Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Science - Old Funding and New Money

Will scientific and other priorities in the coming century be determined at the whim of a near-omnipotent aristocracy?

BILLIONAIRES-SCIENCE“For better or worse,” said Steven A. Edwards, a policy analyst at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “the practice of science in the 21st century is becoming shaped less by national priorities or by peer-review groups and more by the particular preferences of individuals with huge amounts of money.”  

As federal dollars for research diminish -- falling victim to political and "culture" war -- many billionaires have been stepping up to fund various scientific efforts, deliberated in part by eccentricity and whim. "The donors are impatient with the deliberate, and often politicized, pace of public science, they say, and willing to take risks that government cannot or simply will not consider…. Yet that personal setting of priorities is precisely what troubles some in the science establishment. Many of the patrons, they say, are ignoring basic research — the kind that investigates the riddles of nature and has produced centuries of breakthroughs, even whole industries…"

Read on! Moreover remember these are mostly the Good Guy Billionaires -- as I portray in Existence. Those who generally want an all-boats-rising, positive-sum system… the kind of system that made them. I guess in a new gilded age, this is the best we can hope for, as opposed to the other kind, who reflexively act on ancient human instincts to push for feudalism.

Bring on the Medicis.

== But then… what is science? ==

Enemies of science have an array of tactics, honed across decades at the same ad agencies and "think tanks" that brought you campaigns proclaiming that cars don't cause smog and tobacco is harmless. But to be clear, the assault is not coming only from the mad right.  There is a mad left, too, that wallows in conspiracy theories, rails against biology and vaccines, and has been the feedstock for an intellectual travesty called "postmodernism" -- trying to deny that science can "know" anything, at all.

WHAT-IS-SCIENCEAs a member of a civilization that has mostly benefited from this new and vastly more honest way of confronting the universe, it behooves you to understand it better, in order to refute the foes who want a return the to dark ages.  As I suggested earlier, the new television series COSMOS is a great place to start.

On an intellectual plain… well… here's a fascinating rumination about the nature of science, offered by Alan Sokal, who famously skewered postmodernism's fevered incantation-frenzy with a famous trap of enticing gibberish (Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science).  Here's one choice observation: "George Orwell got it right when he observed that the main advantage of speaking and writing clearly is that “when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself."”

Kind of a bit like CITOKATE, no?

== Solving a potentially lethal defect ==

But we may yet find ways to achieve the more-flat and more-open and more-fair world.

firechat-wirelessHere's a step in that direction. FireChat, uses Multipeer Connectivity Framework, a feature Apple added with the latest update to its mobile operating system, to chat and send images via WiFi and Bluetooth without being connected to the Internet. Using Multipeer Connectivity Framework, one person with an Internet connection could potentially relay information to an area where the Internet doesn’t exist, like a rural area or subway station, using each phone as a node.

As it turns out, this Apple product -- along with another called iBeacon -- is just one implementation of the next big thing.  Low Energy Bluetooth or BLE is a new realm of applications that will let you do 10,000 cool things via tiny-packet bluetooth radio pulses… like find your seat in a stadium and then order your hotdog. Trouble is, you have zero selectivity as to who will get your packets and pulses and know where and who you are.

P2PThe tremendously good thing is it will let us bypass the cell companies who refused to create peer-to-peer text passing  when a phone cannot reach a tower. This capability I have been demanding for TWO decades as a major step toward society resilience and safety… and now the cellcos will pay for their stubbornness as millions start bypassing them for text, altogether. Serves them right. Still, this is gonna be an awkward transition.  A better version must offer us more control.

In related news… Google will host three developer conferences this year for its Project Ara modular smartphone concept. Project Ara is a push to make modular smartphones a reality. Instead of buying a single, fully-constructed phone where all the components seem like a black box, the Ara project is exploring the idea of snapping phones together based on individual components.

As sensors become cheaper, you'll be able to sniff for toxins, appraise your water, see in the dark, navigate seamlessly… aw heck, I took you on a tour of possibilities in a recent book, right?

