Philip Pilkington: What Happened to Science and Research Funding?

By Philip Pilkington, a writer and research assistant at Kingston University in London. You can follow him on Twitter @pilkingtonphil. Cross posted from Fixing the Economists

I’ll never forget the reaction of a scientist I once met, a chemist who had transitioned into corporate management, when I told her that I was an economist. “Oh,” she said, “so you’d know something about corporations and how they structure scientific research then, right?” I was somewhat surprised at the question as it’s one that I’ve literally never been asked before. I said that I knew a little bit about it and asked her why she was so curious.

“Well,” she said, “one of the reasons I went from being a researcher to being a corporate manager was because I wanted to know what on earth was going on with scientific research in these places.” I asked her if she had any success. She replied in the negative, she just couldn’t get her head around it, but she said to me that her impression was that Western countries were having serious problems while China seemed to be developing in a positive direction at a rapid pace.

As I spoke to her about it the problems became obvious; and they were exactly what I expected them to be. China had massive amounts of state-intervention in the way they allowed corporations to pursue R & D, while Western countries had a far more laissez-fairre attitude. In China knowledge was seen as a public good and the government took the attitude that corporations had a certain amount of responsibility in producing knowledge for the public at large; if you were a corporation and wanted to benefit from what China had to offer you had to make a contribution to society at large. In the West however, where the ideology of the market reigned, the corporations called the shots.

In what follows I will lay out a brief periodisation of the regimes of science that dominated in the US over the course of the 20th century. In doing so I draw on the third chapter of Philip Mirowski’s excellent book Science-Mart. Finally, I will consider what role economists play in our current regime and try to answer the question as to why my chemist friend was so befuddled.

Regime I (1890-1939)

The first regime of science dominated between around 1890 and the beginning of the Second World War (1939). Mirowski calls it, using a phrase borrowed from Thorstein Veblen, the ‘Captains of Erudition’ regime. The backdrop of this regime was the emergence of the great corporate merger movement that came at the end of the Long Depression and the deflation that came after it (1873-1896). During this period of deflation firms tended to gobble each other up, presumably as the excesses of the prior boom, which was based mainly on railroad speculation, unwound.

As the corporations formed into ever more concentrated units their legal status began to become more solidified in the laws of the time with access to patents being an extremely important prerequisite for this regime of science. This, combined with their increased size and access to financial capital, led to the proliferation of in-house R & D labs. But these labs were less interested in producing novel gadgetry. Rather they were geared toward market control.

In the wake of the deflation US lawmakers knew well the dangers of cartels and trusts as it was these that had led to the “robber baron” boom era that precipitated the depression. Thus even though this was the time in which the US corporation began its first steps to maturity it was also a time of strongly enforced anti-trust laws. The corporations turned instead to patents in particular and intellectual property rights in general to try to control their market share and ensure that competition was adequately suppressed.

The academy, on the other hand, was not so concerned with the new in-house R & D departments. This was the era when American universities favoured mainly a liberal arts education regime. Although in the later period of this era corporate funding would begin to leak into the university it was more or less a philanthropic exercise and was not so interested in gaining control over what went on in universities per se.

Regime II (1939-1980)

The second regime of science arose during and after the Second World War. Mirowski refers to it as the ‘Cold War’ regime. During the war it was quickly recognised that science could play a significant role in giving the US a tactical advantage over its military enemies — the Manhattan Project and the production of the atomic bomb being the most obvious manifestation of this. Thus the military became the main agent funding R & D in the sciences.

This was not exactly a state-controlled regime of science, at least not in the centralised manner that emerged in the Soviet Union. Rather it was decentalised in that purpose-built corporate research institutions came into being that were plugged directly in Federal government funding and worked closely with the military — think, in this regard, of the infamous RAND Corporation or Bell Laboratories. Some universities, most notably MIT, also became closely tied up with the military in these years.

