On Funding Science

Funding science is not a job that government can do, due to diseconomies of scale, and because government is inherently a religious organization.  It winds up funding pseudo science, thus damaging real science.  The patron has to know and appreciate that field that he is patronizing, and has to personally gain status from the success of his clients.  Otherwise he has the wrong incentives and the wrong knowledge, so patronizes the wrong things, resulting in pseudo science substituting for science.

What government could do is spend money on stuff that needs science, such as killing people and breaking things, or exploring distant planets, and some of that money will unavoidably wind up spent on real science, because those best able to provide better ways of killing people and breaking things do know the difference between real science and pseudo science, unlike petty bureaucrats.

Galilean kinematics were developed on a grant for finding rules to fire cannon balls at targets hidden behind city walls, and the telescope that enabled Galileo to see the phases of Venus, proving that the Copernican model was approximately correct, and the Ptolemaic model flatly wrong, was developed to spy enemy fleets at sea.

If some engineers get wealthy, they can patronize real science.  The guy with a masters in administration cannot.  Maybe he can patronize the arts.

36 Responses to “On Funding Science”

  1. […] nazvati Ateisti?kom teokracijom. Znanstvene institucije, zajedno sa sveu?ilištima, postale su efektivno samostani nove religije. Tradicionalno, institucije koje su imale funkciju da ljudima govore što da misle, poput Crkve, […]

  2. […] Venerable Jim on funding science. […]

  3. VXXC says:

    “How Theocracies Perish.”

  4. […] (Don’t miss Jim on the same topic, here.) […]

  5. Red says:

    “he brain project, by simply heaping a gigaton of public money into experimental computer development, could have any number of positive spin-offs unrelated (directly) to its public rationale.”

    They won’t find anything useful. The brain primarily works off heuristics and heuristics are effectively illegal in most fields( heuristics are basically codified stereo types). For example we’ve had a working diagnostic AI that was better than 90% of doctors at diagnosing patents coming into ER rooms since around 2003. It’s not being used in any hospital.

    • spandrell says:

      I always wondered why they didn’t open-source that stuff.

      • My belief: because of this “patent infection” that seems to permeate US society; they would rather keep it to themselves (and useless) than “risk” someone else making a profit from it.

        • Alrenous says:

          The reason doctors won’t use expert systems is because they find it insulting, in turn because they have petty, delicate egos. A threat, also. If it were worse, they would use it. Because it is better, it is a soulless machine that can do a substantial portion of their job better than they can.

          But of course it would be better, because it never takes shortcuts or makes mistakes or gets tired, and the programmers consult the very best doctors to calibrate it. It also never changes its biases to try to hide them.

          See also: Moravec’s paradox.

          • red says:

            You’re assuming that doctors are in control of hospitals. From what I can tell administrators are in charge. The excuse is doctors don’t like them(which is true), but the real reason is the truth of the heuristic. If you can diagnose people better with a computer than with a doctor then you could accurately predict whole’s a criminal, who’s got aids, and a whole host of things that will make protected groups look bad. So instead of going down that route and creating very cheap health care with the help of computers it’s ignored and shunned.

            If it wasn’t for the cathedral 90% of healthcare would be done at home with smart AI diagnosing over the web, people buying the drugs they need at amazon, and mobile doctors for the more serous cases. And it would costs almost nothing.

  6. Nick Land says:

    Brilliant and highly persuasive.
    Most difficult cases: Particles accelerators. Human Genome Project. Then this big brain program, which could end up doing using stuff …

    • jim says:

      Human Genome project was done by private enterprise. The state subsequently twisted their arm to share some of the credit.

      Particle accellerators have, predictably, hit a dead end. They just keep adding additional epicycles to curve fitting some rather featureless curves.

      If we get further with fundamental particle physics, it will be by looking at muonic atoms, and comparing muon and electron scattering from protons, which can be done at energies accessible to private enterprise.

      But really, to get further with particle physics, we need theoretical advances – at high energies we cannot truly calculate what the curves should be from our model, so we are never truly comparing the model with observation. With muonic scattering, we arguably can predict observations from our model, so should get on with the observations – which we have not been doing. The big accelerators were therefore largely makework and pseudoscience.

