Friday, November 27, 2009


JSH: Right answer on research funding?

Recent news has the government of Japan considering what science funding is worthwhile, and my recent conclusion has been that sharp cuts in research funding could seemingly paradoxically create a boom in useful research results, so it raises the question of, what is the right answer on research funding?

The louder voices from the scientific community would have the world believe that there is no limit, and that science research should be funded to the maximum possible, but humanity got along for quite a long time without ANY systematic research funding, and it's an open question on how best to motivate good results as revealed by the bonus situation in the financial sector.

Big bonuses for financial people led to widespread systemic risk, and a near meltdown of the world's financial system.

Open ended funding for anything and everything "science" could have unintended negative consequences as well.

Also recent research (sorry no citations but it is readily available) has indicated that human beings behave oddly with financial reward anyway, and that it can be counter-productive to give monetary benefit when a social good is what is desired.

And, of course, the most gifted researchers will find a way.

The urge to know is a drive within them which they will try to fulfill come what may. With limited funding they may simply get more creative, and make discoveries they might not make if funding were easy, as necessity drives invention.

My own fear is that the current system can hide people who can play at the academic game of looking like they're doing something, while doing nothing of value—and knowing it. Who unfortunately can go all the way to being completely wrong, yet fight evidence that they are wrong as that can impact their funding!!!

So then society funds itself into error.

What is happening in Japan is of great interest I'd think worldwide and I complement the Japanese government on taking this important effort, leading the way as they have in other areas, like confronting global climate change.

My hope is that they do what is necessary, including slashing funds deeply, despite loud protests from the academic community.

I don't care how many Nobel prize winners protest. The issue may be beyond their areas of expertise!

It's probable they themselves don't fully understand HOW they got their own research results, or we as a species would have the mystery of discovery solved.

I would call on world governments to consider slashing funding for science as an option to see if a paradoxical increase in valuable research results occurs as an effect. Doomsday cries from the academic community when histrionic are simply to be ignored.

After all, if there are objective reasons those should be presented—not crying and whining. Adults should be able to do better.

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