== Would you want wood? ==

Learn about a highly engineered material called cross-laminated timber (CLT). The enormous panels are up to half a foot thick. They’re made by placing layers of parallel beams atop one another perpendicularly, then gluing them together to create material with steel-like strength. “This construction has more in common with precast concrete than traditional timber frame design." Many engineers like to call it “plywood on steroids.”  Towers are being made from it.  The building material of the future?

A tree can also be your friend, in need. For a makeshift way to purify water: break a branch from a pine tree, peel away the bark and slowly pour lake water through the stick. Good for your novel?

But on the other hand… why not do it better? A team of researchers at MIT, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and in Saudi Arabia succeeded in creating sub-nanoscale pores in a sheet of graphene, a development that could lead to ultrathin filters for improved desalination or water purification. But it's in the theme of this sub-heading because the source is Oak Ridge.  Get it?

Rights-of-way-mega-citiesSometimes the old ways are best… even in infrastructure!  London runs fiber optic cables through its 19th Century sewer system!

This is remarkably related both to my idea about revitalizing mega cities in developing nations and how to bring super fiber to every home in the developed world!

The key: rights-of-way.


John's Secret Identity™ said...

I don't think the cellcos will suffer if we all start bypassing them with our texts. It'll just be that much less data they have to transport.

locumranch said...

"(A) hypothesis becomes a theory… then a contending model… then the leading model… then the paradigm Model of the World…" DB

As evidenced by the above quote from the prior thread, David invokes a hierarchical model of Science wherein scientific theories accrue 'truthiness' as a function of ascending consensual acceptance, a pyramid that he then inverts to justify the growing influence of 'Good Guy Billionaires' on scientific consensus as a hierarchical necessity, which is utter rot.

It is utter rot because the function of hierarchies (social; moral; academic; financial) is in no way 'scientific'. Hierarchies are designed to stifle science, their purpose being to frustrate change, to smother theories which challenge the current socioeconomic order and to crush technological perspectives that threaten hierarchical stability.

Peruse the dictionary. Science is defined as (1) "the systematic study of the nature and behaviour of the material and physical universe, based on observation, experiment, and measurement", (2) "a methodological activity or discipline" and (3) "the knowledge so obtained or the practice of obtaining it". There is no hierarchical requirement to science because, definition-wise, a scientific hierarchy is never ever mentioned.

And, on a side note, the individual is free to pursue science with as much passion, wonder, faith and mysticism as he can muster because it may help him to persist despite frequent failure, but scientific judgment is poorly served by the same monomaniacal emotions which are non-objective and irrational, just as science itself is poorly served by demands to 'grow the economy', create jobs or serve an entrenched hierarchy.


David Brin said...

What an absolute and unmitigated dope. Seriously, I would call this drivel an april fool jest by smart dude. But alas, it is a person of moderate IQ desperate to pretend he understands -- and can snark-diss -- what he's utterly clueless about.

Kinda pathetic and sad, actually.

simran patra said...

Minneapolis-based security contractor Lloyd Security works with security systems of your choosing including no phone line security systems.

Minnesota contracted surveillance

Tim H. said...

I would see research funded by the wealthy as a good thing, if it was in addition to government/ university funded research. If it replaces them, I would be concerned about lost opportunities in areas outside of the interests of the funder.

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. I love it when people resort to dictionary defintions. It demonstrates the superficiality of their understanding in a heartbeat. It helps establish the gounds upon which to refute them just as easily.

David describes science as a market, but I view it as a community that formed around a market. As communities go, it is the least heirarchical one I know, but it does have its powerful heirarchies that come and go with the generations. From an historical pespective, the independently wealthy have always contributed a great deal to the community. They were pratically the only participants in the early days.

While I suspect David may disagree with this, I view the involvement of government in liberal demoncracies in science funding as an historical abberation associated with great wars. Public support of basic science makes some good sense, but there are numerous ways to do it. National involvement is a socialistic approach driven by a need for heirarchy to fight wars. As Pax Americana continues to work its magic on the world, we can consider other options. From where I sit, many already are as evidenced by the alliance of universities and business. Gov't helped seed those alliances, but the seed has grown to bear fruit and more seeds.

Alfred Differ said...

sigh. Feed comment through spell checker next time. 8)

David Brin said...

