Thursday, July 31, 2008 66 Comments

Standards

When anything becomes standardized,
A whole art is lost. Consider the screw,
Once made by hand, and nor was this
Unskilled work, like ushering or 'food prep' -

Picture a world all of handmade screws,
Agonizingly beautiful and expensive.
Even the minivans are teak and mahogany.
And the women: of the very finest quality.

And this world, which is yours, to live in now,
Is crushed, powdered, cut, and reproduced
To a sort of artificial crab of itself,
Ten percent gelatin and fifty-five cod,

And they say: "but it's cheaper." And you say -
But you don't say. Since of course they're right.

66 Comments:

Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Damn.

Just damn.
I love Big Brother, too.

Damn.

July 31, 2008 at 9:17 PM  
Anonymous m said...

I thought this was great. Thanks for sharing. A lot clearer than the last one :)

August 1, 2008 at 5:48 AM  
Anonymous Lawful Neutral said...

I don't know poetry, but I like this one. I'd like it better if it rhymed, though.

August 1, 2008 at 6:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the mahogany / quality lines work very well. Bravo!

August 1, 2008 at 8:03 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Absolutely, consider the screw.

Last Saturday I shot a round of informal trap with a friend. I used a bar-in-wood Westley Richards hammer gun made in 1878, he a Holland & Holland sidelever from about 1880. The left hand striker of the Holland was hanging up occasionally when he opened the gun due to debris that had got in through the firing pin aperture in the standing breech from a pierced primer. Being somewhat an amateur gunsmith I helped him take the striker seat out to clean this out, which involved removing a set screw. I pointed out to him that all the screws in both our guns - as in all bespoke British guns - were "timed" so that all their slots lined up with each other, and they to the axis of the barrels. He'd not noticed it before. This is of course only possible if the screws are individually made to fit in this way - nor, indeed, was this unskilled work.

What is interesting is that - even in the twenty-first century - you can still get this quality of work, if you're willing to pay the price. It is certainly an exception to the ordinary rule of modernity, which represents the triumph of process engineering over craftsmanship.

August 1, 2008 at 2:35 PM  
Blogger TGGP said...

I've been reading Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, and this really resonated with his discussion of the shift from artisans for aristocrats to mass-market production. I, of course, favor the latter. I am a philistine though.

I wonder what MM thinks of de Tocqueville. He seems somewhat Burkean and had relatives guillotined during the revolution, but he also seems to have a very high opinion of Jacksonian democracy, which MM laments as being much worse than the New Deal state.

Speaking of that, I didn't realize until recently that Walter Lippman was a member of the Mont Pelerin society. It was Frank Knight though who objected to naming it the "Acton-de Tocqueville society" on the grounds that a liberal institution should not be named after two Catholic aristocrats!

August 1, 2008 at 4:27 PM  
Anonymous Goldie said...

handmade screws? are u kidding me? whoever wrote this poem clearly knows nothing about construction. if we were still using handmade screws we'd be stuck in the very beginnig of the industrial revolution. and not only because they are cheaper. making screws is a science. there are different screws for different jobs. they are made from very complex metal alloys. their design has to be precise to the thousandth of a degree.

now, adressing the fist two lines of the poem - "when anything becomes standardized, a whole art is lost" is this true? due to the mechanical engineering and processing of screws we now have skyscrapers, beautiful forms of architecture. a form of art. we design paints on a molecular level now so that different paints fit the needs of different artists. painting still exists. there are different kinds of painting, but the art still exists. art will always exist and standardization can work together with art. they aren't opposing ideas.

and that's without even discussing what the author means by standardization. i'm not really sure what he means when he uses that word because, using his example of screws, we don't have one type of screw. take a trip to home depot and you will find a huge wall of hundreds of different kinds of screws. and those are only the basic forms. if you go online or to specialty construction stores you will find even more complexities and varying designs of screws. so the author here is using imprecise language. he's comparing apples to oranges.