In this period military funding became a sort of de facto industrial policy in the US and intellectual property rights were weakened so that technology could flow more freely through the economic system. This latter point may seem surprising but it actually made a good deal of sense at the time. Only a small amount of research carried out created material that was required to be classified and the military strategists wanted to ensure that they did not come to rely on a single contractor because in the case of nuclear war this could prove massively problematic for the mobilisation of the US war machine.

In addition to this research was less commercialised. The military in its contracts were more inclined to leave the scientists to their own devices and this encouraged them to follow paths of research with no immediate purpose but which might pay off in a big way down the line in some unanticipated way. Again, the promotion of this by the military must be interpreted in the context that they thought it would eventually give them an edge over their enemies.

Notably also in this period, peer review was a somewhat secondary manner of controlling scientific output. The primary control mechanism was direct intervention by the military who effectively rubber-stamped projects or rejected them. This system gave rise, somewhat paradoxically, to a good deal of openness as scientists felt at ease proposing grandiose visions to their managers while universities felt no immediate pressure to put the squeeze on their professors and researchers.

Regime III (1980-Present)

The third regime seems to many to have come into being with the fall of the Berlin wall. In actual fact, however, it is less tied up with the end of the Cold War as it is with the new age of globalisation. For this reason Mirowski calls it the ‘Globalised Privatisation’ regime.

This regime is characterised by corporations outsourcing their R & D to external micro-labs and university departments. The funding that flows therefrom is then used to control what the researchers do. This is a carrot and stick approach. Where the military contractors dumped vast amounts of Federal money on research institutions with more long-term goals in mind, corporations are far more interested in immediate results. Thus research should be tightly controlled and monitored.

A key component of this regime is the weakening of anti-trust legislation and the enforcement of intellectual property rights. But according to Mirowski this is not the actual cause of the privatisation of the university and the commodification of knowledge; these are more so to be seen as catalysts speeding up the process. Rather the cause is to be found in the fact that corporations were given ample scope to offshore and outsource. This removed their previous ties to their domestic nation-state in a way that fundamentally undermined the existing structure of the university. Mirowski writes,

It is access to lower-wage labor in the context of an academic infrastructure, disengaged from any corporate obligations to provide ongoing structural support for local educational infrastructure, that explains the shift in research funding to countries like China, India, Brazil, and the Czech Republic. (p127)

The university then tries desperately to counteract this exodus by engaging in various cost-cutting exercises — which typically end up being simply an expansion of a redundant and intrusive management bureaucracy — and attempting to line up their research agendas with what corporations desire. It is thus that outsourcing and globalisation lead to the privatisation of the environment of the university; one that is so obvious to anyone working in or around these institutions today that it need barely even be mentioned as more than fundamental truth of everyday life.

The High Priests of the New Regime

The ideology used to justify this shift — provided, of course, by the economics profession — is one that we are all familiar with. What has supposedly been created is a sort of global ‘market for knowledge’. What some interpret as a rigid system of control stifling creativity and enforcing short-sightedness is glorified as being the most ‘efficient’ use of resources. Queue some dim marginalist argument by some brainwashed functionary wherein something called a ‘market’ distributes knowledge in some ‘Pareto optimal’ fashion.

Yes that’s right, the economists serve as the handmaidens of the new regime with their silly models and their nonsense being peddled to corporate managers in training who, once they leave the classroom and provided they do not completely lack critical faculties, become deeply confused about what on earth is going on.

“Why is China doing so well when their approaches seem so at odds with the diagrams they showed me in business school?” the curious corporate manager will ask themselves. But they will not receive an answer as the vast majority of people who are being paid to inform them as to what is going on are playing with stupid models completely detached from the real world.

Even those social scientists who try to extricate themselves from the regime find it difficult because universities and other institutions that provide funding try to push for more ‘scientific’ methodology in order to ensure (supposedly) that they are getting adequate bang for their buck. What this means in practice is usually rather straightforward: more maths, less critical reasoning. And what this leads to is a whole host of unreadable garbage studies with no real relevance but whose so-called ‘results’ can be dropped on the media outlets to give punters some immediate gratification. (“Did you know that sex is 78.6% better for people who recycle fruit skins and manage their budgets in an optimal manner?”… and so forth).