Alfred, Adam Smith crudely perceived the inherent contradictions of markets and capitalism -- and Marx described them in greater detail (some of them correctly and some laughably wrong). Among these are the class-narrowing effects of the business cycle, leading to a narrow bourgeois oligarchy… exacerbated by cheating…

And the limitation of self-interest to a very short Return on Investment ROI horizon that even in far-seeing companies seldom goes beyond five years.

What Smith vaguely recommended and Marx thought inherently impossible and that FDR eagerly instituted were endeavors to ameliorate these contradictions. To reduce cheating, to ensure that business cycles not crush all small competitors. To occasionally break up excess concentrations of market power. And so on. It turns out to be difficult and complicated, especially when oligarchs get the power and cartel collusion to "capture" government.

(That is the core aim of every fiber of the Republican Party as we speak; no other agenda matters an iota to the owners-hijackers of today's GOP.)

What does this have to do with science funding? Just that government plays another role, that of investing in areas that extend far beyond the five year ROI. Our economy land lives have been stratospherically improved by the advances that poured from government-funded research. I'd love for those who denialize this to live for one week without the benefits that have poured from taxpayer-supported research, that were then handed over - royalty free - to businesses to leverage and produce.

Paul451 said...

Re: Regional blocking again.

Pop Sci. This time the page auto-redirects from popsci.com to popsci.com.au, whereupon it discovers, surprise, the American article doesn't exist on the Australian server, and so redirects again to a 404-page-not-found error. Woo. Thanks jerks. So helpful. Way to break the whole damn original point of the web.

locumranch said...

It is a bit pathetic at that, to mistake wealth for value and status for merit, to attribute individual creativity to a top-down hierarchy, to equivocate specialized occupational training as a liberal education, to equate social stability with transformative instability, to confuse scientific practice with scientific management, and to assume that scientists are magically immune to the same economic coercion that affects us all ...

As if 'Good Guy' billionaires share plebian goals, Big Oil & Gas wants alternative energies, Big Government shares your pain and scientists don't have to pay their bills or feed their families.

And, while our current political, economic and educational system has 'stratospherically' improved our first-world lives up to this point while simultaneously despoiling our planet, it is time to get off this stratospheric rocket-ride before it crashes, burns and kills us all, and only a thoroughly brain-washed 'denier' of the worst sort would deny that such a crash is imminent.

Can you say 'self-deluded optimist'?


Alfred Differ said...


I'm with you regarding Smith. He correctly pointed to the oligarchs as the major historical threat. When I point this out to my libertarian friends they usually disagree or describe the futility of addressing the oligarchs. Instead they want to beat up the henchmen in government who enable the rule changes that lock the gains in for the oligarchs. Many of them miss the point that the oligarchs BECOME the government and that their disgust with government should take into account our continuing attempt to divide power and set groups against each other. You've described this well for years and I'm with you on it.

My issue with public funding of science isn't absolute in the libertarian sense. I'm much softer on my objections and point out that FDR's approach could be improved by further division of the power blocs. The more your good-guy billionaires get involved, the more chance we have at this. Look at funding for socially touchy things for where I place my hopes. 'The Pill' wouldn't exist if we had to fund the research through government. Look at how we've done an end run on some politically imposed stem-cell research limitations for a more recent example.

I suspect FDR's approach was related to his era. I also suspect we can do better today.

Tim H. said...

Government research funding hasn't been so much about original ideas as getting concepts into reality in a more timely fashion, itself a thing of great value. Robert Heinlein may have described it best in "Spinoff", look for it in "Expanded Universe".

David Brin said...

I agree top to bottom Alfred. Tim, I think you leave out things like pure research. Space telescopes. Mars landers.

Gator said...

Good guy billionaires are replacing government funding exactly because they the current US system doesn't tax billionaires correctly. US government funding declines because taxes are low; because taxes are low, billionaires accumulate funds and pass them to their kids. If we are lucky they are nice enough to fund some science that interests them.

Longnow had a seminar with Mariana Mazzucato about goverment sponsored vs. private research.


She points out what in retrospect seems obvious. Only governments can afford to fund research with no short-term payoff goal.