a good example of standardization is the national guard. the national guard in alaska use the axact same vocabulary as the national guard in louisiana. this is because the soldiers of the national guard get moved around alot, and a soldier who trained in new york can find himself in the same unit as a soldier from alaska, louisiana, california, and wyoming. and the reason they standardize the language and technique, is because soldiers aren't supposed to be thinking. they are supposed to be mirror images of each other, nonthinking, obeying orders, doing what they are told. soldiers. in this case, standardization does kill art. but thats because soldiers arent expected to be artists. they are expected to do their job and nothing else. thier free time, as you and i know, is rare, and when they do have free time, they generally fill it either sleeping, getting drunk, ....... and every once in a while, like jimmy hendrix for example, who served in the army, and taught himself to play the guitar in the army.

my question to the author is - author, how do you picture the world before the industrial revolution? was it a quiet beautiful place, flourishing with uniqueness and art everywhere?

and by the way, there are alot of places in the world where they are still making handmade screws. and look how its working out for them.

August 1, 2008 at 6:39 PM  
Blogger TGGP said...

By the way, it may be of interest to readers that I've put Tom Wolfe's Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers (touted by MM) online. Some of you may remember my post on MM as Straussian crypto-Muslim, I had a later one reimagined as Hindu. There was also a big discussion on what is politically incorrect. More recently I tied together a bunch of threads on why we have cycles of failed policies, starting with a discussion of the alleged anti-semitism of Albert Jay Nock. Just before that I found someone I designated anti-Moldbug.

August 1, 2008 at 8:35 PM  
Blogger John said...

MM

Your first poem that I didn't have to struggle with. The fault is with me, no doubt. I also want to ask (and I hope this is not inappropriate) what tools do you use to gather save, file, and then locate an apt quote, datum or file, for example. You seem to have an inexhaustable storehouse of information and/or total recall. I am a fan of your blog but am too timid to add my two cents.

August 2, 2008 at 12:23 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Goldie, I don't know if there are a "lot" of places where they are still making handmade screws, but among those where they are may be numbered Holland & Holland, Purdey, etc. - you can buy a new bespoke gun for about £60,000 - and there is a large backlog of orders. "Look how it's working out for them" - indeed!

The limits of the carriage trade are and always have been set by the extremely small market to which it caters. Perhaps it is less relevant to their present condition than to their aristocratic past that European countries still foster high artisanship, in some cases approaching artistry, whereas this country does not. American mass production has always been directed towards the low and middle ends of the market for whatever sort of goods it has been set up to make, because there's much more demand, and much more potential profit. Henry Ford thus became a much wealthier man than Sir Henry Royce, and countless other examples may be made illustrating the same point.

Nonetheless it it a worthwhile point that even in a world dominated by mass production, there are still artisans working for aristocrats. Why? Veblen attempted to explain it as 'conspicuous consumption,' implying that the preference of the rich for handmade articles over those that were mass-produced was just a sort of manifestation of their vanity and based on their ability to spend. This does not seem entirely persuasive, because at least in some cases one can discern an objective superiority in function as well as a purely aesthetic appeal on the part of the finely-made workmanship of the skilled craftsman when compared to the product of the assembly line. It is always the perception of marginally superior utility - whether functional or aesthetic - that is represented by a marginal difference in price, and that difference may be quite significant.

August 3, 2008 at 2:27 PM  
Anonymous Goldie said...

to elaborate further - mencius, my understanding is that you expect art to be a certain way, with a certain amount of complexity, and to take a certain form.

for example, old architecture, such as the palace of Versailles or the Sistine chapel, is a beautiful and complex visual form of art that we do not find today. this is true. rarely do we find a building ornamented in such was today. but if we look at who funded these buildings and who the artists were, we can understand how the building came to be.

Versailles - a series of connected rectangular buildings!!!! built by louis xiv. he bankrupted france by heavily taxing them in order to build this palace. louis saw himself as a god figure and is also known as the sun king and as the lord of the muses.

