Should Government Fund Science Research?: A Debate

| 49 Comments

Reed’s recent post urging support for informing people about the “stimulus” bill has inspired a debate between me and Mike Dunford over the proper role of government in funding scientific research. Since Panda’s Thumb is not a political blog, we’ll be debating this at our own blogs. My opening post is available this morning on Freespace.

49 Comments

What about “pure research”? To say government ought to invest taxpayer money in technologies with no obvious commercial applicability is to say that the government should force us to invest in projects that might never pay off, or might pay off too far into the future to do people much good—that is to say, that the government should force us to make risky investments.

Yes. This is exactly the whole point of the NSF, which many people claim is underfunded, and which other nations are rushing to emulate. This type of research is incredibly risky, and much of it does not pay off. But the long term economic gains, particularly those over the past century have been demonstrated to be enormous, and are believed to overcome the short-term losses of risky research.

The problem with point 7 in your post is that you are attempting to present a pragmatic or “economical” approach to science. Yet you have demonstrated that you do not understand of what a risk-to-reward trade-off is. You want all reward with zero risk. I understand that Wall Street has trained the American public to believe that it actually works that way, but you can see what that has done to our economy. You only get high return in the long term with potentially large losses in the short term.

As for why should government fund it? Because businesses are too short term to be willing to wait the amount of time that is required for this type of return. Yes, there are Foundations that fund fundamental research, but they are so small compared to the power of the NSF.

While this may be unfair to you, the impression I get from reading your post is that you are a selfish person who wants all the benefits using up natural resources – and denying them to future generations – without actually providing them any return on investment for the externalities that you are incuring.

Unconstitutional? What about the “general Welfare of the United States”? I think it’s pretty clear that funding science, which improves our health, our economy, and our defense, is clearly within the scope of providing for our general welfare.

I don’t think I understand Walker’s points completely, but I was concerned with the same point he cited from Sandefur.

I propose the following scenario in refutation to corporations being able to better assess risk-benefit to general economic growth:

Basic research plan A has a very low probability of yielding a scientific advance that would drive economic growth for corporation B. However, plan A has a moderate probability of yielding a scientific advance that would drive economic growth for entrepreneurs if disseminated publicly. Thus the utility of plan A is subject to the scope of the organization funding it. It is high risk to the narrow scope of a corporation, but a more sound investment to the broad interests of an entire nation.

I also would like to see some of the reasoning behind Sandefur’s assertion that government can not create wealth. That assertion on the face of it seems utterly absurd to me.

Mr. Sandefur’s post on freespace offers the ususal libertarian pablum that taxation is kind of illegal and immoral, using “government’s coercive power”, “violates people’s right to their earnings..” and that we should leave all to the free market, which makes always the right decisions (such as investing your 410k/pension plan in Madoff’s funds or any recent Wall Street offering).– Some comments on individual points:

1.”..immoral” “My life and the fruits of my labor are mine, and it is wrong for others to force me to give up part of my life and the fruits of my labor to support them,” Yes, but for you to enjoy the fruits of your labor you rely on an organized society, needing e.g. police protection and the courts to enforce that you get paid for your labor. Somalia collects less taxes (It must be a libertarian’s heaven!), but you might have to pay your own bodyguards.

2.”..unconstitutional” Art 1 Sec 8:”The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States;” ..the general Welfare seems to cover it. But I am no constitutional scholar.

3. “…government’s lack of qualifications and incentives” Well, let’s see, until ~8 years ago the government had a reasonably run system of various advisory panels, run by actual scientists, and there were peer-review panels to distribute grants from the NSF, NIH, DOE, NASA, and other federal agencies. Mostly the system worked, and, of course, there were sometimes (too often?) decisions made which didn’t please everybody. Now in the last 8 years, there was unprecedented interference from politicians in science, by an administration most devoted to the free market ideology; this is now the example to do away with government funding of science? As we are at it, the response by FEMA to the Katrina hurricane in New Orleans should also encourage us to just abolish FEMA and similar agencies; after all they failed, and the free market will have people building their own levies in no time.

Then: - “If a corporate CEO throws your money away like that, you can sell your shares, sue the company, or even have the CEO thrown in jail.” Did you sue and get the money back which your pension fund/401 k lost recently? Or did you learn, as an insider, the the Mortgage Obligations, rated AAA by Moody and other private rating agencies, were actually quite risky and sold them in time? (Well, I understand that Greenspan said something to the effect, that further regulation and government intrusion is not necessary, as now every depositor and investor will know how to check his bank’s balance sheet himself). At least politicians have to stand for elections, although we now heard that political appointees of the Bush administration try to ‘burrow’ into safe civil-service jobs.

- “British National Health Service allowing patients to spend taxpayer money on homeopathy?” Well, what a shame, but the Health Insurance I had as a graduate student allowed reimbursements to ‘Healers certified by [some] Board of the Church of Christian Scientist.’ The article quoted actually says “… Homeopathic Hospital, one of five hospitals that provided services on the NHS, stopped receiving funding. There has also been a drop in referrals to the London Homeopathic Hospital.” So, once an abuse was made public, it stopped! (Say that about bonuses for managers of failing private investment houses and banks).