Welcome to the new Dark Age folks, where researchers’ scopes are narrowed to an altogether dangerous degree while those who acts as priests of the system busy themselves with constructions that can only be compared to the more unwieldy of the theological systems put together by the Scholastics in the Middle Ages. Welcome to the regime of globalised privatisation.

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  1. skippy

    Philip you mean like this see:

    Thousands of federal public servants face a bleak Christmas after government department chiefs were shown how to make 12,000 job cuts.

    Treasurer Joe Hockey is unable to say exactly which departments would be hit, but the details will be revealed in the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook to be released in December.

    The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) on Friday released guidance for agencies in helping the government meet its target of 12,000 jobs cut by natural attrition.

    Mr Hockey told a business forum in Sydney on Friday the government was going through each department ‘balance sheet by balance sheet’ to find savings.

    ‘Strong economic growth in partnership with more prudent and focused public sector spending will be the key to improving our standard of living,’ Mr Hockey said.

    ‘It is our best chance of returning the budget to surplus and paying down our record debt.’

    The APSC guidelines say agency heads will ensure that ‘existing non-ongoing employment arrangements cease at the end of their current term, and refrain from entering new arrangements’.

    A contract should only be extended if it is a job which involves a ‘critical business demand’.

    As of June 2012, there were 14,273 non-ongoing employees in the public service.

    Most were women and the biggest users of the positions were the Australian Taxation Office, Department of Human Services and the Australian Electoral Commission.

    The majority of these workers are APS 1 and 2 – the lowest pay position for a public servant – and one in five are aged under 25.

    The commission says that, before any worker is recruited to the public service for any position, agencies should ‘undertake careful and objective analysis of the role and whether it actually needs to be filled’.

    One of the agencies to be hit is the CSIRO, where an estimated 1400 people are on casual or term arrangements.

    Acting opposition leader Tanya Plibersek says Prime Minister Tony Abbott had pledged before the election not to touch health and medical research.

    ‘The top quality international research that they (CSIRO) produce is threatened,’ she said.

    ‘This is a contrast to what the prime minister said before the election.’

    Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos says the number of jobs to go at CSIRO is ‘a bit fluid’ but he has been advised the figure is ‘about 500 or 600 non-ongoing positions’.

    ‘The CSIRO … will ensure it is not compromising its core responsibilities and flagship programs,’ he said.

    CSIRO Staff Association secretary Sam Popovski says the agency had already lost 200 positions earlier this year.

    ‘Our smartphones are powered by wifi technology pioneered by CSIRO,’ he said.

    ‘How can CSIRO develop the next generation of Australian innovation if their capacity to conduct research and development continues to be cut?’

    Meanwhile, Mr Abbott announced the abolition of 12 non-statutory bodies and changes to nine others.

    He said many had outlived their original purpose or weren’t focused on the government’s policy priorities.

    ‘We certainly won’t be stopping here,’ Mr Abbott said.

    ‘What you see is a government that is taking significant early steps towards … reducing the size of the bureaucracy.’

    Skippy… meanwhile the big plan is to privatize everything, securitze student debt, frack the rest of it.

    1. Glenn Condell

      At the same time as they are gutting the CSIRO they are repealing the mining super profits tax and the carbon tax, deciding to snub the rest of the world at the UN climate talks, and, from the Age:

      ‘Australia’s 16,000 wealthiest retirees get a $313 million bonus with the scrapping of a planned tax on the portion of superannuation earnings above $100,000 a year. But 3.6 million people earning less than $37,000 a year will lose a refund on the 15 per cent tax on their super contributions because it is linked to the mining tax, which the government intends to repeal along with carbon pricing.