Sistine chapel - a rectangular building!!!! but aside from that it was built in the mid-evil times (roughly around the year 1480), just before the renaissance, when the church had tons of power. so much so, that only priests and the rich were allowed to learn how to read and write. Michaelangelo painted the roof around 1550. a little known fact is that he actually decided that he didn't want the job and the church threatened to kill him. he ran off to the marble quarries and hid for several weeks and then came up with the idea that he could paint biblical scenes on the roof. this was also around the time that the church discovered he was hiding in the quarries and had begun sending search committees to find him. it's true that he did receive a nice commission, but there were also many unpaid assistants, courtesy of the church.

so yes, we no longer have the same amount of ornamentation decorating our buildings. but we also do not have slave labor and threaten people with death.
if we look at modern architecture we can find the same amount of detail and complexity but it takes a different form. skyscrapers - yes, they are giant rectangular structures that all go way high up. but if you study how they are designed, with all of the complexity and intracacies of the design, than i don't see how anyone who understands those aspects doesnt call it a form of art. also, it isnt true that skyscrapers are just rectangles that touch te heavens. if you look at the sears tower, the boeing tower, and trump towers, just 3 examples, we find varying designs. just look at the placement of the elevators and stairwells. for a really good example of how diverse skyscrapers are look at the chicago skyline. http://www.chicagoarchitecture.info/

also, skyscrapers are designed based on a form of symbolism which is deepy rooted in our most instinctive and primal level of subconscious - what jung calls the collective subconscious. now in order to understand what i am about to say, we first have to understand that the term phallic has nothing to do with sexuality. the phallic symbol represents the main characteristics of the alpha male - power/strength, and the ability to provide. look at who build skyscrapers - large powerful corporations. another reason they use a high tower is for the people within, to climb the ladder of success, the more powerful u are, the higher up u go. excuse me if i'm a silly fool for thinking that art and symbolism go hand in hand.
hospitals and prisons are shaped in a circle, a universal symbol for the sun and women. or i should say, the aspects that the sun and women have in common which is completion, continuity, and the ability to nurture. the reason they do this is because studies have shown that psychologically, people in need of physical or emotional help respond better to this shape. hmmm, maybe jung has a point when he developed the term collective subconscious. if we look at societies based on community, where everyone lives together, their huts are shaped in circles. if we look at societies where every man must fight for himself, we find more phallic symbolism.

if we limit what art is and what it means to very specific things, then we deny ourselves the appreciation of what we are and how far our technology has developed and how much farther it can go.


i can take this to other aspects and details but i thin that to start u have to ask yourself how u see art and what art means according to you. then, once you understand that part of yourself you can ask, well, that is what i expect from art, but what do other people expect from art, how do other people see art. what do other people consider to be art. you could brush it off and say that everyone else is a bunch of silly nincompoops, or you can accept them and say , well, his is how i see it, and there are many other views.

August 3, 2008 at 5:44 PM  
Blogger G. M. Palmer said...

Goldie,

If there is hope for you, read this, this, and this for starters.

And look at oh, anything handmade by an expert (take a new Gibson f-series Mandolin) and compare it with something made by machine to a high precision (any mandolin by Ovation or, if you'd rather, by Samick) and compare the two.

For a more accurate luthier representation, compare a Martin neck from the 1970s and 1980s (or Pre-War for even more precision) to to a Martin neck made after 1995 (when they moved production to robots) -- the difference in quaility is obvious. But whatever, just read and maybe open your mind a little.

M

August 3, 2008 at 6:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So are we to conclude that the work of IEEE, ANSI, ASME, ISO and IEC are in vain? Building / seismic codes for construction, electrical codes for wiring, fire protection codes, automotive safety standards, aircraft standards, etc., all serve public health and safety by virtue of standardization to a regulatory level of protection. Working in the nuclear industry, I appreciate standarization and loathe the anarchy that characterized the US's first nuclear build: every plant a custom model. France, on the other hand, standardized on one PWR design and now supplies 70% of its electricity from pollution-free nuclear energy.

