Friday, February 17, 2006

Science and the State

Mike’s Eyes explores government subsidized science. He makes some epistemological points on the conflict of reason and force.

Here’s an interesting question. Why is it that government scientists, in order to keep their job, end up compromising the truth or doing bad science more than scientists working for the private sector?

The purpose of private industry is to make a profit. Good science helps that end. If bad science leads to a faulty product, then the employer does not make a profit. The bad scientist loses his job.

The purpose of government is power. If good science shows, say, that regulating industry has nothing to do with global warming, then the budget of the EPA and various agendas are threatened. Pressure is brought on the scientists to find politically acceptable results. The government scientists, with mortgages to pay and children to put through college, can pursue the truth with relentless integrity and risk losing their job… or evade a few facts and fudge a few numbers and make the holders of power happy.

The only proper function of government is to protect individual rights. The state is unjustified in taking money from individuals in order to fund science, except science that has something to do with defense. If the purpose of state science is not to protect individual rights, what is it? To do good science? By what standard? By whose standard? What is the standard of those who set government's standards? In long run, its purpose becomes the purpose of all big government: to perpetuate itself.

Sometimes government science does a good job, as in the Apollo program of the 1960’s. But look at NASA since then. Would you want to fly in a spaceship that has to meet the politicized standards of some environmentalist bureaucrat at the EPA? Whose crew was chosen in part because Congresswoman Thickhead has a large contingent of Vietnamese lesbians in her district and she insisted that a Vietnamese lesbian be found to pilot the next flight? I would not.

UPDATE: Slight revision.


EdMcGon said...

I don't mind government funding science, as long as it is done at good arm's length from the government. In other words, government has no control over the results.

Mike N said...

Thanks for posting on my article.
I'll have about 2 or three more on that subject then I'll be done with it.

Mike's Eyes

strugatsky said...

A rather common misconception is that government organizations force or otherwise pressure scientists to skew results. No quite. I work for the DoD and can personally attest that in many cases (at least those that I have experienced or observed) the management does not force a scientist to falsify results. Instead, the management simply writes the results as they see fit or necessary for their aims, and don't bother to have data, even skewed, to support it.

The process is rather simple - a scientist or an engineer derives his data, most of it is ignored, and colorful Power Point presentations are created, often without any substantiation at all. If ever questioned, other Power Point presentations are shown as the basis, and no one ever goes back to the original data. It just takes too much effort and is politically suicidal to dig in too deep.