      The well-off benefit again from the government declining to tighten fringe benefits taxes on cars to reduce common lurks, at a cost to the budget of $1.8 billion over four years. Also forgone is a $1.5 billion measure to tackle multinationals’ profit shifting to avoid Australian tax.’


  2. JGordon

    From the post:

    “But they will not receive an answer as the vast majority of people who are being paid to inform them as to what is going on are playing with stupid models completely detached from the real world.”

    Oh how insightful. And here I was thinking that all economists lacked the self-reflection to realize that everything they’re saying is gobbledygook. Economics is something that the world would be far better off without–right along with corporations, fiat currencies and interest.

    1. WI QuarterBack

      Comedy can explain economics best. Check out “Stand up economist principles of economics explained” on YouTube

  3. DakotabornKansan

    In his farewell address to the nation in 1961, Dwight Eisenhower famously cautioned “against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

    In that same address, Eisenhower offered a less heralded warning about the corruption of science:

    “Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

    The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

    Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.”

    Philip Handler, former president of the National Academy of Sciences, once said that “Scientists best serve public policy by living within the ethics of science, not those of politics. If the scientific community will not unfrock the charlatans, the public will not discern the difference—science and the nation will suffer.”

    Michael Crichton offered this solution to the corrupting influence of government money:

    “Sooner or later, we must form an independent research institute in this country. It must be funded by industry, by government, and by private philanthropy, both individuals and trusts. The money must be pooled, so that investigators do not know who is paying them. The institute must fund more than one team to do research in a particular area, and the verification of results will be a foregone requirement: teams will know their results will be checked by other groups. In many cases, those who decide how to gather the data will not gather it, and those who gather the data will not analyze it.”

    Crichton on the value of scientific honesty and rigor:

    1. TimR

      Geez, if that’s what it takes to bypass our species’ corruptibility, why bother… What is a group of cretins like that going to do with the results of this great Science, if the only way they can get them is to set up a Rube Goldberg structure to hamstring their presumed natural inclination to cheat and lie and seek instant gratification? Maybe we should work on our spiritual and moral values first, then get busy on R&D if there’s any time left after that, some 20 or 30 millennia hence.

  4. Banger

    I’m not sure I agree with the characterization of science here. Yes, in order to give grad students something to do universities fund silly studies but these are mainly to train them to use the scientific method, as it has developed, to study anything. We have the cadre of people trained in the method but we lack the projects that are adequate for these young scientists to pursue other than develop products in fairly narrow areas due to the vagaries of capitalism in this country.

    The real tragedy is that we have a wealth of competent scientists whose studies and creativity are severely limited by the system both in the corporate and university sector. We are fortunate that basic research has been done in many areas and we have the technology to totally transform the world and, yet, at this very moment when we have everything we need and we are poised at the edge of being able to create and share the wealth of human civilization with massive numbers of people we stop, afraid of the future. We’d rather face catastrophe than make the next step in human civilization. As many conservative social critics noted decades ago we are facing a “failure of nerve” in the West that is paralyzing us because of our fear of change and respect for the authorities who want to stop human progress in every way possible.

    1. TimR

      There’s a speech by David Graeber somewhere online where he speculates there has been an intentional grinding to a halt of real technological progress, out of a fear of social change. He talks about how fast things were moving in the mid 20th century, and that the sci-fi predictions (now laughed at — “Where’s my hover-pack?”) were not really so far-fetched, but possibly squelched by design. (Not endorsing this, just saying.)

      1. Banger

        I believe he is totally correct–Graeber, for all his faults, has a first-rate mind and is one of the few people that has a holistic grasp of our situation though I quibble with him in several areas.

        I think it is time to take up the view of Graeber and many others who dare to think outside the traditional left/right box or we won’t be able to do much on the left. There seems to be little future to social democracy, something I personally have trouble letting go of, because I don’t want people to suffer and they will suffer and are suffering all over the developed world as it is being systematically dismantled a little at a time. We need to understand that we are at the mercy of very malevolent forces and that we also have, at hand, very benevolent forces–we need to be careful where we put our allegiance. I think most of us who comment here understand that the Democratic Party and the traditional “progressive” movement is no longer an option.

