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Just for thought: The tyranny of the idea in science

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Jeff Leek, at the Bloomberg School of Public Health (Johns Hopkins U), writes the Simply Statistics blog, at which he noted today the tyranny of the idea in science.

In business, he says, startup ideas are a dime a dozen and only winners are rewarded. In science, startup ideas are rewarded, and the people who made them matter are forgotten. He gives, as an example,

Higgs Boson – Peter Higgs postulated the Boson in 1964, he won the Nobel Prize in 2013 for that prediction, in between tons of people did follow on work, someone convinced Europe to build one of the most expensive pieces of scientific equipment ever built and conservatively thousands of scientists and engineers had to do a ton of work to get the equipment to (a) work and (b) confirm the prediction.

Who remembers those people? Whereas, win or lose, it’ll always be the Higgs boson.

File:A small cup of coffee.JPG Class, discuss: Is this fair?

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11 Replies to “Just for thought: The tyranny of the idea in science

  1. 1
    mahuna says:

    I’m sorry, but all my experience is dealing with The Government.

    If you got Famous, then it’s Fair. That’s the way the game is played.

    I was Almost Famous back in the mid-90s, but it didn’t work out. My only complaint remains that other people made piles of money, and I didn’t. I believe that’s the proper Republican view of things: there is no “right” or “wrong”. Just “did you make piles of money”?

  2. 2
    daveS says:

    Whereas, win or lose, it’ll always be the Higgs boson.

    Just an idea, but how about selling naming rights for these things, as in college football? For example, “The Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Boson”.

  3. 3
    Jim Smith says:

    There are much bigger problems with science than the tyranny of ideas: the way science is funded and scientists are compensated creates incentives for fraud, there is misuse of statistical methods, many retractions, problems with replicability, politicization, science is hide bound by naturalism, poor science journalism, etc.

  4. 4
    Querius says:

    Jim Smith noted in part

    the way science is funded and scientists are compensated creates incentives for fraud, there is misuse of statistical methods . . .

    Well said. Hey, I know! How about a new science called Kleptology! Jim, you and I as Kleptologists could go for funding for a study on the effect of global warming on Higgs Bosons, whales, and immigration.

    That could be worth a couple of million. 😉

    -Q

  5. 5
    Seversky says:

    Popper encouraged scientists to be bold in their conjectures. He knew that in science, just as in business, new ideas are immensely valuable because they are so rare. The number of solid but unoriginal workers vastly outnumber the few that come up with truly original insights.

    Leeks case, that we should recognize and reward the input of those whose efforts turned a novel idea into everyday reality, is a good one. Rosalind Franklin should be as well-known as Watson and Crick

    But I think it’s wrong to suggest there is any difference between science and industry in this respect. People who come up with half-baked ideas in science don’t get Nobel Prizes or funding for expensive facilities to investigate them. On the other hand in industry, Henry Ford and Steve Jobs are rightly celebrated for their original ideas and approaches. They also became far richer than any scientist ever has. Yet how many of the lesser mortals who made their ideas work do we actually remember? For all the cracks about scientists and their funding, the reality is that you can make far more money in industry or entertainment or sport than you can in the lab.

  6. 6
    Axel says:

    That doesn’t sound right to me, Seversky, because it was Rosalind Franklin who had the germ of the original idea, the path that would lead to the discovery. Such paths beckon the discoverer, as if they already knew the answer on an obscure level.

    Crick and Watson were the dogsbodies who exploited the hunch. Franklin would surely have spotted the external, helical configuration of the DNA, wouldn’t she?

    Anyway I’d rather credit Tim Berners Lee for his role in the history of computing than individuals such as Gates and Jobs.

  7. 7
    bornagain77 says:

    OT: Don’t try this at home!

    Study reveals,, hawkmoths’ sonar jamming defense – May 05, 2015
    Excerpt:, some moth species rub their genitals to jam the calls of bats. Radar jamming is commonly used in human warfare, allowing pilots to render themselves invisible.,,,
    “Before now people thought ultrasound usage in insects was very restricted to certain groups, but it looks much more complex than that,” Kawahara said.
    Kawahara and collaborators scoured jungles and forests from Borneo to the Amazon observing hawkmoths. They collected specimens at 70 sites in 32 countries and conducted field-based echolocation experiments and lab experiments using more than 700 moths. After testing the response of 124 species of hawkmoths, researchers found nearly half generated ultrasonic sounds with their genitalia.,,,
    his research group to pit big brown bats against hawkmoths in field and lab experiments that tested the function of hawkmoth antibat ultrasound. In one experiment, study researchers played pre-recorded bat attack calls to study how moths responded.
    The study shows in these experiments, moths’ acoustic defense was immediately and consistently effective, while bats that failed to capture sound-producing hawkmoths often performed catching behavior without subduing prey.,,,
    “This is just the beginning – we are trying to chip away at what goes on with nocturnal insect biodiversity,” Kawahara said.
    http://phys.org/news/2015-05-r.....sonar.html

