Thursday, March 10, 2011

State - Science separation: Is it time?

It is time that state and science went their separate ways...

This article postulates the main ideas behind the separation of State and Science that many intellectual men ask for. In the old days people asked for the separation of the Church from the State. Now it is finally time for Science to go on its own way too. Modern democratic countries cannot stand billions of taxpayers money spent without control on the name of "research" for projects that are constantly under a veil of mystery, or for failures for which noone accounts for...

Scope

This article addresses the issue that Feyerabend postulated some time ago: Does "Science" have to be separate from State? Most people these days talk about the separation between state and church. But what about science? Does science has a special place in todays society that calls for non-control and unlimited funding for programs that finally fail or have ambiguous (or even not at all) goals? I argue that science does not have "special rights" over any other activity and that the same democratic procedures that apply for all human activities shoud apply for science research as well. This article is NOT talking against scientific research! I am a scientist myself and I know that scientific research can be very helpful for mankind. This article talks AGAINST "uncontrolled research that is funded by the state"! By all means research should be a sector where all stated must invest heavily for their future! But they should do that in a way that thei citizens are fully aware of that funding details and not kept in the dark (sometimes intentionally)...

Julious Huxley postulated that "An evolutionary and humanist religion of fulfilment could be more truly universal and could release even vaster human forces, which could in large measure shape the development of the entire world..." [1] [2] [17]. Should we allow science to become the new religion?!?

Why is State-Science separation needed?

The main activity of science is research. This research is what gives us "good" things like new effective drugs, useful communication technology, prompt warning for physical disasters, devices we use in our everyday lifes. But are all these goodies are the only things science produces? No. Science also produces bad ineffective drugs, harmful communication technology, wrong warnings (or no warnings at all) for cataclysmic events. Science can also its deadends: research that leads to nothing. Money spend to reach zero results.
The main question is: should we find a way to control (and possibly prevent) these failures or is "research" a holy activity that noone should question? Do scientists have an unlimited right to research whatever they want and get the funds to do it from the state budget? Should democratic states help research unconditionally just because "research is research and humans should do research"?
And last but certainly not least: Should scientific research mega-failures be attributed to someone-thing and be paid for or mistakes are simply "natural when scientific research is conducted, end of story"?
The logical answer to all the abovementioned questions should be: NO, research is not something that is beyond the control of a democratic state's control mechanisms. By all means all states should invest heavily on research! BUT in a controlled way! As every other activity, scientific research should be pre-approved, fully documented, and have specific reasons for it getting state funding (private funding is of course no issue - someone can fund whatever he/she wants). And as in most developed states church is now separate from the state, science should be too. And if science needs state funding it should make its case for it. Not in the name of "Research" in general, but by giving specific reasons why any research on any specific subject is necessary, beneficial and possible to yield results in the current millenium.

Don't we already have such separation? No!

Even though someone could argue that since all these research expenditures are in the state budget they are actually controlled (after all, it is the elected representatives of the people who vote for that budget), this is not the case if someone thinks twice. Let us take the case of CERN for example. It is a good example because it is funded by many European countries and is in the top of todays science community. Just sit down and think. How many times have European citizens wandered what "big" and "important" scientific experiments are conducted in CERN? How many times have European citizens been asked to vote in the elections while taking scientific research budgets' details ito consideration?
Stating that research expenditure is 1 billion Euros does not mean that the scientific research expenses have passed any rigorous contol... We need information on which to base our decisions. Would European citizens actually say "Yes" to spending billions of Euro on a scientific research project that can actually fail into producing the results is was intially built for? Do most European citizens know that Hawkins said that CERN will never find the Higgs particle it is looking for? And does any of these voting citizens know what the discovery of Higgs particle will mean? Please note that I am not making a case for or against CERN LHC experiment at this point. I am just noting that no voting citizen has actually beed fed all the details on the LHC goals in order to have an opinion and decide on its funding! This is something of the uttermost importance. Governments may need to fight to pass 5 million Euro in the budget for the health system, but CERN is CERN. Noone seems to be able to touch it. Not even when the mega-experiment of LHC fails. Because after all, "Research is research". Do not touch the Holy Grail please...
Quiz 1: Do you know where to find and ready the EU budget?
Quiz 2: Can you locate the expenses for CERN research there?
[Please post your answers / findings below as comments in this article]

Case Studies

Unfortunately many cases reveal that science today is treated like church was treated in the Medieval times: like a supreme power that cannot be questioned or controlled. Governments seem to be spending millions and billions of Euros for vague research (e.g. CERN LHC) or based on vague (or manipulated?) research results (e.g. the H1N1 vaccination case). Below I analyze some of the stories that show how the line between "scientific research" and "scientific dictatorship" is really thin...