-“The question is whether there is any reason to believe that politicians are more skilled at making those decisions than are private individuals and private organizations.” Well we are trying to keep a system, where scientists have a major influence on funding decisions, rather than politicians. Does the private Templeton foundation strike you as making better use of their money?

4. “…dispersed nature of knowledge and needs” An example for the superiority of individual decisions is the Albanian free market economy of the mid-1990ies. (Apparently all people decided to invest in Ponzi schemes, and - another libertarian’s dream - government wisely refrained from intrusion on private enterprises). And, of course, our balloon mortgages.

Well, the democratic system is inherently inefficient, but still the best we have. And, of course, [snark] I object to my tax money being used for levies and dams in New Orleans, and for health care for people I don’t know and supercolliders and tanks in Iraq. [/snark]

5. “It distorts science” “Probably the most well known problem caused by government intervention in science is the effects it has on science itself. Chris Mooney’s book about the Republican War on Science made an effective argument that the Republican party was abusing and perverting scientific findings and manipulating scientists themselves for their own political ends. But, as he (quietly) admitted, the Democratic party has often done exactly the same thing. (One recent example from just this week, in the more extreme hysteria about global warming). “

This paragraph is a masterpiece in misdirection. The last eight years have seen unprecedented interference with science, as documented by Mooney’s book. Then ‘the democrats do it, too,’ even ‘quietly’ admitted by Mooney! (Though the link is NOT to a statement where Mooney admits something, so it is misleading, a false equivalence so beloved by today’s journalists). So the Republicans have shown that abuse and perversion of science are possible, and thus we should abolish science funding alltogether! Yes, by the same argument, we should abolish FEMA! After all, it failed in New Orleans!

Mentioning “the more extreme hysteria about global warming” is something which indicates that you are with the global-warming deniers. So much for credibility.

Then, there’s mention of Lysenko, Stalin’s favorite biologist. So, because Stalin had Lysenko, we should abolish NIH? Do you imply a U.S. President could become like.…. ? This theme is continued in “6. It gives government cover for its projects” quoting Eugenics.… (Godwin’s law comes to mind here.)

“7. It’s not necessary” “..scientific research is already largely funded by private industry..” “..private industry is very capable, and until the rise of the Military-Industrial Complex in the 1950s, was by far the leader, of investment in scientific research.”

Well, indeed we had Bell Labs, IBM laboratories, Exxon Research… all big companies did have in the past research labs which did a lot of forward-looking and even basic research. Now where did they all go? The free market killed them off, apparently by forcing managers to look for quarterly profits, and this year’s bonuses, rather than the long-term future of the company. So in industry, at most you can nowadays get funding for product development, but not anything not paying off in say 2-3 years, at best. Nowadays, the transistor wouldn’t have been invented at a private company.

The current model for innovation is that a government-sponsored entity (NSF-funded university research group, NIH-funded medical school group, a DOE-funded National Laboratory…) finds, say a new molecule showing promise as a drug, or the new quantum computer scheme… they work on it, for a few years, using the cheap labor of post-docs, graduate students and professors and research scientists, who publish their methods and results widely (thus make it accessible, for free, to private industry!). Finally you come close to something useful, and you patent it,the university licenses it to a small company (perhaps founded by a professor). That company works on it some more, mainly to make the invention presentable to venture capitalists; and finally, should it look really rewarding, the company is taken over by venture capitalists or bought out by a big company (only those can afford to pay for drug trials, e.g.). Mr. Sandefour wants to take out the first, government-funded step out of this progression. To do so would not instantly recreate Bell Labs. It would do enormous harm to this country’s economy. A large percentage of today’s GDP is created by industries which rose on the strength of past federal investment in R&D. “…the government ought to force a person to give up her money to projects that will do her absolutely no good whatsoever…” …like supporting welfare, or FEMA (if living in a disaster-free area), or tanks in Iraq, … the rhetoric is great…

“It is not “anti-science” to say that a single mom working two jobs in a nightclub in Houston should not be forced to give up part of her earnings to the search for the Higgs boson.” Yes, this is a great argument for progressive taxation, after all, she might not profit so much from the Higgs boson or similar academic pursuits (unless her customers are from a local university or national lab, but we know, these nerds never go to night clubs, or unless she gets sick, and uses a drug originally found by a NIH-sponsored group, or gets a MRI scan with technology originally developed for high-energy particle physics, or gets cancer treatment with an electron beam from an accelerator also developed originally for particle physics.…), but those in the higher income brackets are more likely to use the products coming out of federally-funded R&D, such as the web (ARPA/DOD for internet & DOE-High-Energy Physics, with the WWW protocol invented at CERN in Geneva; the first North American Web Server was at a particle-physics laboratory [SLAC, now SNAL] in California).

On the constitutionality of income tax – I’m no constitutional scholar either, but the first US Federal income tax was levied during the Civil War, up to that time the government had mainly been funded by import duties. The income tax was shot down by the courts after the war.

It was finally revived in 1913, thanks to the 16th Amendment, which I would say is unambiguous about the matter:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

The Civil War also finally established greenbacks as legal tender in the USA – not a new idea then, but it hadn’t done well before. They even had little bills for small change since there was a shortage of coinage. Libertarians have a tendency to be, if not pro-Confederate, at least anti-Union, with the income tax and paper money being two of the most grevious offenses of Mr. Lincoln’s administration.