    Bat Evolution? – No Transitional Fossils!
    https://vimeo.com/127366147
    Australonycteris clarkae
    Excerpt: Australonycteris clarkae, from the Eocene of Queensland, is the oldest bat from the Southern Hemisphere and one of the oldest in the world. It is similar to other archaic Eocene bats from the Northern Hemisphere, and could probably navigate using echolocation, like most bats do today. (of note: some “modern” bats do not use echolocation today):
    http://australianmuseum.net.au.....is-clarkae

    Common Design in Bat and Whale Echolocation Genes? – January 2011
    Excerpt: two new studies in the January 26th issue of Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, show that bats’ and whales’ remarkable ability and the high-frequency hearing it depends on are shared at a much deeper level than anyone would have anticipated — all the way down to the molecular level.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....42291.html

  8. 8
    Popperian says:

    What I want from ideas are their content, not their providence.

    This is not to say that people should not be rewarded and recognized for their contribution, but it’s really about the content of ideas that plays a causal role in their being retained, not their providence. For example Apple University passes on the ideas and values that Jobs helped develop to future generations at Apple. Those aspects that move Apple forward will be retained, while other aspects will not.

    In addition, many scientists better understand Einstein’s theory of general relatively and Darwin’s theory of evolution better than they ever did.

  9. 9
    bornagain77 says:

    “many scientists better understand Einstein’s theory of general relatively and Darwin’s theory of evolution better than they ever did.”

    I can understand why General Relativity is important to understand since it is true, but why should someone feel compelled to understand all the ins and outs of a false theory (Darwinism)? A false theory that makes alchemy look rational!

  10. 10
    Querius says:

    Popperian,

    What I want from ideas are their content, not their providence.

    You meant “provenance” and it’s a noble attitude. From what I’ve seen and heard, the reverse is usually true in academia, science, and industry. The person who invents, discovers, or proposes something new is rarely ever recognized as the originator!

    You remind me of something I once heard regarding a question posed to a person who was promoted to president of a corporation . . .

    “What was the biggest change you noticed when you became president?”

    “We’ll, for one thing, my jokes suddenly got funnier.”

    -Q

  11. 11
    Querius says:

    Seversky,

    Popper encouraged scientists to be bold in their conjectures. He knew that in science, just as in business, new ideas are immensely valuable because they are so rare.

    In business, new ideas are indeed given lip-service but rarely recognized or encouraged. The way to get attention from management, is to quit, start your own company, and put your previous employer out of business. They will then blame their failure on the economy.

    The number of solid but unoriginal workers vastly outnumber the few that come up with truly original insights.

    In business, hard workers are valued above all others, as they should be. Truly original insights confuse most managers and executives precisely because such ideas are typically disruptive.

    Rosalind Franklin should be as well-known as Watson and Crick

    As should many unsung heroes.

    But I think it’s wrong to suggest there is any difference between science and industry in this respect. People who come up with half-baked ideas in science don’t get Nobel Prizes or funding for expensive facilities to investigate them.

    I’m not so sure about this.

    “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
    ? Max Planck

    On the other hand in industry, Henry Ford and Steve Jobs are rightly celebrated for their original ideas and approaches. They also became far richer than any scientist ever has. Yet how many of the lesser mortals who made their ideas work do we actually remember?

    How many people with original ideas who worked for the celebrated leaders of industry became rich? Some, but not many.

    For all the cracks about scientists and their funding, the reality is that you can make far more money in industry or entertainment or sport than you can in the lab.

    In every human endeavor, religion included, there are truly inspired people who usually die broke and there are manipulators, jealous denigrators, empire builders, complete charlatans, and everything in between.

    One wants to avoid getting entangled by certain types of people and partner productively with others.

    Have you ever looked up how much money Vincent van Gogh earned from selling his paintings?

    -Q

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