Tim H. said...

I'm thinking about the component technologies, you're looking at the big picture, from your perspective, correct. It's still a great good thing to have accelerated R&D, absent the cold war & space race, microelectronics might not yet be to the level the Steves found in the '70s.

Franklin D Nash MD said...

A group entitled "Center for the Analysis of Science in Legislation" has formed.


As scholars and practitioners working within the STEM disciplines, we use our expertise to evaluate proposed and existing legislation in order to determine if it was developed using the most current knowledge and methods in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The results of our analyses are presented to the electorate in a clear, concise, and neutral manner.

By doing so, we hope to promote the adoption of those policies which are of the greatest potential benefit to the American people and people of the World, avoiding those policies that are wasteful of time, money, and human effort.

David Boudreaux, Ph.D.
Lauren Hendrickson, Au.D.
James Martin, Ph.D.
Franklin D. Nash, MD
Eric M. Roberts, B. M. E. MBA
Isaac Stoddard, M.A.Sc.(Aero)
Steven E. Wallis, Ph.D.

We are currently self-funded, and will be seeking 501c3 status. All are volunteers.

With all of our input from the "hard" sciences, we are seeking same from the "soft" sciences, e.g., sociology and psychology.

Inquiries are welcome from any STEM practitioner.

If interested, please contact me

Franklin D Nash MD

Jumper said...

The enemy of solipsism is statistical random sampling.

Joel Greenwood said...

Off topic:

High frequency trading is getting some serious light this week. "Flash Boys" by Michael Lewis came out on Monday (I'm half way through). In it, a Canadian bank/broker (who I work for) is presented in a seriously overly nice light. But it also points out the serious concerns with the relationships between HFT's and the major Wall St exchanges/brokers. And the SEC is extremely unlikely to do anything about it.

The video between two exchange CEO's is worth watching: http://www.cnbc.com/id/101544772

I disagree with Dr. Brin's solution of a transaction tax - I still think this solution is the best way to make it unprofitable for HFT's: https://www.rbccm.com/thor/cid-260178.html

Kill the HFT's profits and force them to take positions that they need to off-load (at a loss). And eliminate the maker-taker fees that PAYS the HFT's to send orders.

David Brin said...

Dr. Nash does your new group have a web site?

Franklin D Nash MD said...

David, we are very new to this game having come together in March, wet behind the ears so to speak. We have scarcely gotten beyond writing the mission statement; the web site (www.scipolicy.org) is under construction.

You can see from our degrees that we are a diverse group; it is one with many talents in the STEM areas and elsewhere and is growing. Each has had to bear burdens imposed by policies generated with bad science. Some of us were active and recall the funding benefits following the launch of Sputnik and the fears it invoked. I am in my 82nd year and yearn for the days of Apollo.

I'll be delighted to be in touch with you during our development and after. We seek advice and criticism equally and are always open to inquiry.

With appreciation for your contact and envy of your writing voice, I am


locumranch said...

Although I support a well-educated population in principle, I question our ongoing cultural overemphasis on STEM training when (1) no such labour shortage actually exists, (2) current & projected STEM jobs remain insufficient to meet the employment needs of even domestic university STEM graduates, and (3) STEM wages have remained either flat or declined (in real terms) over recent years:

(1) "EPI analysis finds no shortage of STEM workers in the United States", April 24, 2013.


(2) "America Has More Trained STEM Graduates than STEM Job Openings," May 2013.


(3) "The STEM Crises is a Myth", 30 August 2013.


By virtue of being so misinformed, one could even argue that organizations like Dr. Nash's "Center for the Analysis of Science in Legislation" could do a lifetime of disservice to many dewy-eyed STEM university aspirants ... the one exception being an imminent physician & nursing shortage driven by declining wages, increasing workload, onerous regulation & Baby Boomer retirement.

Either way, I wish Dr. Nash (et al) the best in all their endeavours.


locumranch said...

And, here's a fairly comprehensive STEM debate summary from The Chronicle of Higher Education:

"The STEM Crisis: Reality or Myth?", November 11, 2013



Paul451 said...