The next time you decry standardization, think about what lack of standards would do in the case of software code development for the firmware in digital controllers of jet aircraft on which you may fly across the country. Everyone coding per his and her whim with no concern for what effect that may have on aircraft safety - just get the chip out on time and under budget, safety be damned.

Or better yet, think about what lack of standards does in the medical industry. GE Medical was shut down last year because it lost requirements traceability for the firmware in its radiation treatment machines for cancer patients. They didn't follow the standards. And there is a reason for standards in this area. Google Therac-25 and you'll find them.

People who decry standards are invariably non-scientists, non-engineers who fail to comprehend the full impact of anarchy in a high technology civilization. The computer you use to rebut me rests in large measure on the standards from IEEE.

Foolishness.

August 4, 2008 at 2:53 AM  
Anonymous m said...

My opinion: mass production takes art out of a product, but it brings it within reach of the common person. Standardization (a necessary component of mass production) takes art out of a product as well, but it can also allow new art to be made from the standardized components (skyscrapers, new methods of painting, cruise ships (I've heard that a contributing factor to the Titanic sinking was that the screws and bolts wern't standardized), etc).

Mencius is right and wrong, imo. I think the screw was a bad example on which to base his poem. But his main point I agree with, which you can read in the line "And the women: of the very finest quality." - standardization destroys many things, not just hand-made production. Even people today are rubber stamped. If you had lived 100 years ago the variety in opinion you would have come across, how people were raised, the differences in how they thought and viewed the world, was staggeringly diverse by today's standard - even within just one society. Today, everything is rubber stamped through mass media - CNN dictating to you how to view politics, MTV dictating to you how to be cool, "17" magazine telling 14 year old girls how to behave, etc. For example: http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/ I know a lot of people who fit almost every category on it.

So the standardization cuts across everything in ways we don't even comprehend. The quality difference between women back then was enormous, too.

And not just women. Education - education today is the same everywhere you go. Modern universities were founded as seminaries. What is taught at Brown is exactly what's taught at USC is exactly what's taught at Colgate is exactly what's taught at Harvard. They're places of indoctrination.

Poetry, as palmer says. It's been drained and gutted - people back in the day actually read it and it had life in it.

Science. Do you think it's a surprise that we havn't had major breakthroughs in technology since, say, the 1950s? Today most funding for scientific research comes from two sources: government and universities. Both stifle innovation in their own way, rubberstamping it and smothering it in its attempts at standardization. Also, because of the ridiculous patent process, major companies choke to death startups.

Here's another way to look at this poem. Most people judge themselves and each other by what other people have, not by an objective level of quality of life. Basically the poem is by a member of the aristocracy (Mencius) who's lamenting the small class differences that exist today compared to yesteryear. Today even though the super-rich are monetarily much better off than you or me, there's not a huge difference in the quality of life. They might have a Gulfstream or a huge house or a Lambrogini or better medical care, but the differences today are TINY compared to what used to be. A normal person can have a house, tvs, computers, education, internet, health insurance, cars (more than one), etc. So it's not hard to take offense to this poem if you're not a member of the aristocracy (a tiny percentage of society, although overrepresented on this site perhaps) and to see that most people's lives have dramatically improved, that Mencius might be in an ivory tower and doesn't know how much better we have it, etc.

August 4, 2008 at 1:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Goldie, if you approve so highly of standardization, I recommend that you adhere to the standards of capitalization. I'm not just trying to be a "grammar communist", although if called that I supposed I'd say that the shoe fits. Your posts are a drag to read for only superficial reasons, and I believe your message is worthy of better presentation.

(And I'm quite certain the author of the poem is none other than Mencius Moldbug, an experienced computer programmer, language designer, and political reactionary.)

August 4, 2008 at 2:30 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Goldie and anon. of 2:53AM August 4 may be making a confusion of terms. "Standards" do not necessarily imply the "standardization" inherent in mass production. For example, sophisticated gravimetric analysis of precious metals (assaying) has existed since at least the middle ages. This has enabled the hallmarking of silver and gold articles since the late fifteenth century, at least in England. Articles of skilled craftsmanship, one-off pieces, may meet and in fact long have met standards of this kind without being "standardized" in the vulgar sense.