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

Like A, I fail to see a qualitative difference between, say, forcibly taxing people to pay for a police force which keeps them from injuries inflicted by their neighbors and, say, forcibly taxng people to pay for an NIH which keeps them from injuries inflicted by microorganisms. DOD research falls under this argument too.

And once one’s conceded that “general welfare” argument for applied research, one has to also concede gov funding for basic research. Since the difference is really just quantitative (amount of risk and time to expected payoff), not qualitative.

I also think most people recognize that one of the roles of government is to impose solutions in social cases represented by e.g. the tragedy of the commons, the prisoner’s dilema, NIMBY, etc… Funding of science that is good for the general welfare but not of particular value to an individual or a corporation may fall in this general category of “problems for which individual rational self-interest leads to sub-optimal solutions for both the individual and society at large.”

I fail to see any meaningful question regarding the constitutionality of federally-funded scientific research. Although the Founding Fathers certainly did not envision the breadth of scientific research seen today, they apparently believed scientific research to be important enough to grant Congress the power to, “…promote the Progress of Science…”.

Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constition: (referring to the powers granted Congress)

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;”

mrg (iml8) said: Libertarians have a tendency to be, if not pro-Confederate, at least anti-Union, with the income tax and paper money being two of the most grevious offenses of Mr. Lincoln’s administration.

I think it goes further back than that. Some libertarians seem to confuse the government’s current power to tax with the powers given in the Articles of Confederation of 1777. These predate the Constitution and limited the federal government to taxing the States. The founders tried that for 11 years but decided it wasn’t working, so the Articles were replaced by the Constitution. Now, one can complain that they made the wrong decision in giving more direct power to the Fed in the newer document, but there’s no historical doubt that they made it.

See my previous post. Apparently Mr. Sandehur failed to read Section 8 in its entirety.

From Mr. Sandehur’s blog:

“Of course, the moral objection is obviated, sort of, maybe, by the consent of the governed. In theory, we have (tacitly) agreed through the Constitution to allow the government to tax us for certain purposes. Those purposes are set forth in Article 1 section 8 of the Constitution, which lays out all of Congress’ powers. Funding science projects (except insofar as they might serve, say, military purposes) is not among them.”

DeeKay said:

See my previous post. Apparently Mr. Sandehur failed to read Section 8 in its entirety.

From Mr. Sandehur’s blog:

“Of course, the moral objection is obviated, sort of, maybe, by the consent of the governed. In theory, we have (tacitly) agreed through the Constitution to allow the government to tax us for certain purposes. Those purposes are set forth in Article 1 section 8 of the Constitution, which lays out all of Congress’ powers. Funding science projects (except insofar as they might serve, say, military purposes) is not among them.”

Its an interesting bit of trivia that the US Constitution and Bill of Rights use that construction - “To help with X, right Y” - in only two places. Copyright/Patents, and the 2nd Amendment. In both places people argue about whether the preamble is controlling on the right or just there to provide the context for a self-sufficient right.

eric said:

DeeKay said:

See my previous post. Apparently Mr. Sandehur failed to read Section 8 in its entirety.

From Mr. Sandehur’s blog:

“Of course, the moral objection is obviated, sort of, maybe, by the consent of the governed. In theory, we have (tacitly) agreed through the Constitution to allow the government to tax us for certain purposes. Those purposes are set forth in Article 1 section 8 of the Constitution, which lays out all of Congress’ powers. Funding science projects (except insofar as they might serve, say, military purposes) is not among them.”

Its an interesting bit of trivia that the US Constitution and Bill of Rights use that construction - “To help with X, right Y” - in only two places. Copyright/Patents, and the 2nd Amendment. In both places people argue about whether the preamble is controlling on the right or just there to provide the context for a self-sufficient right.

Eric, that is indeed an interesting bit of trivia. Thanks!

As long as the science is propaganda. The teaching of evolution as fact vs a theory of looking at things is propaganda and bad science thru and thru. The proof is in the fossil record, the record does not support millions of years. This is such a good example of good vs evil. Evolutionists consider creationist evil and vise versa. The one thing I know firsthand is, creationist study all the scientific literature and consider its relevance and accuracy, the evolutionists will not even consider reading the creationists research journals. There may be some that are closeted readers, etc. but most do not. Also, if creationism is not such a threat to their very existence, why can one be fired for NOT believing in evolution. One cannot work at Woods Hole if you do not explicitly say you believe in evolution as the best and only argument for how we all got here as we are today. That is insane and totally negates the “science” they do there. And Woods Hole is a big place with alot of research money both from private and govt sources. It is a travesty what is going on. Everyone reading this needs to make a trip and tour the Creation Museum, your eyes will be opened, unless you have them shut over with duct tape already. True science and true scientists look at everything and consider everything, they DO NOT sensor! Most if not all of the most important scientists we know of in the past hundreds of years since the enlightenment, all believed in a super power. Even Darwin had doubts about his theory all of his life. He dissed God in a way after losing his child. He was hurt and emotionally bruised. Out of this came a set of ideas that we now consider fact! Isn’t that wonderful. Full Stop.

