26 Mar 2014

Money and politics now dictate science research.

If you can't guarantee short term payback your not funded.

"Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts," said Richard Feynmanin the 1960s. But times change. Before about 1970, academics had access to modest funding they could use freely. Industry was similarly enlightened. Their results included the transistor, the maser-laser, the electronics and telecommunications revolutions, nuclear power, biotechnology and medical diagnostics galore that enriched the lives of virtually everyone; they also boosted 20th-century economic growth.
After 1970, politicians substantially expanded academic sectors. Peer review's uses allowed the rise of priorities, impact etc, and is now virtually unavoidable.

Applicants' proposals must convince their peers that they serve national policies and are the best possible uses of resources.

Success rates are about 25%, and strict rules govern resubmissions. Rejected proposals are usually lost. Industry too has lost its taste for the unpredictable.

The 500 major discoveries, almost all initiated before about 1970, challenged mainstream science and would probably be vetoed today.

Nowadays, fields where understanding is poor are usually neglected because researchers must convince experts that working in them will be beneficial, in other words profitable.

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