Goldie - it is a rather crude analysis to say that in the fifteenth century and before "only priests and the rich were allowed to learn how to read and write." It was more the case that very few people had any occasion to use the skill. They were mostly clergy, members of 'learned professions' such as medicine or the law, the noblesse de la robe, and (with the development of a credit economy) the rising bourgeoisie. Books were quite expensive as long as they were written on parchment or vellum and had to be copied by hand. The introduction of paper into Europe (c. 13th century) and the invention of printing from movable type (mid-15th century) made books more widely available and once this was the case, literacy became more widespread. Within a very short time, printers and publishers joined the nouveau riche - Anton Koberger, publisher of the Nuremberg Chronicle, was already described as "impressor opulentissimus" by the 1480s, and Christopher Plantin a century later made the first really great fortune in the book trade. The connection between the history of printing and the rise of literacy illustrates the principle that supply creates its own demand.

August 4, 2008 at 3:01 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

m said: Do you think it's a surprise that we havn't had major breakthroughs in technology since, say, the 1950s?
Are you nuts? How many gigs of memory did your laptop have back in the 1950s? The integrated circuit, the internet, and PCR were al developed after the 1950s, to name just three civilization-changing technologies.

Standardization is what made the industrial revolution possible, and it has been an engine of productivity ever since. We are entering an era of post-standardization, where peer production, open source, and hacker culture combine to leverage standardized components into new, unforeseen applicatons. Check this out for an idea of what's coming down the pike -- high school students are assembling their own custom organisms.

On the other hand, those pining for handmade screws might want to read James Kunstler's new book, even though he is a liberal peak-oiler who would be anathema to Mencius. Perhaps the handmade world will be back with us soon enough.

August 4, 2008 at 6:48 PM  
Anonymous m said...

mtraven: the seeds for the integrated circuit and the internet were placed before the current patent/university strangehold had taken place, which occurred sometime in the 60s/70s by my count... You're right about PCR, and I suppose that I should have had a "many" between "havn't had" and "major breakthroughs"...my bad :) I need to more careful with blanket statements.

I've been reading Kuntsler's blog for awhile and he does make a lot of good points. His global warming/statist perspective is a little maddening - he sees where we're headed but has not even the faintest idea why. I want to slap him upside the head - the path makes all the difference.

Also, I don't know why you think Mencius isn't a believer in peak oil. I'm pretty sure he is.

August 4, 2008 at 8:02 PM  
Blogger Leonard said...

Mencius fantasizes about fine women and their handmade minivans. Perhaps he thinks that he would be among the tiny percentage of the population who would get them, and not the groveling masses sweating in their quaint and even vibrant workshops to produce screws and handmade teak paneling. "Agonizingly"; yes. Who, whom?

Well, he may well be right -- certainly he has a good mind. Though I fancy that did not get you so far in the times when screws were handmade. Meritocracy only happens when screws are standardized.

Me, I'll stick with air conditioning and the internet, and a lovely car which I can afford held together with crushed, powdered, cut, and reproduced screws. A artificial crab car, purely awful and synthetic and horrid except that it is sleek, powerful, and lovely to look at. It goes without maintenance, a lost art to me, and I don't want to learn. I am 55% codfish.

I have to say, this kind of luddism, or perhaps it's just thoughtless romanticism, coming from a first rate thinker is ... depressing.

"When anything becomes standardized,
A whole art is born..."

August 4, 2008 at 9:59 PM  
Blogger Black Sea said...

Change almost always implies both loss and gain. That's not to say that the loss and gain always balance each other out; it simply to say that when change occurs, something is usually lost, or at least diminished.

This is, so it seems, a poem about a quality severly diminished in the wake of sweeping technological and economic change. I don't think the poem ever asserts that there was no gain as well. In fact, the last two lines, do, somewhat ironically, acknowledge that gain.

