Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New DI attack whine -- Science Funding

OK, we all know the Discovery Institute does not actually perform science. They write popular press books and articles, they market the hell out of themselves, they use disreputable tactics in all they do, they whine incessantly, and they tend to run away when things get warm.

In my opinion they do not even understand how science works. The reason I say this started with that stupid Stein mockumentary, which featured the DI, and this label he kept using 'Big Science'. Exactly what is 'Big Science'? Stein never explained -- because he wouldn't have been able to do so. There is no single organization controlling scientific work in this country or around the world. There is no single pipeline of grants and funds. There is no cabal that make decisions for the entire scientific community in some secret smoke-filled room. Scientists are affiliated with a wide variety of businesses, schools, museums, foundations . . .. Their funding sources are as diverse as can be imagined. While the Federal Government funds a great deal of science, even that funding comes from a wide variety of sources.

In other words while we refer to a 'Scientific Community' colloquially, there really is no large-scale organizations of scientists. There are a number of loose federations, you might say, of scientists who share the same discipline. There is no controlling entity -- there is no 'Big Science!'.

OK, let's connect the two. Right now there is a Harvard Professor who apparently messed up. Harvard is dealing with it, as they should. Did he actually make mistakes, was it documentation errors or procedural errors -- are they correctable or not? Since he is affiliated with Harvard, Harvard gets the first crack at investigating him -- as they rightly should. Here is one source article from NPR "Harvard probes Claims of Scientific Misconduct".

So how does the Discovery Institute fit in? Bruce Chapman, yes the man who is busy running away from Louisiana. He blogged about the issue and says some pretty stupid things.

"Dr. Hauser probably can escape permanent damage to his employment prospects if he explains that his genes made him cheat. In the history of hominids, after all, shaking down taxpayers is a well-established behavior to enhance reproductive advantage."
Does that paragraph make any sense at all? Does Chapman understand anything? in my opinion, apparently not. But this is the line that killed me:
"And why does Big Science, alone among American institutions, get to police itself? "
First of all I object to the use of the word 'alone'. Is Chapman forgetting the American Medical Association and the American Bar Association? How about every Union in existence. How about the Catholic Church and their decades-old policies of self-policing pedophiles. These are a great many organizations that police themselves to a surprisingly autonomous degree, sometimes a shocking degree. So even if such an organization existed for all scientific research, the word 'alone' certainly would not apply.

My second issue, my real issue, relates to how I started this blog entry. What organization in 'Big Science' should be doing this policing Chapman is talking about? There isn't one! There isn't an organization to police! It's all in the mind of pseudo-scientists like Chapman who are looking for stuff to whine about.

Let's look more objectively at what happened.
  • The scientist in question was reported by members of his own staff. Science:1 Chapman:0
  • The organization he was working for investigated it. Science:2 Chapman:0
  • They released their findings publicly. Science:3 Chapman:0
  • They also sent their findings and evidence to the government organization who funded the research. Science:4 Chapman:0 If this was baseball I say Chapman took four swings to strike out!
It looks like everything that should have happened has happened. The scientist's future is still undecided, as is any action by the Government. It certainly looks like the scientific community started the ball rolling in policing themselves -- as they have for years. Remember Cold Fusion? It wasn't the Discovery Institute who discovered the problems with those experiments, but other scientists. How about the irregularities in the cloning experiments in South Korea? Other scientists yet again! Piltdown Man -- a favorite whine of Creationists -- yup, scientists announced the hoax nearly immediately!

So why am I concerned about anything Chapman has to say (while he continues distancing the DI from the problems they caused in Louisiana)? It's simple. Here we have an organization that doesn't seem to have a clue about how to do science claiming that someone outside of science should be monitoring and control science funding? Remember how the Discovery Institute operates, rather than science they politicize, they market, they whine -- they don't perform science. One of them posts something and a bunch of them jump on the bandwagon to make it look like there is an actual problem. Remember 'Teach the Controversy'? A controversy they tried to create out of a tempest in a teacup! How about their trying to tie Darwin to Hitler, another series of whines and posts that have no support. Lately their support of David Coppedge, the JPL employee who got demoted for harassing his co-workers. Their marketing schemes are certainly more successful than their efforts at science. Contrived and created for their own purposes!

Chapman's blog has already been picked up by . . . guess who? You got it, another Discovery Institute member, Wesley Smith and his blog "Do We Need Better Oversight On How Scientists Spend Public Money?" The attack on science funding is one we need to pay attention to because one of the last organizations on the face of the Earth that should have input to how scientists are using their research funding is the anti-science Discovery Institute!

Just out of curiosity, who polices the Discovery Institute? Well if they would actually publish in scientific journals the scientific community certainly would have input into their 'work'. But since they publish in the popular press, they really don't have to answer to anyone -- as long as they have their own funding. I wonder how many state and federal grants they have attempted to get over their existence? More interestingly would be how many have they received? Anyone have any ideas?

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