quickly comes where lacking the means to better your material existence and enjoy a more fulfilling life is no longer compensated for by the knowledge that everyone else is in the same sinking boat.

Human contentment relies, in part, on people feeling they are able to improve their circumstances. They don’t want to be spoon-fed a fixed standard of living by a ruling elite; they want excitement, challenge and a sense of achievement. A society that divvies up the collective wealth to ensure everyone receives their ‘fair share’ is one in which the prospects of self-improvement are diminished. Moreover, such a society will be so economically fragile that the standard of living it is able to provide will quickly fall below that which people could obtain by fending for themselves.

The reason for this is that we humans respond to incentives, and serving up life’s essentials on a plate discourages people from doing their best. Inefficiency, corruption and waste are bound to follow, resulting in a less productive society. Even if you believe that sharing the wealth is the way forward, you must first create the wealth to be shared — so removing the forces that encourage its creation makes little sense. Unless, of course, you believe that equality is more important than all the other factors that contribute to our happiness, or unless your priority is to create work for the people involved in administering a collectivised society. If that’s how you think, then claiming you care about the welfare of others is a barefaced lie.

So do leftists deny the effects of incentives on our behaviour? Yes and no. They are the first to observe how the lure of personal gain corrupts the human soul, leading to acquisitiveness and indifference to the suffering of others, but deny that the same incentive can be a force for good. They believe that public spiritedness motivates people to do their best, but reckon the pursuit of self-interest leads to unhappy outcomes. In other words, they hold in contempt any incentive that can be acted upon by individuals without the involvement of a mediating authority, but are enthusiastic believers in the motivating power of collectivised missions, administered by a ruling elite.

The evasions and deceptions of the Left reveal a pattern that tells us something about the world it aspires to. It is one where the capable and the fortunate are expected to work to the best of their abilities, producing all the things we need, despite being demonised, humiliated, and denied the rewards they would otherwise reap; one where the wealth they create is lavished on subsidised goods and services for everyone else to enjoy, on picking up the slack of those who reject bourgeois notions of excellence, and on supporting those who lack the ability or inclination to get their hands dirty; one where the productive are whipped into financing a consequence-free utopia for the unproductive; one overseen by an Olympian council, comprised and sponsored by the kind of people whose sense of entitlement free societies have traditionally failed to endorse; one in which there is no hope of change or improvement other than that allowed by the powers-that-be.

If this is what compassion looks like, I’m happy being selfish.