Franklin D Nash,
"and yearn for the days of Apollo."

Why? A crash program to demonstrate a single ability in excess of an enemy (launch payload capacity.) Just a stunt. And when it ended, it left... nothing except its own myths and an agency desperate to recapture its moment of glory. There was no long term progress in manned space-flight, and the myths of Apollo created a false belief in the "Vision" as the core of manned spaceflight. Unlike aviation, there was no piece-wise progress in manned spaceflight; instead we saw a single government super-program jerked from one "Vision" mirage to another; Shuttle, NASP, VentureStar, Freedom, Moon-base, Mars, ISS, Constellation and Moon again, SLS... And at the end of each desperate attempt to find the new Apollo, or our new Kennedy/Webb, we are again left with nothing but excuses for why this one failed too.

I yearn for a day when we recognise that Apollo was a bad thing and put away our childish rose-tinted memories.

David Brin said...

An unemployed STEM graduate has options. Indeed, he/she can retrain in almost any other field. Law schools and medical schools love physicists and engineers, who generally finish on time and pass the Bar etc the first time.

A STEM graduate can even enter the arts. I know of a few (many) examples.

The flow does not often go the other way.

Robert said...

Dr. Brin, I wonder what you think of this concept for an Inheritance Tax: The first five million dollars of inheritance is tax-free. Every dollar after that initial five million is taxed at 80%.

This allows for millionaires to continue from one generation to the next. It even allows for small and moderate business owners to keep their businesses in the family. But the 0.1% would be impacted by it and would either have to find ways to spin off money (into charitable funds, gifted to friends, employee-owned businesses, and the like) or get hit by a significant tax for what's left.

So someone could inherit a billion dollars (in theory). But they'd ultimately only get 204 million of that billion. (We could even set up laws stating that that money had to go 50% into paying off the national debt, 25% into Medicare, and 25% into Social Security. That way you suddenly have the older people supporting it because every dead billionaire helps keep Social Security solvent that much longer.)

Rob H.

Robert said...

And now for some Science!

How about footage of the first meteorite caught on film after it went dark? A skydiver with cameras on his helmet caught on film a rock plummeting past him which passed within a couple of meters of him. It did not fall from the aircraft (which was already landing) or from another skydiver (wrong angle). If it'd hit, it probably would have mangled him given its velocity.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Robert I have no problems with your proposal ethically. Frankly, in the case of a business, I'd give the heir ten years to pay the 80% between 5 and 20 million dollars. In fact, I'd reduce it to 50% in that range. The ten years gives em time to pay out of profits rather than just having to liquidate suddenly.

Of course it is the tax that never has to be paid, if you make a charitable foundation.

The skydiver never mentions the possibility that someone in the plane above him hates his guts.

David Brin said...


Franklin D Nash MD said...

Sorry, Paul, that you do not see the forest for the tree. In my area, medicine, the fallout was tremendous. I lived and worked through the developments of caridopulmonary bypass (open-heart surgery), hemodialysis, and finally organ transplantation, all of which would have been delayed were it not for the "toys" and knowledge (read: science) that were handed down to us. And, yes, I had a NASA contract during the Apollo years studying the effects of weightlessness on the body of the living human. Do you doubt that the findings now have no relevance to you rocketeers? Those studies in and of themselves taught us ways to care for people in the intensive care unit. Or do you forget that your ultimate cargo is the living human mammal? Frank Nash

Franklin D Nash MD said...

Locumranch, in view of "By virtue of being so misinformed, one could even argue that organizations like Dr. Nash's "Center for the Analysis of Science in Legislation" could do a lifetime of disservice to many dewy-eyed STEM university aspirants, " I'm asking for reconsideration.

I would not take exception to that statement were our mission related to STEM education. However, it is not.

Perhaps we need to be clearer. Our efforts are aimed solely at ensuring the application of good science in the development of governmental policy. [Here is use "science" to represent all STEM disciplines.]

Now, were we to see bad science in a policy proposal related to STEM education, we would not refrain from stepping forward, but our concern would not be the education itself but the bad science, which could lead to bad policy.

I hope I have clarified our goal; our means, methods are still under development.

Frank Nash