JessicaH said:

As long as the science is propaganda. The teaching of evolution as fact vs a theory of looking at things is propaganda and bad science thru and thru. The proof is in the fossil record, the record does not support millions of years. This is such a good example of good vs evil. Evolutionists consider creationist evil and vise versa. The one thing I know firsthand is, creationist study all the scientific literature and consider its relevance and accuracy, the evolutionists will not even consider reading the creationists research journals. There may be some that are closeted readers, etc. but most do not. Also, if creationism is not such a threat to their very existence, why can one be fired for NOT believing in evolution. One cannot work at Woods Hole if you do not explicitly say you believe in evolution as the best and only argument for how we all got here as we are today. That is insane and totally negates the “science” they do there. And Woods Hole is a big place with alot of research money both from private and govt sources. It is a travesty what is going on. Everyone reading this needs to make a trip and tour the Creation Museum, your eyes will be opened, unless you have them shut over with duct tape already. True science and true scientists look at everything and consider everything, they DO NOT sensor! Most if not all of the most important scientists we know of in the past hundreds of years since the enlightenment, all believed in a super power. Even Darwin had doubts about his theory all of his life. He dissed God in a way after losing his child. He was hurt and emotionally bruised. Out of this came a set of ideas that we now consider fact! Isn’t that wonderful. Full Stop.

Jessica, thanks for the hearty laugh! Your entire post reeks of ignorance.

Here is the basic logical problem underlying Mr. Sandefur’s reasoning, on this and indeed almost any other issue -

Private property, a legal concept I strongly support, by the way, exists within the context of an organized human society.

What Mr. Sandefur is incapable of grasping, apparently due to his obsessive emotional bias, as his intelligence otherwise appears normal, is that if we take away the products of social cooperation, such as enforced laws, emergency response systems, and so on, almost all of his property is WORTHLESS.

I perceive him as having the same mentality as a man who would dose himself with antibiotics to eliminate the “immoral” normal bacteria of the GI tract who are “taking his property”, and end up far less able to digest his food than before, and vitamin K deficient to boot.

Ironically, if some sort of government did not engage in the “immoral” activities he decries, he likely would have, to emphasize, no property at all.

Appearances may be deceiving, but his picture leaves me in doubt that he is the sort of warrior strong man who might emerge as a prosperous leader of a barbarian band in the sort of anarchic hell his proposed policies would create.

Of course, I could be wrong. He can always go to Somalia and find out, and I’ll be delighted to chip in for a one way ticket if he decides to.

JessicaH said:

“Lie! Cheat! Steal! LEAVE THE TOILET SEAT UP!”

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

Jessica -

You have been misinformed a bit.

As long as the science is propaganda. The teaching of evolution as fact vs a theory of looking at things is propaganda and bad science thru and thru.

Let’s see whether the rest of your post supports this bold assertion.

The proof is in the fossil record, the record does not support millions of years.

Of course it does. Read any legitimate paleontology and geology books. Of course, you may need to read some math, physics, chemistry, and biology books first.

This is such a good example of good vs evil. Evolutionists consider creationist evil and vise versa. The one thing I know firsthand is, creationist study all the scientific literature and consider its relevance and accuracy, the evolutionists will not even consider reading the creationists research journals.

I really do try to be patient, but this has to be described as a “lie”. You’re posting on a pro-science web site which is based mainly on keeping abreast of and rebutting creationist claims. See also www.talkorigins.org. Your own choice of venue proves that your point is the opposite of the truth.

There may be some that are closeted readers, etc. but most do not. Also, if creationism is not such a threat to their very existence, why can one be fired for NOT believing in evolution.

No-one can ever be fired for not “believing” in evolution. You can, of course, be fired for lying about the scientific consensus in certain cases, or for violating constitutional rights by preaching a single sectarian view as “science”. You don’t want Mormons or Muslims to have the right to teach that science “proves” their religion in public schools, do you? That’s what the constitution is for.

One cannot work at Woods Hole if you do not explicitly say you believe in evolution as the best and only argument for how we all got here as we are today.

And you can’t work at Los Alamos if you openly and actively deny quantum theory and the existence of radiation. Naturally.

That is insane and totally negates the “science” they do there. And Woods Hole is a big place with alot of research money both from private and govt sources. It is a travesty what is going on. Everyone reading this needs to make a trip and tour the Creation Museum, your eyes will be opened, unless you have them shut over with duct tape already.

My eyes are already open to the fraudulent nature of “creation museums”.

True science and true scientists look at everything and consider everything, they DO NOT sensor!

I’m sure you meant “censor”, in which case this is true.

Most if not all of the most important scientists we know of in the past hundreds of years since the enlightenment, all believed in a super power.

Plenty still do, but this has nothing to do with evolution.

Even Darwin had doubts about his theory all of his life. He dissed God in a way after losing his child. He was hurt and emotionally bruised.

Irrelevant even if accepted.

Out of this came a set of ideas that we now consider fact!

Darwin lived before the vast majority of evidence for the theory of evolution. He is famous not for describing it entirely, but for having been one of the first to accurately comment on it.

