The Slowing of Scientific Discovery
The “Science Establishment” is spitting out PhDs, journal articles, and scientific data at record levels. But something happened along the way to our sci-tech utopia. Has scientific progress actually slowed in recent decades, despite a record number of “scientists”, “science journals,” and “scientific data output?”
Almost every week we read about ‘new hopes’ for cancer sufferers, developments in the lab that might lead to new cures, talk of a new era of space tourism and super-jets that can fly round the world in a few hours. Yet a moment’s thought tells us that this vision of unparalleled innovation can’t be right, that many of these breathless reports of progress are in fact mere hype, speculation – even fantasy.
Yet there once was an age when speculation matched reality. It spluttered to a halt more than 40 years ago. Most of what has happened since has been merely incremental improvements upon what came before. That true age of innovation – I’ll call it the Golden Quarter – ran from approximately 1945 to 1971. Just about everything that defines the modern world either came about, or had its seeds sown, during this time.
Inside the fog of modern academic science, it is “all about the PhD.” This approach excludes many of the best candidates for advancing scientific knowledge, and foolishly focuses on persons well suited for the groupthink environment of a highly politicised academia.
Fortunately, it has not always been that way.
Modern Science is Built on the Work of Men Who Had No Science Degree
Modern people have been conditioned to equate “schooling” with “education.” The two categories are not equivalent — and are often antithetical. The best education is obtained outside of the classroom, in the interactive real world — where being wrong has genuine consequences, and provides instant feedback.
The confusion between “schooling” and “useful education” is even greater when it comes to science. If a person is trained in a faulty paradigm of science, for example, his schooling actually works against his useful education. Such a person is unlikely to contribute to the advancement of the body of useful science.
A Few Famous Scientists Who Built the Foundations of Modern Science (Without a Science Degree):
Leonardo da Vinci
. . . (1452 – 1519), mathematician, engineer, anatomist, geologist, botanist, inventor, artist.
. . . (1706 – 1790), physicist, inventor, “America’s First Scientist.”
. . . (1738 – 1822), astronomer, discoverer of the planet Uranus.
. . . (1750 – 1848), astronomer, younger sister of William Herschel above, named by the Royal Society one of “the ten women in British history who have had the most influence on science.”
. . . (1780 – 1872), mathematician, astronomer, science writer, named by the Royal Society one of “the ten women in British history who have had the most influence on science,” also called the “Queen of nineteenth century science.”
. . . (1791 – 1867), physicist, chemist, electromagnetism pioneer, coined ‘electrode’, ‘cathode’ and ‘ion.’
. . . (1799 – 1847), palaeontologist, fossilist, named by the Royal Society one of “the ten women in British history who have had the most influence on science.” The nursury rhyme and tongue twister “She Sells Sea Shells (by the Sea Shore)” was based on her.
. . . (1800 – 1860), chemist, discoverer of the process of vulcanizing rubber.
. . . (1809 – 1882), naturalist, evolutionary theorist, geologist.
. . . (1813 – 1881), palaeontologist (no relation to the William Darwin Fox above).
James Prescott Joule
. . . (1818 – 1889), physicist, co-discoverer of the law of conservation of energy.
. . . (1822 – 1884), botanist, naturalist, first geneticist, the “Father of Modern Genetics.”
Science Is as Science Does
The possession of a science degree does not make a person an actual scientist, and the lack of a science degree does not prevent one from doing world-class science. Consider an administrator, science populariser, or journal editor who happens to have a science degree. Is this person a scientist? Not unless he actually does science in a valid and disciplined manner.
By those criteria, most people who call themselves “scientists” today — PhD or no PhD — are not real scientists, but rather poseurs and pretenders. Some fields of “science”, such as climatology, are densely populated by such poseurs who play with computer models and participate in political polemics, rather than doing valid science.
What is Valid Science?
Science is primarily a verb, rather than a noun. It is a particular method, or way of doing things. Here are some basic principles of science:
§1 A scientific argument consists of clearly stated premises, inferences and conclusions.
§2 A scientific premise is verifiable. Premises and their sources are identified and readily available for independent verification.
§3 A scientific inference is logically valid.
§4 A scientific conclusion is deduced by application of axioms, definitions and theorems or measured properties and scientific concepts that have already been verified or validated.
§5 A scientific concept consists of statements that are logically valid conclusions deduced from premises that are themselves logically valid conclusions, axioms, definitions or theorems.
§6 A scientific concept is well-defined and has a well-defined capability of prediction within a well-defined context.
§7 A scientific concept can only be validated by comparison of predictions deduced from that concept with measurement results. Whenever predictions differ from measurement results, by more than the combined uncertainty of the measurement results and the claimed capability of the concept, there must be something wrong with the concept – or the test of it.
§8 A scientific concept can only be referred to as validated for the context covered by the validating tests.
§9 A scientific statement is based on verifiable data. Data and precise information about how that data was obtained are readily available for independent verification. Whenever data are corrected or disregarded, both uncorrected and corrected data are provided together with a scientific argument for the correction.
