Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Trouble With Government Grants

See this entire piece by Donald W. Miller, Jr., MD.

Pollack (2005) addresses the first ethic, noting that the paramount motivational factor for scientists today is the competition to survive. A scientist’s most pressing need, which supersedes the scientific pursuit of truth, is to get her grant funded – to pay her salary and that of her staff, to pay department bills, and to obtain academic promotion. The safest way to generate grants is to avoid any dissent from orthodoxy. Grant-review Study Sections whose members’ expertise and status are tied to the prevailing view do not welcome any challenge to it. A scientist who writes a grant proposal that dissents from the ruling paradigm will be left without a grant. Speaking for his fellow scientists Pollack writes, "We have evolved into a culture of obedient sycophants, bowing politely to the high priests of orthodoxy."
The grant system fosters an Apollonian approach to research. The investigator does not question the foundation concepts of biomedical and physical scientific knowledge. He sticks to the widely held belief that the trunks and limbs of the trees of knowledge, in, for example, cell physiology and on AIDS, are solid. The Apollonian researcher focuses on the peripheral branches and twigs and develops established lines of knowledge to perfection. He sees clearly what course his research should take and writes grants that his peers are willing to fund. Forced by the existing grant system to follow such an approach, Pollack (2005) argues that scientists have defaulted into becoming a culture of believers without rethinking the fundamentals.
The human-caused global-warming paradigm is most likely false (Soon et al., 2001; Editorial, 2006). Two climate astrophysicists, Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas, present evidence that shows the climate of the 20th century fell within the range experienced during the past 1,000 years. Compared with other centuries, it was not unusual (Soon and Baliunas, 2003). Unable to obtain grants from NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), Soon (personal communication, August 31, 2006) observes that NASA funds programs mainly on social-political reasoning rather than science.
When inconvenient facts challenge paradigms the state promotes, it justifies them by consensus. If polar bear experts (Amstrup et al., 1995) find that the bear population in Alaska is increasing, placing doubt on the government’s stance on climate change, this finding is dismissed as being outside the consensus and ignored. Science magazine supports the prevailing view, stating, "There is a scientific consensus on the reality of anthropogenic climate change" that accounts for "most of the observed warming over the last 50 years" (Oreskes, 2004).

In 21st century America, consensus and computer models masquerade as science. They supplant experimental data. As Corcoran (2006) puts it, "Science has been stripped of its basis in experiment, knowledge, reason and the scientific method and made subject to the consensus created by politics and bureaucrats." Reduced to a belief system, a majority of scientists and groups like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change can declare, without having to provide scientific evidence, that they believe humans cause global warming. This alone makes the hypothesis become an established fact and received knowledge (Barnes, 1990). Peer review compounds the problem. It competes with objective evidence as proof of truth.

Computer models purporting to make sense of complex data, particularly with regard to climate change, have replaced the scientific goal of supplanting complicated hypotheses with simpler ones (Pollack, 2005). Researchers offer computer models as evidence for global warming. When unsound assumptions and faulty data render one model unreliable, other improved ones are constructed to justify the state’s desire to promulgate this "truth," which it can use to exert greater control over the economy and technological progress.

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