Good Science Has Nothing to Do With University Degrees

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.


Antonie van Leeuwenhoek . . . (1632 – 1723), first microbiologist, the “Father of Microbiology.”


Benjamin Franklin . . . (1706 – 1790), physicist, inventor, “America’s First Scientist.”


William Herschel . . . (1738 – 1822), astronomer, discoverer of the planet Uranus.


Caroline Herschel . . . (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.”


Mary Somerville . . . (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.”


Michael Faraday . . . (1791 – 1867), physicist, chemist, electromagnetism pioneer, coined ‘electrode’, ‘cathode’ and ‘ion.’


Mary Anning . . . (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.


Charles Goodyear . . . (1800 – 1860), chemist, discoverer of the process of vulcanizing rubber.


William Darwin Fox . . . (1805 – 1880), naturalist, entomologist (insect researcher).


Charles Darwin . . . (1809 – 1882), naturalist, evolutionary theorist, geologist.


William Fox . . . (1813 – 1881), palaeontologist (no relation to the William Darwin Fox above).


Henry David Thoreau . . . (1817 – 1862), naturalist. Also a famous author.


Thomas Henry Huxley (T.H. Huxley) . . . (1825 – 1895), biologist, anatomist, coined the term “agnostic.”


James Prescott Joule . . . (1818 – 1889), physicist, co-discoverer of the law of conservation of energy.


Gregor Mendel . . . (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.

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10 Responses to Good Science Has Nothing to Do With University Degrees

  1. I think there are two distinctive perspectives on science:

    1 The requirements that the idea itself should fulfill to provide statements and concepts that are independently verifiable. Ideas that can be verified rather than believed in.

    2 The code of conduct for the scientist. The ethical rules that scientist should follow to support the process of providing reliable scientific concepts

    My work (§1 to 11) above is mostly about the requirements to the idea itself. The guidelines, from the scientific institutions, are more about the code of conduct.

    So far, I have not come across a set of principles that are comparable to the ones that I established (with great support and scrutiny from Gnomish.)

    I wonder why?

    • alfin2101 says:

      It is difficult to fully separate the quest for independently verifiable concepts and statements, from the code of conduct for persons engaged in doing science. One leads forward to the next which leads backward to the former.

      Your work is appreciated by those who care about scientific integrity — integrity of discovery and integrity of archived work.

      • Thanks.

        Here is one example from Singapore statement on research integrity:
        2. Adherence to Regulations: Researchers should be aware of and adhere to regulations and policies related to research.

        For evaluation of the truth of a statement or concept is does not matter if regulations or policies have been violated.

  2. An engineer will get relatively fast feedback on whether a concept works or not.
    Flawed ideas tend to reveal themselves rather soon.

    • alfin2101 says:

      Yes, for actual engineers. For “environmental engineers” or aesthetic design engineers, the feedback may take longer. In those fields, such delayed feedback is considered an attractive feature, and many more women may be attracted to them as a result.

      In the modern age of perpetual adolescent incompetence, fields that require actual skills and critical expertise are often neglected by students and job applicants, while rent-seeking opportunities are inundated by aspirants.

      That phenomenon was an integral component of the fall of the British Empire, and has probably played a role in the downfall of several formerly successful enterprises.

  3. Dan_Kurt says:

    Well done Mr. Fin.

    Urge you to check out James McCanney . Strange but intriguing individual. Problem is straining out the gold from the dross.

    Dan Kurt

  4. Dan_Kurt says:

    James McCanney’s web page:

    Dan Kurt

  5. bob sykes says:

    When the great scientists you cited were working, the sciences were essentially empty, and there was lots of low-hanging fruit. Nowadays, you need 8 to 12 years of intensive training just to get to the point where you can begin to do science. That training means mastering the accumulated knowledge obtained by your predecessors. To assume a young person, no matter how brilliant, can walk out of high school and do science is absurd.

    • alfin2101 says:

      You are correct that typical high school graduates are poorly prepared for life and further education. No one here expects very much from the products of the modern dumbed down educational system.

      We address those issues on The Dangerous Child blog, providing suggestions for parents who care about the life trajectory of their children.

      If the human race survives for another 500 to 1000 years, enlightened people of the future will probably look back and marvel at all the low-hanging fruit that people of the 21st century chose to ignore, because their dumbed-down politically correct educational systems and corrupt “status cultures” had made them too blind and stupid to see it.

  6. jccarlton says:

    Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    It’s important to remember that PHD typically means Piled Higher and Deeper and that you get your degree by getting the approval of a committee. The fact is that most discovery is an individual effort, mostly as a result of obsession beyond all reason until the discovery creates it’s own reason. In many ways modern science chains down the possibility for true discovery. Still discovery doesn’t play by rules and never stops.

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