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Stanford molecular biologist offers us the scoop on wasted science research funds

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Here, from Henry I. Miller:

These studies include: how to ride a bike; when dogs became man’s best friend; whether political views are genetically predetermined; and why the same teams always seem to dominate the NCAA basketball tournament. More recent studies funded by the NSF include “how power affects empathy” and an assessment of “the role of optimism and pessimism in shaping the political beliefs and behavior of Americans.”

Most of these ill-advised projects are funded by the science foundation’s Social, Behavioral and Economics Directorate. The social sciences grants were evaluated with more rigor when they were organizationally within the NSF’s Biology Directorate. When these grants were split off, scientific rigor gave way to cronyism and narcissistic self-regard.

It sounds like evolutionary psychology getting itself classed as a science has, um, not been good for science.

Didn’t people used to kick this stuff around in their spare time, and do real work in science labs?

Miller also notes,

Public funding for scientific investigations should largely be limited to basic research or proof-of-principle experimentswhich can be justified on the grounds that they are public goods. Federal research also should follow recognized experimental methodologies and focus on nontrivial questions or problems. Unfortunately, these seemingly obvious criteria are often sacrificed on the altar of scientific fads and political correctness.

What Miller may not be seeing here (if he is a real scientist, it’s understandable he might miss this) is that if science is our only real source of knowledge (as neuroscientist Sam Harris, for example, would claim), why then, everything we think we know is science.

It is a savage irony of materialism in science that one iron law must now be: Every ladle of motivated mush gets the same priority as “basic research” using “recognized methodologies.”

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