I was at a film festival when it just hit me...
When I was a younger version, making movies was one of my fantasies. It seemed like it would be a fascinating lifestyle to tell interesting stories in creative ways. I still love movies (thus the festival) but a new reality has long since set in: earning a living in the film business is not about good stories told in creative ways, but about producing a commercially viable product.
Early on in a film maker’s career, they are faced with a difficult dilemma: do they opt for artistic expression, or financial security?
Let’s say they have an interesting storyline and some clever ideas how to present it, and they would like to share this creation with the public. What to do next?
Option 1 is to approach a film studio and give them a pitch. These people have the cash, the connections and the distribution channel to make this work. However, they usually won’t be as enthused about your ideas as you are. Typically they’ll say something like “sounds good, but it won’t sell”. If you want to work with them you’ll have to make numerous changes and concessions. In essence, you will be asked to give up a good deal of your artistic freedom — which was your reason for doing films in the first place! The tradeoff is that you’ll get a film produced and before the public.
Option 2 is to be an independent producer and retain all artistic control. This sounds good except that it requires a huge amount of fundraising on your part — and you will unlikely have the time, skill or interest in doing it. Even if that is accomplished, you have no movie distribution channel, so the likelihood of the film being ever seen by any significant number of the public, is remote. The bottom line is that you will be making quality films only seen by a few people, and you will be forever destined to live on the edge of financial ruin.
The aspiring film maker is impaled on Morton’s Fork.
Fortunately I didn’t have to resolve this problem, as I chose science (physics) as my career. But is it all that different?
Most young people who sign up for sciences do so as they would like to contribute creative ideas about making our world a better place to live in.
But what really happens? They also are faced with two conflicting choices.
Option 1 is to work for someone (e.g. a university). Typically, the university expects you to carry your weight — especially by getting awarded grants. These monies usually come from the government. Since the funding for such grants comes through politicians, the wording of the grants is designed to satisfy a political objective. So the bottom line is that to stay employed you need to give up a good deal of your scientific freedom and interests, as you need to stick with the program dictated by the people with the money. Much to your chagrin, your good efforts end up supporting political ideologies rather than scientific ones. What can you do, though? You and your family need to eat!
Option 2 is to be self-employed. You can then choose what to work on, plus you won’t be fettered by PC norms when reporting your results. But who pays the bills? In other words, how do you make a living out of this independent work? Unless you were born into wealth, you’ll have to spend an enormous amount of time getting donations — and just like the film-maker, you don't have the time, skill or interest in doing that. And even if you do raise the money, who is really going to see (or be impacted by) the results of your studies? The reality is, almost no one.
So, by-and-large, scientists are also put between the devil and the deep blue sea. Due to economic realities, essentially all scientists chose Option 1.
Understanding that fact, is it any surprise that there is “consensus” among Climatologists (for example) regarding global warming? Considering that the majority of these people are employed by organizations or businesses that have the same political agenda, the real surprise would be if the scientists publicly spoke out against the wishes of their employer. If they did so they would soon be out of a job, so such independence will remain a rarity.
Understanding this reality is also a major clue as to why “peer review” has little meaning anymore. It is a trivial matter to have other similarly indentured servants sign off on politically correct propaganda. The phrase “One lies and the other swears to it” comes to mind.
So is there a solution to this quandary? Since the government is the largest source of scientific funding, I would say yes. The solution lies in fixing how government funding is awarded. Here are two suggestions that could have significant impact, and result in better science.
Proposal #1: remove from government grants imbedded assumptions that are scientifically unproven. In other words, instead of having a grant to “Show how to mitigate raising sea levels due to climate change” have it for “Does mitigating possible sea level rises make scientific and economic sense?”.
The former assumes that climate change is scientifically proven, plus it assumes that sea levels will result from said climate change. No scientist who wants to challenge AGW would have a chance of getting awarded the first grant. The later is more open-ended, and invites both pro and con positions.
Proposal #2: a condition of all technical grants would be a new requirement — that the study must to adhere to the Scientific Method. This would mean that the assessment must be comprehensive, objective, independent, transparent and empirical-based.
That may sound very common sensical, but surprisingly, no such required standard currently exists! Why add this criteria? Because science is really a process, and at its core is the Scientific Method.
The government is reportedly against waste, right? That means that they should want to get the highest quality results from whatever dollars are expended.
The good news is that these two changes are essentially free to implement!
Better science = less waste and less cost.
Better science = AGW controversy resolution.