The story of three kinds of curiosity — two genuine, one “induced”
Several wise men foresaw the decline of organized science. Here, a man called Gordon Tulloch was inspired by Popper to look at the social organisation of scientists to try to figure out what made it work. He noticed there were three kinds of researchers, one driven by curiosity for the truth, another on a mission to solve a problem, and a third with an “induced” curiosity created by demand from elsewhere — boss or government. He predicted that the system would fail if those who were induced outnumbered the truly curious, as the “induced” curiosity was not well connected to reality, whereas the other two types were. The primary aim of the induced researcher was not to solve a problem or uncover an answer but just to keep their jobs, and there were many ways to “keep their jobs” that did not involve actual discovery. Indeed for some jobs, thinks Jo, actual discovery could be a catastrophic event.
He foresaw a degenerative spiral which appears to have come to pass. Once induced researchers are managed by people without enough skill to read and assess [...]
US Republicans have passed a bill through the House (but not the Senate yet) aiming to get back some control over the 7 billion dollar science budget. Previously the National Science Foundation (or NSF) had all the fun in dishing out the dough, but the Republicans have had enough. Their wish list includes cutting social sciences by 55%, climate science by 8%, and putting extra money into biology, computers, engineering and hard sciences. It can’t come soon enough.
Critics are howling that this will politicize science, but it’s just the opposite. Science was already politicized, and thanks in no small part to the NSF itself. This would put control of the funding back slightly closer to the voters. The NSF is almost unaccountable to the taxpayer, and if the NSF had not wasted money on so many one-sided pointless extravaganza’s (like $5m for “climate games”) and tipped so much money into “behavioural” studies, the elected members would not be knocking at their door. The NSF has only itself to blame.
Ultimately, elected representatives have to be accountable for public spending, but they like to hand over control to a committee of experts. Said committee grows on the gravy train, and [...]