        1. James Levy

          As an historian and science geek, I’ve noticed that the impact of changing technology is not as great as it once was. The difference between before the steam engine and after, before the railroad and after, before the internal combustion engine and after, before the transistor and after, before antibiotics and after, are much more obvious and profound than the changes which have taken place since around 1970. Computers have speeded things up and made certain things more convenient but I don’t see how they have improved things in a comparable way.

          I was in my wife’s high school one afternoon and I overheard two janitors speaking. One said to the other, “you notice how they haven’t cured anything since polio?” And I thought to myself, “holy shit, what a brilliant insight!” Perhaps cures for some diseases have been found since, but I had a hard time coming up with breakthroughs in the last 60 years comparable to the rabies vaccine, penicillin, insulin, Ehrlich’s magic bullet, and antiseptics. Either those people back then were incredibly lucky and just happened to pick easy things to do (when you consider Pasteur never saw a rabies virus yet found a way to prevent the disease I highly doubt that), they were a lot smarter than us, or there is something radically wrong with the way we go about medical research.

          1. They didn't leave me a choice

            Isn’t it a matter of incentives: there is very little to gain from a /cure/ for something, if you have a /treatment/, you can keep a patient around for a long perioid of time, always requiring more drugs, just to keep themselves alive. Curing a disease or a syndrome is the same as forgoing profit that could be extracted. Tollboothing our lives, that’s what it’s about, from womb to tomb.

          2. TimR

            About a year ago I came across the blog of a British scientist who gave a fascinating brief history of science and its devolution (in his opinion) since the golden age of the early 20th century. Unfortunately I’ve changed computers since then and lost any bookmarks or files on it, and I have a terrible memory sometimes. I remember he also wrote about theological issues, and perhaps Tolkien, but I can’t remember his name or blog.

            He was very down on modern scientists, even his own previous career, and considered that they weren’t even practicing “science” in the ideal sense as it was formerly practiced.

          3. Timothy Gawne

            Actually they never cured polio – they developed a vaccine for it, which is a different thing.

            Indeed the pace of real medical progress is not what one would have liked, but the easy diseases got cured first and now we are working on the harder ones. And yes, there may well be problems with how we do medical research in this country. Still there have been radical improvements in some aspects of medicine since the polio vaccine that need to be considered, including:

            Hip replacements, which routinely give decades of freedom to millions of people who would otherwise remain cripples.

            Cataract surgeries and intraocular implants etc. In fact in the western world we have almost eliminated blindness: the new area of research is low vision and macular degeneration.

            We haven’t cured aids – but the survival rates with treatment have become so good that young people with aids are now expected to live almost as long as uninfected people.

            So yes, a lot to do yet, but not without some progress.

            1. Banger

              Medical science has been barking up the wrong tree in line with a paradigm that is way too old. No, the human body is not a mechanical device–all evidence points to quite a different paradigm but the money lies in “forcing” bodies, genes to do what the doctor ordered. There are hundreds of better cures than conventional cures but they all bring less power to the medical profession and are thus unscientifically ignored. Self/class-interest trumps truth every day of the week.

          4. craazyman

            science’s basic problem now is an ontological crisis.

            it refuses to acknowledge the reality of a wide variety of phenomenon, and in so doing, loses an opportunity to study these phenomenon in a systematic way.

            in the medical field, things like bioenergetic healing and qi gong healing are begging for scientific inquiry, but the money won’t go there since it would threaten the monopoly of “drug and cut” medicine.

            Physicists should have a field day with a whole range of phenomenon, but they won’t even mention them out of fear of ridicule and permanent loss of academic prestige.