      Big brain program: First upload an elegans worm. Big brains, like high energy accelerators, are premature when we cannot upload elegans.

      • Nick Land says:

        If government big science is limited to activities that can be considered large-scale infrastructure projects — with product delivery sub-contracted to private businesses — can we draw a clear line between, say, an orbital fuel depot system, and a particle accelerator? To even go down this road of speculation is, of course, to restrict ourselves to a zone of questionable Hamiltonian nationalism, but if government is going to do anything, this type of undertaking seems the least destructive. (I’m not even clear why military spending is different in principle.)

        The brain project, by simply heaping a gigaton of public money into experimental computer development, could have any number of positive spin-offs unrelated (directly) to its public rationale. Given impending sovereign default, it makes sense to pump resources fairly indiscriminately in this kind of direction — the alternative is to waste it on redistribution policies, or on spinning the collapse schedule out a little longer. If the whole mess is going down anyway, we might at least get some IT hardware innovations and new algorithms out of it.

        • jim says:

          (I’m not even clear why military spending is different in principle.)

          Military spending is apt to be put to the test. Bullshit gets exposed.

          The brain project, by simply heaping a gigaton of public money into experimental computer development, could have any number of positive spin-offs unrelated (directly) to its public rationale.

          The most limited resource is the attention of smart people. Government funded science generates gigatons of bafflegab. The brain project is grossly premature. First upload Caenorhabditis elegans. When we understand its simple nervous system, we will then be better position to understand the brains of slightly more complex creatures.

          This government project, like all government projects, will officially succeed. It will therefore produce no end of “knowledge” about the brain, which knowledge will at best be lies, for we are not yet at a point were such knowledge can possibly be discovered. Generations of scientists yet unborn will be required to learn and memorize these lies before they are allowed to do science. Any new observations will have to be reconciled with our existing “knowledge” about the brain, which means that they will have to be denied, explained away, or rationalized away. Thus this gigantic pile of lies will stand as a gigantic incredibly complicated permanent blindfold preventing us from seeing how the brains of simple creatures work.

          Similarly, high energy proton proton collisions were premature, when we could not do the math to compare our model with the observed consequences of low energy proton proton collisions. We wound up going further and further down the dead end path of curve fitting, which journey has now reached its end. The curves fit – unsurprisingly, whereupon we realized we had learned nothing interesting or important.

          We have a model that correctly predicts the outcome of high energy electron electron collisions, and a much more complicated and messy model that correctly predicts the outcome of electron proton collisions. We just don’t know if that model is compatible with the results of high energy proton proton collisions, because we cannot predict the result of high energy proton proton collisions from our model, and have quite recently discovered that it is not compatible with the outcome of muon proton collisions, so is probably wrong.

          • “Any new observations will have to be reconciled with our existing “knowledge” about the brain, which means that they will have to be denied, explained away, or rationalized away. Thus this gigantic pile of lies will stand as a gigantic incredibly complicated permanent blindfold preventing us from seeing how the brains of simple creatures work.”

            Which is why I’m surprised that you accept the dismissal of the EU theory based on “a scientist says it’s wrong”. 🙂 Or do you think the status-quo is much better on astronomy?

          • heaviside says:

            >This government project, like all government projects, will officially succeed.

            “The most secure project is the unsuccessful one, because it lasts the longest. Most layoffs occur at the completion of a project, so that only a fool or a brave man completes one if he is not already embarked on its successor. A wise worker will delay completion of a project and look around for another job during the last month or two.”

  7. Contaminated NEET says:

    The bureaucrats can’t even patronize the arts properly. Just look at the utter garbage they fund now.

  8. spandrell says:

    Great stuff. You’re the most insightful guy out there as long as you don’t talk about Jesus.

    • jim says:

      Jesus, or Paul’s version of Jesus, founded institutions that lasted quite a while and were effective for a very long time. The most successful government of all time was a theocracy founded on his and Paul’s directives, (though they quietly ignored that leftist stuff about turning the other cheek and dying by the sword)

      • Baduin says:

        Gospel is quite difficult reading, and in addition its popular reception is very heavily distorted by centuries of propaganda.