Isn’t that wonderful. Full Stop.

Obviously, years of brainwash and emotional bias can’t be reversed with rational argument, as is also demonstrated by the actual topic of this thread, Timothy Sandefur’s irrational political ideology.

However, perhaps some of what I’ve said will have some beneficial effect.

The one thing I know firsthand is, creationist study all the scientific literature and consider its relevance and accuracy, the evolutionists will not even consider reading the creationists research journals.

But in fact, anything in the creationist research journals is examined by scientists quite routinely. After all, scientific history is filled with cases of researchers suffering under often ludicrous false impressions, who do genuine research based on these impressions and discover things previously unknown. And while they may hopelessly misinterpret what they’ve discovered, others with what turn out to be more realistic models recognize that these discoveries have genuine merit.

Sadly, the “creationist research” tends to be either apologetics rather than actual research, or else it tends to “discover” evidence and facts already long known and understood, in an attempt to force-fit these into the creationist doctrine. If “creationist research” has actually learned anything about the universe not already well understood and examined, I’d love to hear about it.

Jessica seems to be laboring under the requirements of the “religious method” by which things come true because we SAY they’re true and WANT them to be true. If only reality would cooperate! Unfortunately, every assertion she makes is false on the merits, despite the obvious sincerity of her desire that it be otherwise.

She might reflect that the religious method was applied for thousands of years of near-stagnation of human knowledge. The explosion of knowledge that science has produced, has come about because a very few people were willing to give their observations a higher priority than their preferences.

The vast majority of people, even today, use exactly Jessica’s method of determining facts - i.e. fabricating them to meet emotional needs. There’s a lot to be said for this method - it always produces the desired results, it requires no study or prior knowledge, it avoids the painful process of actually learning anything, and it strokes the self-righteousness. If it would only produce correct understandings of anything, it would be a godsend.

Flint said:

But in fact, anything in the creationist research journals is examined by scientists quite routinely.

I was thinking of the Dutch Darwin-basher who emailed me a while back and proudly pointed out that he actually read Darwin-basher stuff. I know both sides.

I think I missed a bet by not pointing out that I no longer hear a Darwin-basher argument I haven’t seen many times before, and generally know immediately why they’re bogus. I know more about your side than you do.

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

JessicaH said:

He [Darwin] dissed God in a way after losing his child. He was hurt and emotionally bruised.

I think this is the only thing in Jessica’s comment that is more or less correct. It seems it was the illness and death of a daughter that led him to question his religious beliefs. The rest of the comments are an almost exact mirror image of reality.

Jessica: there is a reason for creationist/ID sites such as AnswersinGenesis and UncommonDescent rarely giving links to pro-evolution sites, while sites such as Pandasthumb and TalkOrigins routinely link to anti-evolution sites. One side does not want you to see the evidence, the other wants you to read and assess the false claims. If you stay with the creationist sites you are condemning yourself to ignorance.

P.S. Jessica: The only person in ‘Expelled’ who was actually expelled from their job was the person at Woods Hole who refused to do the job he was hired to do.

harold said:

Here is the basic logical problem underlying Mr. Sandefur’s reasoning, on this and indeed almost any other issue -

Private property, a legal concept I strongly support, by the way, exists within the context of an organized human society.

What Mr. Sandefur is incapable of grasping, apparently due to his obsessive emotional bias, as his intelligence otherwise appears normal, is that if we take away the products of social cooperation, such as enforced laws, emergency response systems, and so on, almost all of his property is WORTHLESS.

I perceive him as having the same mentality as a man who would dose himself with antibiotics to eliminate the “immoral” normal bacteria of the GI tract who are “taking his property”, and end up far less able to digest his food than before, and vitamin K deficient to boot.

Ironically, if some sort of government did not engage in the “immoral” activities he decries, he likely would have, to emphasize, no property at all.

Appearances may be deceiving, but his picture leaves me in doubt that he is the sort of warrior strong man who might emerge as a prosperous leader of a barbarian band in the sort of anarchic hell his proposed policies would create.

Of course, I could be wrong. He can always go to Somalia and find out, and I’ll be delighted to chip in for a one way ticket if he decides to.

It kind of boggles my mind when people begin to get all high and mighty about the moral foundations of government, and what the government does, or does not, have a moral right to do. While I will admit that there are moral limitations on the actions of government (for instance, depriving a person unjustly of life or liberty), it seems logical to me that we should be somewhat pragmatic when discussing these things. I think the fact that we are, more or less, the most prosperous people in the history of the world, and, again more or less, kings of the earth, goes a long way to justify the actions of the government.

Furthermore, I think anyone will admit that sole owner ship of property can be immoral. Does a person have any moral right to refuse to give an item to an other if withholding that property cost someone their life? I believe we have laws against that sort of thing. (I recall a discussion in political science class, where some people argued that if person A flagged down a taxi, but person B needed the taxi to save their life, person A still had the right to refuse to give their taxi to person B. Me, I would just kick person A, and make sure person B did get the taxi whatever person A thought, because person A is clearly insane, and there is no reason to consider their opinions with regards to anything.)