§10 A scientific measurement report contains traceable values, units and stated uncertainty for well-defined measurands in a well-defined context.
§11 A scientific prediction report contains values, units and claimed capability for well-defined measurands in a well-defined context.
Unless a person follows guidelines or principles such as those listed above — contained in sources such as … Responsible Science, Volume I: Ensuring the Integrity of the Research Process; Panel on Scientific Responsibility and the Conduct of Research, Singapore Statement on Research Integrity, EPA’s Principles of Scientific Integrity, Max Planck Society – Rules of good scientific practice or The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity, etc., he is unlikely to be “doing science,” and does not qualify as being a scientist.
Academics, Journalists, Politicians, Attorneys, Salesmen … All Lie for a Living
Much of the modern world is built upon pretense and deception. Such double-dealing is expected in politics, journalism, advertising, sales, law, academics, etc. But we expect better from our “scientists”, engineers, physicians, dentists, welders, electricians, mechanics, and plumbers — people who should know what they are doing and are held responsible for their work.
Academic “scientists” are largely held responsible for obtaining grants and getting published. Even if everything they say and publish is a lie or otherwise misleading, they are considered to be “successful scientists” if only they can obtain tenure and publish the requisite number of journal articles. But lately in addition, they are being required to pledge allegiance to groupthink dogmas and political correctness — things which should not be a part of a professional “scientists'” portfolio.
In a Corrupt Rent-Seeking Culture, Status is Everything; Integrity is Nothing
Mainstream culture celebrates everything that glitters — whether or not it is actually golden. From professional athletes to professional hucksters, if the mainstream bullhorns support a person or a cause, it has a good chance of succeeding — at least until the spotlight turns to something more novel and less stale.
Unfortunately, modern educational systems have become an integral part of this decadent mainstream culture. This means that graduates of mainstream educational systems are drawn to the celebrity mainstream — whether in science, journalism, or most any other line of work. Such a “status culture” leads its adherents to cut corners in the quest for celebrity status.
One sign of the corrupting effect on science of the status culture, is illustrated in the website “Retraction Watch.” Retraction Watch is a timid attempt to reveal scientific fraud. Such a halfhearted attempt can only barely scratch the surface — but a deeper penetration and exposure of scientific fraud would likely reveal much more about today’s backstage controllers of culture than would be healthy for any investigator.
Real Science is Harder Than Most “Scientists” Can Do
The discipline of good science is heavy and hard. Doing good science is not something that most citizens can do — just like doing world class neurosurgery or flying a supersonic fighter in a hostile environment are things that most citizens cannot do.
Unfortunately, universities have lowered their standards for accepting students and for granting degrees — for reasons economic and political. Many modern science graduates should never have been admitted to a rigorous programme of higher education to begin with. For students of low aptitude and poor disposition, there are areas of “science” which are highly politicised, which welcome them with open arms. Areas dealing with “climate,” “the environment,” “sustainability,” and the like are representative of these dumbed-down areas of pseudoscientific “science.”
And as one would expect, such persons are often the first ones to be called to testify for a congressional committee, or to be quoted in a mainstream media story. The status culture supports its own, regardless of scientific or logical validity.
Is it possible that much — or most — of the hundreds of $billions spent recently on science has been misallocated or even totally wasted? It is difficult to say. It is likely that no one wants to look very closely at the question, for fear of what may be revealed unwittingly. Damage control and coverups take time to put into place, and in the age of the internet, non-sanctioned news can travel at lightspeed — and be very difficult to eradicate completely from the net.
Today’s university professor, administrator, staff, student, and graduate, all feel that rules — such as scientific standards of conduct — are meant to be broken. Particularly if breaking the rules can advance a person’s status and success level. In such a status and celebrity culture, is it any wonder that Nobel prizes go to puffballs such as Obama or the IPCC? “Image is Everything,” as they say in elite circles.
And yet in the world outside of politics, journalism, university, and law, in a world where reality means something and failure can result in clearly attributable mass deaths — science is a verb, not a noun. Good science can be done by anyone — science degree or not — if they follow the rules.
If humans truly want an abundant and expansive future, they will need to turn away from the status-conscious celebrity culture of groupthink, and learn to tune in to the real universe and the discipline that such a tuning will require.
Science is a matter of evidence, not what a majority of scientists think…. The notion of a monolithic “science,” meaning what scientists say, is pernicious and the notion of “scientific consensus” actively so. The route to knowledge is transparency in disagreement and openness in debate. The route to truth is the pluralist expression of conflicting views in which, often not as quickly as we might like, good ideas drive out bad. There is no room in this process for any notion of “scientific consensus.”
__ “Scientific Consensus” is an Oxymoron quoting John Kay of the Financial Times
Science is all about proving the old paradigm wrong, about destroying the consensus. Anyone who persecutes heretics in the name of consensus is no scientist.