        For example, it is very important to distinguish between Commandments and Evangelical Counsels – the first are binding, the second are helpful suggestions, which should be used accordingly to the situation. They are councels of perfection – using them is helpful in achieving sanctity, but not necessary.


        “Christ in the Gospels laid down certain rules of life and conduct which must be practiced by every one of His followers as the necessary condition for attaining to everlasting life. These precepts of the Gospel practically consist of the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, of the Old Law, interpreted in the sense of the New. Besides these precepts which must be observed by all under pain of eternal damnation, He also taught certain principles which He expressly stated were not to be considered as binding upon all, or as necessary conditions without which heaven could not be attained, but rather as counsels for those who desired to do more than the minimum and to aim at Christian perfection, so far as that can be obtained here upon earth. Thus (Matthew 19:16 sq.) when the young man asked Him what he should do to obtain eternal life, Christ bade him to “keep the commandments”. That was all that was necessary in the strict sense of the word, and by thus keeping the commands which God had given eternal life could be obtained. But when the young man pressed further, Christ told him: “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor”. So again, in the same chapter, He speaks of “eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven”, and added, “He that can receive it, let him receive it”.

        This distinction between the precepts of the Gospel, which are binding on all, and the counsels, which are the subject of the vocation of the comparatively few, has ever been maintained by the Catholic Church. It has been denied by heretics in all ages, and especially by many Protestants in the sixteenth and following centuries, on the ground that, inasmuch as all Christians are at all times bound, if they would keep God’s Commandments, to do their utmost, and even so will fall short of perfect obedience, no distinction between precepts and counsels can rightly be made. (…)

        To sum up: it is possible to be rich, and married, and held in honour by all men, and yet keep the Commandments and to enter heaven. Christ’s advice is, if we would make sure of everlasting life and desire to conform ourselves perfectly to the Divine will, that we should sell our possessions and give the proceeds to others who are in need, that we should live a life of chastity for the Gospel’s sake, and, finally, should not seek honours or commands, but place ourselves under obedience. These are the Evangelical Counsels, and the things which are counselled are not set forward so much as good in themselves, as in the light of means to an end and as the surest and quickest way of obtaining everlasting life.”

        Of course, the Sermon on the Mount does not consist of Commandments, but of Counsels. And they are actually very useful, including the one about turning the other check – provided that you do not try to use it with primitive men who understand only strength. Shortly later, there is the following counsel:

        Matthew 7:6 “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.”

        • jim says:

          If I understand you correctly, you are explaining that it is theologically sound to treat that stuff about turning the other cheek as hyperbole, and substitute Just War Theory as a practical guide for the actions of the religiously correct state.

          • spandrell says:

            “Theologically sound” is little more than a fad. It changes like fashion.

            • jim says:

              Not so.

              If that was true, why is every Christian religion and every group of Christians obviously distinct from every Koranic religion and every group of Muslims.

          • spandrell says:

            Well memes derive through small mutations, you can only get from here to there so fast.

            There are quite a few progressive muslims, so Islam and Christianity have converged in a sense.

            And yes I know those aren’t true scotsmen, but they consider themselves to be so, and that’s meaningful by itself.

            • jim says:

              They don’t consider themselves true scotsmen for very long. The tension between progressive beliefs and Christian beliefs first leads them to argue that the gospels were written late, thus not a guide to the true Jesus or the true words of Jesus, so they can ignore the Gospels, and then they demote Jesus to community organizer, furtively going unintarian, then they go openly unitarian, then militant atheist.

          • spandrell says:

            For every consistent progressive who has gone atheist there are 10 self-declared Christians who go to Church every Sunday but behave exactly like their atheist cousin.

            • jim says:

              In places like San Franscisco, you can find Churches turned into museums, and places where churches used to be long ago that have been turned into lesbian bookstores and such like. Those are yesterday’s left wing Churches. Today’s left wing Churches are yesterday’s right wing churches. It is a stage they go through during the process of digestion.

          • spandrell says:

            Well as long as right wing churchgoers have more babies the process can go on indefinitely.

  9. Dr. Faust says:

    What’s your belief about the electric universe theory?

Leave a Reply