            It’s really quite ridiculous. Only independent researchers can really push science forward and they don’t need a tube of metal 30 feet thick and 100 feet long with magnetic fields that looks at Higgs-Bosons. They just need a few hours of channeling and some ethnogeinic pharmaceuticals and they’re good to go. hahahaha. but nobody would believe them anyway until they saw it for themselves.

          5. anon y'mouse

            tainter–diminishing returns of complexity.

            all these things do not simplify, they complexify.

            techno gains, low hanging fruit, exponentially rising costs.

            Alice’s Red Queen strikes again!

          6. Newtownian

            “As an historian and science geek, I’ve noticed that the impact of changing technology is not as great as it once was. The difference between before the steam engine and after, before the railroad and after, before the internal combustion engine and after, before the transistor and after, before antibiotics and after, are much more obvious and profound than the changes which have taken place since around 1970. Computers have speeded things up and made certain things more convenient but I don’t see how they have improved things in a comparable way.

            I was in my wife’s high school one afternoon and I overheard two janitors speaking. One said to the other, “you notice how they haven’t cured anything since polio?” And I thought to myself, “holy shit, what a brilliant insight!” Perhaps cures for some diseases have been found since, but I had a hard time coming up with breakthroughs in the last 60 years comparable to the rabies vaccine, penicillin, insulin, Ehrlich’s magic bullet, and antiseptics. Either those people back then were incredibly lucky and just happened to pick easy things to do (when you consider Pasteur never saw a rabies virus yet found a way to prevent the disease I highly doubt that), they were a lot smarter than us, or there is something radically wrong with the way we go about medical research.”

            There are three possible ways to answer this and I’m not sure which is correct.

            1. The first is you are actually wrong here. Your perception may reflect your inability to access the increasingly vast science knowledge base. I mean no offense here as I am battling with this problem even though I am immersed and actually have some free time to explore new and old insights. I’ve been in and out of research and have been amazed returning to old stuff just how much is known but hard to access without access to the primary information (now less a problem with the modern remarkable search engines) and simply not having sufficient expertise to understand what specialists even in closely allied fields are saying.

            2. The second is you are correct but the problem is that science is slowing because of the organisation of grants more and more demands producing not novelty but utilitarian information to a schedule in the great business tradition of knowing the answer before you start and recycling in quest of citation numbers the same stuff. The really interesting science comes when you can escape this trap but few have this luxury.

            3. The final one is timelag – when the gene revolution started there was much hype that cancer would be cured in 10 years. It wasn’t but the insights and other developments now emerging are frightening, staggering and largely unknown even to educated outsiders. For example I recently went to a conference discussing the issue of risks from synthetic life. Even though I work in both risk and biology talk about a surprise Frankenstein – this stuff in its fully glory seldom sees the light of day. But as the information accumulates so does the likelihood of transformative developments.

            4. A final thing – there is only so much change we can absorb because we are time limited. I look at where we were Internet wise about 20 years ago – that potential was already understood in the 1960s but its taken a while for mechanisms and drivers to evolve to take up this potential and we were just settling down to all having a PC. I suspect the basics of artificial intelligence are out there but as yet we cant see the coalescence occurring.

    2. JustAnObserver

      There’s been a long running series of posts by Izabella Kaminska on this end-of-scarcity, age of (potential) global abundance idea. Have a look at:

      This first one “A Parable of Water” is at the end of the list & is both great fun and a great intro.

      O.k I know the FT is part of the poisonous global financial cabal and should be supp’ed with an extremely long spoon but it does have Martin Wolf (recent video ref’ed here on NC), Gillian Tett, and the FTA team … anyway even Martin Luther started off as a Catholic priest.

  5. TimR

    “And what this leads to is a whole host of unreadable garbage studies with no real relevance but whose so-called ‘results’ can be dropped on the media outlets to give punters some immediate gratification. (“Did you know that sex is 78.6% better for people who recycle fruit skins and manage their budgets in an optimal manner?”… and so forth).”

