But even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while and Iain Murray at National Review has come up with a gem, if I can mix metaphors among the Internet's smartest readers - you just may not like what he does with some of it, namely that he lumps in vaccine-autism junk science with climate science, neglecting to realize that there is a big difference between one guy using shoddy methods to create a cottage industry (Andrew Wakefield) and the bulk of climate research - thousands of reputable scientists - being negated by some paranoid frauds out to dupe the public.
But he makes some good points about the recursive nature of the scientific process and outlines what we all know, how propositional knowledge ( popular term basic research) will lead to prescriptive knowledge (applied research), yet how the reverse is more common than anyone wants to admit and why that is.
Disagree? You probably do because it contradicts the modern linear model of scientific research, which says we must invest in propositional knowledge as a public good because that’s where prescriptive knowledge comes from. I've even asked myself if perhaps we should make science a strategic resource, like food and oil. It has the feeling of truthiness because that has been the way most of us have grown up in science but it isn't really so, or else for every planned discovery there would be 5 'accidental' ones due to basic research that failed. And is the belief in basic research as a public good becoming a bunker mentality and are we better off for it? It's an interesting question.
Murray invokes no less than President Eisenhower, who held the coolest title in the world in 1945 (Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers) and 5 stars on his shoulders to go with it and rode that to the White House. Ike was regarded as a somewhat average President at the time but he turned out to be the Commander in Chief of America's golden age, if you are on one side, when one parent worked and most people had a house and a car, or disinterested overseer of a blight on our culture if you are on the other because black people had technical civil rights yet practically none at all and women only worked until they could land a husband.
Eisenhower is remembered by people who dislike America because of his "military-industrial complex" remark but Murray offers up this less-known nugget:
Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present — and is gravely to be regarded.Do you feel like part of the elite? Well, intellectually, you probably do, but scientists as a bloc hold little credibility in the public policy sense. I have argued before that if scientists want to get competition for votes, they need to not be so obviously voting for Democrats - because they will get taken for granted by their own party and Republicans will not bother to compete with initiatives.
Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.
Murray's contention that scientists control a vast amount of policy-making would have to surprise you. He's claiming it for a reason I don't buy into; that a small contingent of researchers are suppressed and denied funding because they disagree with global warming 'dogma'.
What he says after the rather vague bifurcation fallacy (if I don't give 10 global warming opponents equal time with 10,000 proponents I have no objectivity) surprised me; he endorses prizes, something I have also said would be a good idea (see also Patterns of Patronage: Why Grants Won Over Prizes In Science by Robin Hanson and Should governments fund science? by Terence Kealey and Omar Al-Ubaydli). An idea virtually no one on this site agreed with me about.
But back to these 'brave souls' as he calls global warming skeptics in a group? It's the myth of the oppressed underdog we all know so well in science - if you are suppressed, it must be because Big Science is protecting its domain and funding and not because you are just wrong. This gets to be the umbrella excuse for a lack of mainstream peer reviewed articles on warp drives, perpetual motion and ESP too. It's in defiance of the nature of science and scientists. For the most part, scientists don't like each other any more than any group likes any other group - Ann Coulter and Glenn Beck are not best friends, for example, she is instead friends with Bill Maher, who is hardly a shill for Republicans. Scientists are competitors to each other and only the bad ones chase funding based on popular opinion. There is no greater delight in science than tripping up a scientist who got a lot of press. And any researcher who can prove a negligible impact for greenhouse gases will get more funding than he can stand.
But the science has taken a back seat and global warming policy discussion has gotten into minutae and historical blood-letting on both sides. Yes, the Kyoto treaty was flawed, it had economic-political motivations that pushed the science to the background but there was science behind it, and yes some researchers were so convinced that Big Oil is out to get them that they ignored the fact that Union of Concerned Scientists alone spends more money per year promoting global warming science than Exxon spent in 7 years denying it and so 'Climategate' is a black eye that got blacker when scientists complained about hacked emails and ignored the fraudulent intent of the researchers. But that is a tiny minority.
There is healthy skepticism and there is flat-out anti-science fundamentalism and denying that more people and more pollution impacts the environment is firmly in the anti-science camp. Murray praises the objectivity of science when it came to exposing Wakefield and the vaccine-autism connection but seems to think it cannot exist in climate research. This is akin to saying we shouldn't do anything now about saving the environment because science in the future will solve it without economic penalty - science that would be done by the liberals National Review writers won't want to fund.