Tuesday, April 18, 2017

March for Science

Science funding is very akin to entrepreneurial financing. Really. It is competitive. It is driven by past results. It is assessed by impact. It has a political element. It depends on who you know. It often does not reflect the true value of what is being proposed. Remember that more than 90% of VC investments go nowhere. Oftentimes the same is true with scientific research. The latter is all too often a means to educate doctoral students. Post docs are a means to get lower cost lab help. It used to be a University had Lab techs, possibly with an MS but an employee. Now we have post docs, lower costs, no benefits, and you can fire them at will.

In reality then science funding is the same game, and the measure of success can be even more vague. There are no IPOs in science. Thus winners are far and few between. It is the process that often counts. There is no financial rate of return on pure science. A nexus with some start up may count but little study of this is done since science is done for science, not money, at least that is the mantra.

Now along comes this March for Science. Nature has been one of the promoters as has Science. Nature is the left wing Brits and Science is headed by a former Democratic Congressman with an agenda. In the Nature piece they give voice to some well chosen "science" representatives. They state:

Calls from US President Donald Trump to roll back environmental regulations and slash funding for health, environmental and research agencies have raised alarm in the scientific community. Earlier this year, a commenter on the social-media website Reddit made an off-hand remark about the need for scientists to march on Washington DC. That thread has since grown into an international movement. The March for Science now includes more than 500 events — including marches, rallies and teach-ins — planned for locations around the world.

What will this "March" result in? Some of the commenters noted  it was being co-opted by the Left with Identity Politics being front and center. That can be a serious step backwards. Already any college website appears as an Identity Politics ad and as such has an impact on students and studies. Take foreign students. Many doctoral students are foreign students. Yes they may be very good but on the other-hand we the taxpayers are funding their studies. Is that fair? Should we not be incentivizing our US students first and then selecting the best. We are funding students in such areas as nuclear science and engineering from countries that vow to destroy us. Does that make sense? Did Admiral Yamamoto study Naval Architecture at MIT?

So take the comment by an Irish lecturer:

"I am going so I can stand up for evidence-based policies and the scientific method. I also support robust funding of science and transparent reporting of scientific results. The current wave of ‘anti-science’ rhetoric goes against everything that I am trying to do as a scientist and an educator. I keep telling my students that I’m going because science is worth protecting: for them, and for all of us.”

 Now just what does US research funding have to do with this person? There is no anti science rhetoric in Ireland as best as I can tell, I am an Irish citizen so I do have some first hand knowledge. So are we going to see a bunch of white coats and pink hats waving placards?

Science is often done for the sake of science. But science funding is done on that basis of a complex set of allocation schema; public and private. It is worthwhile every once and a while to reassess that scheme.