    But the punters’ only gratification from those studies is to laugh at the idiocy of whoever funded them and carried them out. You would think those studies would incite the “punters” to tear down the academy, if anything. But I guess the sense of individual helplessness, or complacency, or maybe the entertainment value of such factoids (if all else fails), ensures inaction…

  6. duffolonious

    Is there more publicly available information on how the Chinese R&D system functions?

    The way this article is written we just have to assume the Chinese are better … somehow. The one line about it towards the top of the article makes it plausible, but I’d like to know more.

  7. ambrit

    I do not know if it is fully relevant here but, where I work, the Human Resources director, (a phrase worthy of the Todt Organization,) recently started replacing previously full time positions with two part time workers. This may help someones ‘bottom line’ but it is already degrading the skill sets available to run the store. (The concrete example that caught my attention was when a woman I talk with said she had applied for an open position for “Head Cashier.” She is qualified, and wanted to step up from part time basic cashier to full time. The Head Cashier position is more demanding a task, and entails more responsibility. When told that the position was open, but at part time, with obviously less money, but also fewer benefits than before, the woman declined the “generous offer.” So far, no one within the store has applied for the new positions. Customer complaints grow. Workers become more frustrated. Service continues to deteriorate. Management cracks the whip even harder to try to keep up with Corporates accelerating demands. I have begun to answer some of the more asinine questions I get with a Russian word one of my high school chums used to use: “Nichevo!”

  8. bob

    Who doesn’t enjoy the sweet hypocrisy of Pilkington complaining about lack of critical thinking? I’ve seen more nuanced essays written by high schoolers.

    Yves, the less of his stuff you cross post, the better your site gets.

    1. John Mc

      Could you provide a few nuanced high school essays?

      While I did enjoy and found much value in Pilkington’s effort to summarize Mirowski’s work (Science-Mart), I am curious if your words are more bluster than substance.

      Enlighten us Bob.

  9. washunate

    It’s interesting hearing this from the UK perspective. In the US, it’s really quite simple. The government has systematically implemented public policy designed to justify and enable the concentration of wealth and power. There is tons of funding happening – what matters is how the money is spent.

    1. brian

      All too true for Harper to fetter most scientific funds to universities with conditions that totally support corporations in their innovation efforts. Natural Resources federal department is directed to support the wishes of the oil sands development. Discovery science not allowed by the government because there is no immediate results to be had in its short term vision.

  10. susan the other

    The bit that enlightened me further was Philip’s explanation that research had been offshored too. And so as cold war money dried up, universities gave up their own ethics and went begging for corporate money. It doesn’t surprise me that the US Military is a far more sensible institution than is corporatism. “Global Privatization” is almost an oxymoron. Worthy of our corporatocracy. Heck of a job, Wall Street.

    1. TimR

      Cold War money may have dried up, but what about that WOT money? Universities aren’t getting any of that?

      A case has been made (that I think is probably at least partially true) that the whole War on Terror is largely about replacing that Cold War funding stream/ jobs program /easy corp. profit machine with one that’s equally huge. Military Keynsianism being politically acceptable in a land where it dare not speak its name.

      1. Banger

        WOT is an example of a protection racket. Create and/or nurture the threat and take the suckers money.

  11. Timothy Gawne

    Well said. Some other thoughts:

    1. Yes to outsourcing, but there is another way to look at this. We are increasingly in a regime where the rich and powerful in this country don’t have any reason to care about technological development anymore. They don’t make their money via the production of competitive products, but via financial manipulation and rent extraction. Combined with the lack of any real external military threat, there is just no motivation. Science funding will likely continue but devolve more into cronyism and a source of profit, just like our fake “war” in Afghanistan.

