26 Jul 2009, 11:27pm
Forestry education Politics and politicians
by admin

A Proposal For A New Institute of Venture Science

Proposed: a new institute that will invest deeply in science with breakthrough potential. The proposed institute would focus on high-risk, high-return research only, identifying and funding promising status-quo-challenging ideas in all areas of science.

The idea is to create an institute that supports scientific research which challenges existing paradigms and thereby produces breakthroughs in medicine, ecology, climatology, and many other scientific disciplines — revolutionary science, such as the kind that led to the laser, the transistor, the polio vaccine, the Internet, and indeed most of the truly innovative advancements in science and technology that we know of today.

Currently, status-quo science commands all the funding. Those who challenge paradigms are excluded from mainstream grants for many reasons: principally (perhaps) a timidity born of institutional risk-aversion together with old-fashioned intellectual stultification.

Could a bold, new Institute of Venture Science become a reality? Such is the goal of a group of leaders in science who have sent a letter [here] to President Obama, to his science advisor, John Holdren, and to Congress. Drafted by Gerald H. Pollack, Ph.D., Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington, the letter is endorsed by more than 60 leading American scientists in the fields of medicine, biophysics, forest science, anthropology, engineering, geography, astronomy, nanotechnology, and numerous other fields.

The letter requests that an Institute of Venture Science be funded:

… with a budget of about ten percent of the combined NSF and NIH budgets, or about $4 billion per year. The IVS would be set up for a test period of ten years. If it fails to produce scientific revolutions during that period, it could be dismantled — the investment having been modest relative to current scientific investments, which have produced few revolutions. If it succeeds, as some of us think inevitable, then it will have restored science to the richly bountiful enterprise it was before the funding agencies began imposing top-down management and inviting mainstream scientists to judge their challengers. With proper investment (in part perhaps from private sources) in the most promising and farreaching breakthrough ideas, science should once again revolutionize human existence.

Appended to the letter is a Proposal for Implementation [here] that describes how such an Institute would operate.

Current agencies… are not set up to deal with the most critical obstacle to realization: the reluctance of a conservative scientific community to entertain ideas that challenge their long-held views. Challenges are perceived as antithetical to their best interests, and hence, few transformative ideas ever ascend to realization in reasonable time frame no matter how compelling may be the case.

The IVS is designed to overcome this obstacle. It does so by investing in groups of scientists who pursue the same unconventional approach to an intractable problem or an entrenched way of thinking. Grants are awarded following rigorous review. Challenger and orthodoxy present their arguments to a panel of disinterested scientific observers, who decide whether the challenge is meritorious. The most highly ranked proposals are funded liberally, allowing multiple laboratories to pursue the same challenge theme. This multiplicity of efforts creates a critical mass that cannot be ignored; challenge and orthodoxy compete on equal footing and if the challenge prevails, then the result is a realized paradigm shift or even a revolution in scientific thinking.

The need for funding science that researches “outside the box” is becoming more and more obvious even to lay persons. Last June the NY Times published:

Grant System Leads Cancer Researchers to Play It Safe

by Gina Kolata, NY Times, June 27, 2009 [here]

Among the recent research grants awarded by the National Cancer Institute is one for a study asking whether people who are especially responsive to good-tasting food have the most difficulty staying on a diet. Another study will assess a Web-based program that encourages families to choose more healthful foods. …

The cancer institute has spent $105 billion since President Richard M. Nixon declared war on the disease in 1971. The American Cancer Society, the largest private financer of cancer research, has spent about $3.4 billion on research grants since 1946.

Yet the fight against cancer is going slower than most had hoped, with only small changes in the death rate in the almost 40 years since it began.

One major impediment, scientists agree, is the grant system itself. It has become a sort of jobs program, a way to keep research laboratories going year after year with the understanding that the focus will be on small projects unlikely to take significant steps toward curing cancer. …

Last week the Science and Public Policy presented a study [here] that found:

The US government has spent over $79 billion since 1989 on policies related to climate change, including science and technology research, administration, education campaigns, foreign aid, and tax breaks.

Yet, those who challenge the prevailing theories have not only not been funded, in many cases they have been fired. Gaping holes in Greenhouse Gas and Global Warming models have been exposed by grassroots scientists outside the funded agencies because within them orthodoxy has grown oppressive. “The debate is over — there is a consensus,” is the political cry, but true science does not work by consensus; science functions by challenging hypotheses with experiments and the collection of empirical data — by putting orthodoxy to the test.

Despite the incredibly one-sided research funding and political sermonizing, less than half of U.S. voters believe global warming is caused by human activities [here]. And if lay people are skeptical, then scientists should be even more so — the scientific method is based on skepticism.

But the funding is closed off to those who challenge global warming orthodoxy, and that is true in forest science as well. Clementsian theories of “natural balance,” “natural fire regimes,” and “natural succession” still hold sway despite over 80 years of research that has amassed strong, empirical, counter-evidence. Those who espouse new thinking have been ostracized by the Establishment, and one result has been a crisis of megafires that are destroying our heritage forests.

Bob Tom, Tribal elder of the Siletz and Grand Ronde Tribes, described the growing Cultural Renaissance taking place in the Native American community [here]. We need a Science Renaissance as well, around the world within the entire human community.

Science unchained can provide us so much: cures for deadly diseases, rediscovery of lost civilizations, the shattering of hoary paradigms, a vastly improved understanding of the universe and our role in it. The old walls should imprison us no longer. Open the doors and windows. Unbind the Prometheus of rational inquiry. Shine the bright searchlight once again.

We have allowed ourselves to become fettered by antiquated myths. It is so boring, so debilitating, so Medieval. Let us instead cast off into the unknown and seek new shores.

It is not my habit to request assistance. I never ask you, dear readers, to “write your congressperson.” I am reticent to promote contributions to W.I.S.E.’s empty coffers by begging for donations, something I am supposed to do in my capacity as Executive Director. It is uncomfortably gauche to implore your generosity, (although your occasional generosity is deeply appreciated).

In this instance, however, I am asking you, please, to write your elected representatives, to add your voice to those who are calling for a new Institute of Venture Science. Download the letter [here] and add your name to the list. Send it to your congressperson together with a note in your own words. It is truly in your best interest to do so, and in the interest of all humanity, to free the sciences from the present dismal swamp of calcified thinking.

Thank you. On behalf of all of us.

27 Jul 2009, 11:13am
by Forrest Grump

Ya know, I think the issue of science/values/advocacy is ripe for larger discussion as an adjunct to this proposal.

Science has the most value when it provides benefits in terms of improved human condition, not when it demands the human condition be lessened or lowered. So if this thing goes after solution-oriented science, it deserve success. Eh?



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