Tag Archives: Science

Academic Incentives

One thing I’ve noted through the years is that there is a rough divide in academia between theory and observation.  Actually, this is a pretty commonplace observation.  What is less discussed, though, is the sort of hierarchy of prestige that tends to place theory above observation.  Of course, there are exceptions, and unconventional theories often have to do both theory and observation in order to gain any recognition.

One sad byproduct of all this is that academics tend to cluster in tribes, and often recreate pre-existing theory under new names.  Why?  Well, because theory is more prestigious than observation!  Take an example.  “Einstein” is a household name.  Why?  Because Albert Einstein developed the theory of relativity in physics.  But could you name someone (and there are many names here) whose observations confirmed Einstein’s theory?  Probably not.  If there was more parity between theory and observation, academics would probably be more willing to conduct observation according to existing theory, rather than constantly trying to posit an influential “new” theory that may disregard existing theory in a completely self-aggrandizing way.

There also is relatively little ground for synthesis of different theories.  Academics tend to have “departments” in universities and other institutions, and inter-disciplinary efforts are difficult in such an environment, on top of the difficulties trying to integrate theories within a given discipline.

Add to this the problem of ideology, in that, practically speaking, most social science theorists pick out a desired solution — what they want society to look like — and then conjure up a theory that points toward that desired solution, without spending much if any time making explicit their desired solution.  Put another way, many social science academics actually spend most of their time making sales pitches for their pet solutions, rather than constructing theories, testing them, and only then devising suitable solutions to theoretically verified root causes of problems.  That isn’t to say such an approach is inherently wrong, but those who deny doing that should be viewed skeptically — as ideologues not “scientists” or “academics”.

I think a radical solution to much of this would be to disallow name attribution on scientific and academic work. After all, is it really about the work itself, in its “objective” advancements, or about accumulating social and cultural capital?

Jonathan Latham – The Biotech Industry is Taking Over the Regulation of GMOs From the Inside

Link to an article by Jonathan Latham:

“The Biotech Industry is Taking Over the Regulation of GMOs From the Inside”

The central dispute between industry and critics like Latham is over which of two approaches to adopt: (1) reasonably prove safety before commercial release, or (2) presume safety (and permit commercial release) until harm is proven.

Tom Bartlett – Can We Really Measure Implicit Bias? Maybe Not

Link to an article by Tom Bartlett:

“Can We Really Measure Implicit Bias? Maybe Not”

 

A problem with “implicit bias” theory is that it has its own implicit bias of the cognitivist and/or politically liberal variety.  In short, the question of detecting “implicit bias” is inexorably tied to a supposed “solution” (or “acceptable” range of solutions) that is less explicitly discussed, thereby denying the political character of how the question is formulated in the first instance.  While no doubt the elimination of bias/discrimination/oppression is important, it is possible to question whether advocacy of political liberalism under the guise of “neutral” science is worthwhile to those ends.  Conservatives, who are mostly the problem in terms of advocating for biased institutions, obviously oppose this stuff because they realize it is set up to be against them and their desired hierarchies of inequality.  Moreover, offering political liberalism as the solution to the problem of bias has the subtle effect of excluding liberalism from being part of the problem — especially if liberalism is seen as being about limiting/softening but still maintaining the sorts of hierarchies of inequality that conservatism seeks.  So consider what follows a critique of “implicit bias” theory from a left perspective.

Bonus link: “Understanding the Racial Wealth Gap” and “A Southern City With Northern Problems”

Martha Rosenberg – They Aren’t All Safe

Link to an article by Martha Rosenberg:

“They Aren’t All Safe: Pharma is Willing to Look ‘Unscientific’ to Sell Vaccines”

Bonus links: “The Vaccination Quandary” (Note: he’s actually referring to Sherri Tenpenny, not Shirley Tenpenny.) and “FDA Commissioner Hamburg Appointed WHO Deputy?: A Sad Legacy” and “Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA” and “Public Interest Group Calls for Investigation Into Harassment of USDA Scientists”

David Wineberg – The Man With Two Brains

Link to David Wineberg’s review of Chris Knight‘s book Decoding Chomsky: Science and Revolutionary Politics (2016):

“The Man With Two Brains”

Bonus links: “Decoding Chomsky. Science and Revolutionary Politics. Chris Knight. A Review.” (this review usefully relies on Bourdieu), and “Understanding the Labyrinth: Noam Chomsky’s Science and Politics” (“Chomsky’s stance undercuts the responsibility of scientists to speak out as public intellectuals against dishonest invocation of pretended science [o]n behalf of commercial and political interests.”), and Systemic Functional Linguistics, and Denial AKA disavowal (“In Verleugnung, the defense consists in denying something that affects the individual and is a way of affirming what he or she is apparently denying.”)