This sort of librarian attitude that exhibits such clear contempt for the welfare of fellow human beings is not tempting to adopt. As for me, I’m going to fight for the liberty and JUSTICE for all. Liberty without justice is contemptible. Just my 2 cents.

JessicaH said:

creationists research journals.

And I burst out laughing. But there was better to come.

Everyone reading this needs to make a trip and tour the Creation Museum, your eyes will be opened, unless you have them shut over with duct tape already.

And then we got:

True science and true scientists look at everything and consider everything, they DO NOT sensor!

(sic)

No, they don’t, Jessica. Tell you what… present your evidence. Let’s hear it. What did you learn at the Creation Museum? What evidence has Ken Ham uncovered that science doesn’t know, or won’t accept?

Sandefeur’s position is horribly thought out.

as usual.

Tell ya what, Tim. You can apply for corporate sponsorship, and leave the rest of the grant money to those of us interested in basic research, eh?

While your at it, you might try re-reading John Stuart Mills’ essay “On Liberty”, especially the part about the tyranny of the majority.

Larry_boy, did you really mean to say “librarian attitude,” or did you have a spell checker malfunction?

And by the way, can anyone tell me how to get this duct tape off my eyes?

Larry Boy -

I recall a discussion in political science class, where some people argued that if person A flagged down a taxi, but person B needed the taxi to save their life, person A still had the right to refuse to give their taxi to person B. Me, I would just kick person A, and make sure person B did get the taxi whatever person A thought, because person A is clearly insane, and there is no reason to consider their opinions with regards to anything.)

Yes, I agree, insane or brainwashed by ideology (if those are different) on two grounds.

1) Normal social animals feel empathy.

2) If you’re too abnormal for that, it’s a basic Kantian calculation. If we all agree to give the taxi to the guy who needs it to live, we all can be assured of getting it when we’re the one with the arterial bleed.

It isn’t complicated, and tickets to Somalia are more reasonable than many people realize.

Where to start? I guess all I should state is that I can’t take you seriously since its obvious that you don’t have any idea of what science is, how its done, what its history is, or how we benefit from it. Instead there’s just alot of crazy substituted for reality. Really not worth the time writing this.

I tend to think of myself as a libertarian, but only to the extent of believing the powers of government are derived from the consent of the governed. It doesn’t seem to be quite the right word, however, since I’m politically a center-of-the-road moderate. (It feels kind of lonely in the middle of the road sometimes.)

A doctrinaire libertarian strikes me in contrast as a nonviolent anarchist. Well … usually they’re nonviolent.

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

At a basic civics level, the history of the Western world over the last few centuries has been toward:

1) Finding and implementing the greatest good for the greatest number.

2) Finding and implementing some bare minimum of unabridgeable guarantees humans find non-negotiable.

3) Finding and implementing some system of government that establishes and preserves these things for as long as possible.

In general, the first goal seems best achieved by guaranteeing public feedback into the decision-making process for the entire group. The second goal seems best achieved by a system (usually, a legal system) that specifies and protects defined basic rights. The third goal seems best achieved by distributing power in a scissors-paper-rock type system that prevents undue concentraton of power.

In order to remain virile and flexible, such a system cannot allow power to centralize completely, nor can it allow absolutes of any kind to take root. Everything, even basic rights, must remain permanently capable of being redefined and renegotiated, and the system must remain capable of doing this successfully. Success means, in the opinion of enough of the people so the system itself can retain useful feedback.

And this means that at the margin, all rights are contingent and situational. If it were otherwise, the system could not survive.

JessicaH said:

One cannot work at Woods Hole if you do not explicitly say you believe in evolution as the best and only argument for how we all got here as we are today.

Anybody know if this is even true??? I do know that many private religious schools require their faculty to attend services or be somehow engaged in religious life on campus.

KP said:

JessicaH said:

One cannot work at Woods Hole if you do not explicitly say you believe in evolution as the best and only argument for how we all got here as we are today.

Anybody know if this is even true??? I do know that many private religious schools require their faculty to attend services or be somehow engaged in religious life on campus.

The reference is to Nathaniel Abrahams, PhD, (St John’s) who was hired by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute as a research team member to investigate the evolutionary biology and relationships between zebrafish species. This work necessarily required the application of evolutionary theory to the data.

In 2004, Dr Abrahams advised his director of research, Dr Hahn, that he did not want to work on that aspect of the research because he did not accept the main heads of the Theory of Evolution, and was, out of religious faith, a creationist. Since the position specifically and necessarily required the application of the underlying theory, he had in effect stated that he was not willing to do the work he had been hired to do. Accordingly, in March, 2004, he was terminated. He now works at Liberty University, in what capacity I am unable to say, except that I would bet it’s at a higher salary.

He sued Woods Hole et al, alleging the termination violated his civil rights to practice his religion. The suit was denied. An appeal was lodged too late, and denied on those grounds, but the Court noted that it was in any case without merit. The case has become a standard talking point promoted by the creationist noise machine - as its appearance above attests. It has been presented, with their usual conscienceless warping of the facts, as an example of the persecution of the Faithful.

Of course religious schools demand co-religionists as teachers, and test them to make sure they are before hiring. Clergy letters, references, and certificates of regular church attendance are typically required.

