Friday, June 27, 2008
James Kerian has penned a must-read article in the Wall Street Journal that draws an analogy between Yellow Journalism and the deterioration of science that is happening now, and being greatly accelerated by government funding:
The first, and most obvious, temptation for this sort of willful blindness is financial. Hearst made only a fraction of his estimated $140 million in net worth from yellow journalism. Global warming, on the other hand, has provided an estimated $50 billion in research grants to those willing to practice yellow science. Influence in the public sphere is another strong temptation. It might not be as impressive as starting the Spanish-American War, but global-warming alarmists have amassed a large group of journalists and politicians ready to silence any critics and endorse whatever boondoggle scheme is prescribed as the cure to our impending climate catastrophe.This is a thought-provoking article, and it brings up many issues worth spending some time thinking about. The most prominent one in my mind is the role of government funding of science in its decline. Aside from violating the rights of those whose money was taken from them, such government funding obviously increases the lure of free money in terms of the amount obtainable and how many people can get their hands on it. Having said that, it is wrong to blame the deterioration of science entirely on government interference, or to assume that the buck stops at politics.
Finally, one should not underestimate the temptation of convenience. Just as it is far easier to publish stories without verifying the sources; so is it much more convenient to practice yellow science than the real thing. It takes far more courage, perseverance, and perspiration to develop formulas, make predictions, and risk being proved wrong than to look at historical data and muse about observed similarities. Yellow scientists have fled the risks of science that Albert Einstein described when he said, "No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right, a single experiment can prove me wrong." [bold added]
The temptation to wield power (which Kerian cites as a contributing factor to the decline of science), for example, would not even exist for the vast majority of scientists in America, were government already confined to its proper role of protecting individual rights. The matter of convenience, though, gets us closer to the heart of the matter. That would always be an issue to some degree.
There have been "scientists" with pet theories throughout the history of science, and there always will be. But what ultimately stops them are three things: (1) the facts of reality that contradict their theory, (2) the freedom of men to investigate those facts, and (3) the willingness of some scientists to do so.
Government that does not respect individual rights reduces the second and third of these. How long will a real scientist last if he can't get funding because an entrenched majority of his "peers" is in charge of reviewing his grant applications (which most often go to a government agency that taps his peers for review)? How long will he care to fight against a majority who are wrong (if that) and indifferent or hostile to the truth? How demoralizing would it be to see nitpicking studies based on junk science funded all the time while his own elegant experiment that might challenge the prevailing "consensus" remains financially out of reach?
Government funding and other interference in science is a great evil, and goes a long way towards explaining the hastening eating-away of science, but the reason government is doing what it does is ultimately because the public -- which largely thinks that the individual exists to serve others and implements this destructive notion through redistributionist programs -- insists on it.
It will only be when the public demands the protection of individual rights -- rather than handouts -- from the government, that this ironic danger to the scientific progress it imagines a government can grant it will end.