    One recalls the classical Chinese emperors, who had no interest in technology – but why should they have? They owned everything, they had everything they could want, investing to make some process more efficient would have been meaningless to them…

    2. Science requires not just money, but honor. A certain level of competition is necessary to motivate people, but when competition becomes so great that even the most talented have little chance of success playing by the rules, people will stop playing by the rules. That’s why third-world countries are so corrupt: conditions are so bad that people just don’t have a choice if they want to eat. We are coasting on our past heritage, but when the current generation of scientists retires or dies off I predict that the combination of limited funding and massive increases in the scientific labor supply will cause science to stagnate in this country irrespective of funding… Corruption and cronyism will always be with us, the issue is whether they are dominant over other factors…

  12. Bruce Wilder

    I suppose it is useless quibbling to cheer you on, and still think your thumbnail history inaccurate, even in its very sparse details. But, quibble I will

    The first period really starts with the Land Grant colleges and the Morrill Act, immediately before and during the Civil War. This was the period, when the country was hell-bent on development, and the concept of supporting colleges with land grants, and colleges supporting development of agriculture and industry dominated. University curricula shifted toward the sciences in the 1840s, with important reform leaders at both state universities like the U of Michigan and at the leading Ivy League institutions in the East.

    Science breached the corporation in the 1880s, which was a boom period in the middle of the Long Depression (1873-1896). The rebuilding of the railroads with steel rail led to lower transport costs and the feasibility of large-scale production coupled with distribution to a continental market. The increasing scale of production led to a shift from craft to managed production, and scientific design of production methods, and a more active role for top-down management. Research & Development became a tool of capitalism, as inventors like Edison and Bell because celebrities and capitalists like Morgan financed them. Scientists became important tools at companies like Carnegie Steel, in the same era attempts to reform management from craft to industrial that led to the Homestead Strike.

    The 1880s initially saw conglomeration into the trusts, on basically commercial principles of managing markets. In the 1890s, the corporate form emerged, and industrial corporations, centrally managed to take advantage of increasing returns to scale, and industrial principles took over; college-trained engineers and scientific management followed, as did the enthusiasm of the Progressive Era for technocratic reform, informed by science.

    The militarization of science is a product of mobilization during the Second World War — its the Manhattan Project and the Whiz Kids. It is very purposive at first, but it gradually becomes corrupt, as the military-industrial complex emerges, to seek its own found interests, and to keep the country feeling threatened by missile gaps and other nonsense. Still the idealism lasted a long time, and got a second wind in the Space Program.

    The rest is really one giant tale of Control Frauds run rampant — the product of lowering the marginal tax rates on income, which led to escalating income potential among the executive and capitalist classes. That just spread out through the society, destroying everything is its widening path. Now the administrators of colleges and other “non”profits want the big bucks, too, and all must be sacrificed on that dubious altar.

  13. S M Tenneshaw

    “What Happened to Science and Research Funding?”

    It went straight into Jamie Dimon’s pocket. That’s why he’s richer than you.

  14. Jeremy Grimm

    I mourn the current decline of our science. In the 60’s and 70’s we were coming close to some truly — please forgive me – mind blowing new discoveries in science. Since the full institution of research contracts, initiated by R. Reagan, science discovery has been limited to the kinds of remarkable insights noted in an earlier comment as things to warm the bones and entertain old codgers — punters in that earlier comment.

    Every time I hear the appeals to America as the innovation nation … my stomach jumps somersaults. As a working ‘engineer’ I’ve felt and feel extremely cramped by my firm’s claim to any and all intellectual property I might produce. As a simple bureaucratic techinical functionary I very much resent my firm’s claims. I may never invent anything, but if I create something or pursue a new idea and arrive at patent — my firm has played absolutely no part other than to restrain and limit my imagination.

  15. Jessica

    Society is still organized for production of scarce things (or for those who benefit from such a form of organization, but the most powerful force of production since around the 1960s or so is now knowledge. This evolutionary mismatch is the core of what is driving things since then.
    To properly organize a knowledge-driven economy, we must both compensate/motivate those doing the work and turn the knowledge completely loose. That will be a quite different from of social organization.
    I do not think that the main decision makers needed to consciously decide to suppress our future. Just following the now-obsolete social rules that let them be the decision makers has that effect automatically.

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