This produces a logical paradox of staggering dimensions. They do this quite openly, but argue that science shouldn’t. Science doesn’t, but in saying that it does, they ignore the fact that even if they were right - and they’re not - it would be pot calling kettle black. As it is, it’s pot calling Georgian polished silver teapot black.

But a logical contradiction never bothered a creationist, and a moral one never stopped a scammer.

Government is the prime agency responsible for the public good. As such, and as science and education, like roads, is a public good, government should fund research.

I hope Dunford’s response is just “ :D “

The usual “I got mine, jack” libertarian bilge, not worth being spoken to like a grownup.

I have posted responses to the fair and reasonable comments and criticisms some have made here. Obviously, mere insults and ad homimens, &c., will be ignored.

Jason Wise said:

Larry_boy, did you really mean to say “librarian attitude,” or did you have a spell checker malfunction?

And by the way, can anyone tell me how to get this duct tape off my eyes?

Yah, I meant librarian, sure. Uhm.… I’ll figure out how why I meant it later, but I will never admit to a spelling mistake. NEVER!

Timothy Sandefur -

Obviously, mere insults and ad homimens, &c., will be ignored.

1. There have been NO ad hominems. Not one person in this thread has argued against your position on the grounds of some irrelevant personal characteristic ascribed to. THAT is what “ad hominem” means, and I am really tired of seeing its meaning distorted by those who ought to know better.

2. There is no possible rationale for ignoring arguments that are claimed to contain “insults”. Any difficult-to-address argument can be arbitrarily declared to be “insulting”.

Well, here’s all we need to know, from TS’s responses -

3. Doesn’t the Constitution allow the federal government to spend money for the “general welfare”?

A few people raised this point. And the answer, according to the Supreme Court, is yes. But I disagree.

Emphasis mine. Sorry, Timothy, the supreme court gets to decide.

harold said:

2) If you’re too abnormal for that, it’s a basic Kantian calculation. If we all agree to give the taxi to the guy who needs it to live, we all can be assured of getting it when we’re the one with the arterial bleed.

The problem is there are instances where self interest openly conflicts with a clear moral imperative towards altruism. Because of this, I think it is better to argue for point 1. (Perhaps you can’t possible suffer from arterial bleeding, because you are a vampire, and hence have no interest in ensuring speedy transport to a hospital.)

Larry Boy

The problem is there are instances where self interest openly conflicts with a clear moral imperative towards altruism.

That’s probably true. No disagreement.

But the stuff that Timothy Sandefur is proposing fails the most basic self-interest test as well, for that reason.

If you sacrifice moral imperative for self-interest, but you don’t even end up acting in your own self-interest in the long run, that’s worth mentioning.

Although to be honest, this whole thread severely reduces the intellectual tenor of Panda’s Thumb.

On a sophisticated science site, what would be appropriate would be an in-depth discussion of the mechanisms by which research is funded, the relative merits and ideal budgets of each, how and whether budgetary increases should be determined, how inadequacies or perverse incentives can be reformed, etc.

We already know that Ayn Rand was against federal funding.

I guess I am more of a romantic. I feel it is our calling as an intelligent species to figure out how the universe works. Our “Manifest Destiny” if you will. Whether or not our discoveries can be used for pragmatic uses is secondary.

Take, for example, when we sent astronauts to the Moon. We didn’t do it because it would make us money. I guess you could argue that it was politically motivated as a Cold War competition. However, more than anything we felt proud of the human race as a whole. We had done something spectacular, something that humans could only dream of 500 years ago.

I look at science in the same way. 500 years ago we could only have dreamt of discovering what matter was made up of. We didn’t even know that we were a single star among billions in a galaxy, much less what a galaxy actually was. Scientific discovery is something that we should do because we can do it, we want to do it, and our dreams as a species demands it.

For those who look at science as a corporate, capitalistic, money driven job you are missing the true nature of what science is. Step back for a moment and realize that we are curious, insatiably curious.

The Civil War also finally established greenbacks as legal tender in the USA – not a new idea then, but it hadn’t done well before.

The legality of the Civil War greenbacks issued by Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P Chase was overruled by the Supreme Court in the opinion issued by Chief Justice Salmon P Chase. However, this was overturned shortly afterwards.

Our current paper money is actually issued by the Federal Reserve System, which is technically not actually part of the Federal Government.

Richard Simons said:

JessicaH said:

[Darwin] dissed God in a way after losing his child. He was hurt and emotionally bruised.

I think this is the only thing in Jessica’s comment that is more or less correct. It seems it was the illness and death of a daughter that led him to question his religious beliefs.

My memory is that it was the death of his father that turned Darwin against religion.

william e emba said:

The legality of the Civil War greenbacks issued by Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P Chase was overruled by the Supreme Court in the opinion issued by Chief Justice Salmon P Chase. However, this was overturned shortly afterwards.

Didn’t hear about that, had to look it up. To go OT:

Feb. 7, 1870: The U.S. Supreme Court issues its ruling in Hepburn v. Griswold, striking down the Legal Tender Acts and annoying the heck out of President Ulysses S. Grant.