The H1N1 virus fiasco

When in mid-2009 the World Health Organization stated a state of emergency for the globe, everyone paid attention. All the governments from around the world spended millions of Euros to buy vaccines in order to protect the population. After all, the "scientific results" showed that we were on the edge of disaster. Time has now passed and it proved that the pandemic WHO had warned about did never came. Millions of healthy people were vaccinated with not fully tested vaccines. Also millions of citizens refused to take the vaccine and many countries were left with great supplies of vaccines unused. Now (01/2010) the European Union is starting to investigate who is responsible for this fiasco. They are suspecting (not quite sure yet?) that they were deceived by pharmaceuticals. Shouldn't someone be held responsible for this fiasko? [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]


The CERN case

Research at CERN [9] is what makes Europe one of the leaders in science worldwide, noone can deny that. But does that give scientists there the right to do anything they want without control? No, if a democracy is to be held. Democracies have contol mechanisms for all state actions and surely funding a specific research with millions of Euros is one of the cases where those mechanisms should apply. In the last years we have been witnesses to a crazy situation: Billions of Euro spent to build the LHC, noone actually knowing what the experiments goals would be (and I am not talking just for the Higgs particle - the LHC has literally hundrends of scientific experiments that thousands of scientists will carry out on the new collider), but everyone being happy about it! Then the LHC started its operations for a week, then broke and we all waited for a year to get it back on track.  Now the beams are set and we were waiting for the great revelation... But no! CERN closed LHC again on March 2010 for at least another year!!! [12] [13] Shouldn't European citizens be more involved in the whole process of funding such a large scale project? After all, they pay for the budget... [10] [11] [12] [13]

Einstein did most of his exceptional discoveries on his own and based on thought-experiment,

with no billion-Euro colliders backing him up.
Do European citizens feel nice when they are left outside the decision mechanism for state funding scientific experiments that we do not even know their possible outcome? 


Other cases

One can find manyother cases of uncontrolled fundind to "scientific" programs. For example "scientists" proposed in the late '00s (meaning the decade ending in 2010) the creation of a Seed Vault in Svalbard Norway. The vault can withstand even nuclear attack and can host millions of seeds! The idea is to host every kind of seed that exist in case a global disaster hits Earth. After some years and millions of Euro funding, the huge "vault" was created and everyone enjoyed it! [14] Great? No!
This is really stupid to be exact. Spending millions (or billions?) or Euro to a project that will have no use. If the world is destroyed, who cares if we have a seed bank after all? And if the last people surviving are in a village in India, who and how will get to Svalbard to get the seeds from the seed bank, when they would not even know where that bank is? Who has the keys to the bank? Maybe they left them under the mat? :) How will I go there and open the door if I am the only survivor?
We spent millions of Euro and created a "Seed Bank". Great!
Who will pay for the bill? What is the usefulness of such a "supersized supermarker"? 

If people don't start questioning where their money is going to, we will have more and more of these "brilliant" and very "scientific" ideas... Why don't we start a big bug bank to bury in Antarctica? Who votes for me to get 2 Miilion Euros to start thinking on that idea? Anyone?

Conclusions

The situation looks simple. It seems that many governments are heading in the right direction of scientific research but their plan does not involve the voting (and paying) citizens much. Whether this is right or not is not a matter of opinion in a democracy. You can do whatever you like in a monarchy, but democracy is based and derived from the people and should not ignore them. Citizens should be more and more involved in the state funding approval process especially when billions are spend on scientific programs. And let us not forget that the greatest scientific breakthoughs have been conducted by persons that worked alone, with no state budget or billion-euros colliders backing them up... And do not forget that most important scientific breakthroughs were made due to systematic thinking and not due to high-tech laboratories. Modern scientists have unfortunately forgotten that "data collection" is not "science". Science is the systematic thinking upon a subject. Einstein made his discoveries - which helped us understand how the Universe behaves - with no CERN or Hubble Space Telescope to assist him, during a time when we hadn't discovered any other galaxy besides our own!!!

RESEARCH MUST BE CONTINUED!


BUT DEMOCRATIC CONTROL OF FUNDING MUST EXIST AS WELL!!

If that is not possible, then the scientific research should be fully separated from state funding. In the same way many people call for the church being separated fully from the state, the same whould apply here as well.


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