During the first year of the Civil War, U.S. gold reserves shrank alarmingly—to the point where banks and the government stopped redeeming bank notes and treasury notes in gold. In response, Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, who believed that federal paper money was unconstitutional, nonetheless drew up a plan to issue notes that could not be immediately converted to gold. The notes—dubbed “Greenbacks”—were deemed by congressional fiat to be “legal tender for all debts public and private.”

In Griswold, the Court – led by Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase—ruled that the government could not use Greenbacks to pay debts incurred before the Legal Tender Acts, which was the whole point of the acts. Grant responded as any president would: He reinstated the acts through executive order and used the next two vacancies to appoint justices who would do what he wanted. A year later, Grant got his wish when the new court reversed Griswold and set the stage for Chase to have his portrait engraved on the $10,000 bill.

Ah, the court made the decision and the executive branch effectively ignored it.

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

TS’s main problem, as we’ve all noticed, is that he is a libertarian. He has absolutely no idea that while a little bit of libertarianism does make sense, taking it 100% seriously is simply crackpot stupidity. I really have nothing to add to what anyone has said here. I try as little as possible to argue with libertarian nutcases as I do with creationist nutcases.

But I’m reminded of something related.

I recently read Michael Shermer The Mind of the Market, a popularization about neuroeconomics mixed in with libertarian cheerleading. The book is, unfortunately, a very mixed bag, partly due to Shermer being unaware that libertarianism isn’t a mathematically self-evident moral axiom system that deserves the last word.

This is the basic problem when trying to argue with libertarians. They have an axiom system that consists of “property rights! property rights!” and then come to all sorts of interesting conclusions. It may make for a nice exercise in deduction, and it certainly is more coherent, as a result, than just about any other comparable system, but that’s about it. I consider morals to be more like a science, not mathematics, and so judge libertarianism as a failure because it makes so many bad predictions. I apply my basic human sense of morals and decency to what libertarianism says is correct, and that ends the argument. My inability to articulate a one size fits all coherent explanation, unlike someone who iterates “property rights! property rights!” repeatedly, simply reflects the fact that the philosophical and scientific understanding of morality is hard.

To wit, TS here on US government funding of science is a prime example. To me, the only question is whether this helps US citizens (and earthlings of all species and nationalities in general) more than it hurts US citizens. To TS, taxes are essentially defined as pretty much one step beneath the ultimate evil, so the question cannot even be discussed rationally. I never took Kuhnian incommensurability very seriously as a concept in the history of science, but it does seem to capture the essense of what’s pointless about trying to debate libertarians.

Anyway…

Shermer’s core incompetence is his praising behavioral economics and neuroeconomics for killing off Homo economicus. That’s sort of like saying quantum mechanics has killed off classical mechanics. It never did, it just established boundaries. But Shermer doesn’t seem to realize that the fundamental argument for laissez-faire economics comes from economic models that depend on some form of Homo economicus. A good chunk of neoclassical economics is fairly well tested experimentally–it is simply not going to go away. The behavioralists and the like have not offered any new models, and until they do, they are simply going to be ignored as interesting and sometimes important curiosities, but nothing more. So there Shermer goes, on the one hand, praising the death of libertarian arguments, and on the other hand celebrating their great importance to economics.

Oddly enough, in his Why People Believe Weird Things book, Shermer disses Ayn Rand’s little cult, not on the grounds that redefining words is not actually an argument, nor on the grounds that cherry picking examples is not actually an argument, nor on the grounds that chanting A=A repeatedly is not actually an argument, no, merely on the grounds that morals can’t be explained (huh?) so obviously Rand must have made a mistake somewhere.

eric said:

Like A, I fail to see a qualitative difference between, say, forcibly taxing people to pay for a police force which keeps them from injuries inflicted by their neighbors and, say, forcibly taxng people to pay for an NIH which keeps them from injuries inflicted by microorganisms. DOD research falls under this argument too.

I do see a qualitative difference between the two instances you cite but it is to the advantage of the NIH. The police are substantially a reactive force. They only have a proactive value in their intimidative effect, which, judging by the common use of the word epidemic to describe crime levels, is distinctly limited. The protection of society against disease is substantially proactive, at least at the societal level.

Yes, but what if some of us WANT to contract diseases? To deny that choice to society as a whole is a clear infringement on individual rights.

One cannot work at Woods Hole if you do not explicitly say you believe in evolution as the best and only argument for how we all got here as we are today.

Bill Watkins, son of missionaries, self-taught electronics guru, cetacean bioacoustics expert, and young-earth creationist, was an investigator at Woods Hole from 1958 through at least the mid-1990s. He was a major figure in the field of marine mammal bioacoustics and highly respected in the Woods Hole community.

If, though, you sign on to a research project, at Woods Hole or anywhere else, that is explicitly about studying particular processes and publishing the results concerning those processes, one is considered a whining nitwit if one refuses to actually do the work one knew ahead of time would be required. What does the good book say about those who steal? How is agreeing to do a job, cashing the checks, and not doing the job anything but theft?

See the Bill Watkins obituary and be impressed.

I knew Bill Watkins. Nathaniel Abraham is no Bill Watkins.

What a good read. Thanks.

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This page contains a single entry by Timothy Sandefur published on February 9, 2009 10:39 AM.

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