The handmade screws are a curiosity. On the one hand, if anything should be standardized. it is a acrew. After all, one doesn't often fantasize about being a craftsman of handmade screws in the way one might about being a woodworker or a stone mason. One certainly doesn't fantasize about being the craftsman who must assemble something using a collection of handmade, and presumably somewhat non-standardized, screws. Screws that don't fit threads are frustration materialzed.

On the other hand, the very improbability of the screw as an example of masterful handcraft is odd enough to capture the attention. "Why the screw?" you wonder as you read the lines.

Auden once wrote that most people who believe that they want to be writers actually don't want to be writers. They just want to escape a dreadful, bureaucratized monotony in which there is no allowance for their aesthetic or creative inclinations, however modest these may be. When work was less standardized, it did allow more latitude for the expression of this inescapable and quite human impulse.

August 4, 2008 at 11:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The art is in the engineering design of the screw. After that point, producing them is mindlessly turning the crank.

"hand made" doesn't mean high quality, it means crap. Tons of people in poor countries live in hand made shacks, with hand made water supplies and no hand made electricity.

August 5, 2008 at 6:28 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Leonard, your conjuration of 'groveling masses sweating in their quaint and even vibrant workshops...' to produce articles of high craftsmanship is not quite accurate. In the pre-industrial age, the skilled craftsman was typically a relatively highly-paid and well-respected member of society. Benevenuto Cellini was not one of the 'groveling masses.' Neither were Christopher Plantin, Abraham-Louis Breguet, or Joe Manton, to name only a few representative examples.

There is no question but that mass production made a great many things available to people who could not have afforded them had they been purely artisanal products. The economic effect of this change was mixed, however, since it worked ultimately to the detriment of the artisan. His high skills were rendered less valuable by engineered and organized processes that broke production down into simple steps that could be performed by unskilled workers.

August 5, 2008 at 10:06 AM  
Anonymous incredulous said...

People who decry standards are invariably non-scientists, non-engineers who fail to comprehend the full impact of anarchy in a high technology civilization. The computer you use to rebut me rests in large measure on the standards from IEEE.

Isn't MM a computer guy? Trained in science (computer science, anyway)?

You're right about PCR, and I suppose that I should have had a "many" between "havn't had" and "major breakthroughs"...my bad :) I need to more careful with blanket statements.

Just because you're not aware of them, doesn't mean the breakthroughs didn't exist. In my field, aerospace, there have been many, many breakthroughs since 1950. Aircraft now are, um, a LOT better than the aircraft in 1950 (or 1960 or 1970 or 1980). And, by the way, many of those breakthroughs are a result of investment by the (gasp!) horrid, evil government. Far from stifling innovation, the government actively promoted it in aerospace, communications, and electronics from 1950 onwards. (Gee, can you guess why?) Of course, in libertarian la-la land, somehow this would all have happened anyway without the government.

August 5, 2008 at 12:32 PM  
Blogger Leonard said...

Incredulous, yes it would have, at least the parts of it with real value as opposed to value to states. Do you think it requires state funding to discover applications of basic physics?

Michael, actually I am aware of that. Actually the grovelling masses in question were the peasants, 90% or 95% or whatever of the people, stuck on the land. Well, at least sustenance farming isn't unskilled work, like ushering or 'food prep'!

Still, I'd prefer to be me in my soulless modernity with contact lenses, plumbing, electricity, etc. than one of those poor shleps. I nearly had my appendix rupture in my youth. I may well owe my very life to the soulless, mindless destruction of the arts of leechery, witch-doctoring and alchemy by modern medicine. How many people did penicillin throw out of their wonderful arty craft jobs? Quite a many. But really... what else positive can they say of modern surgery except, "it's cheaper"? Of course they're right.

August 5, 2008 at 6:16 PM  
Anonymous Lawful Neutral said...

Leonard:
I have to say, this kind of luddism, or perhaps it's just thoughtless romanticism, coming from a first rate thinker is ... depressing.

Naw, you're missing the whole point of the poem:
"But you don't say. Since of course they're right."

MM is tempted by the romantic luddite point of view, but his reason and good sense win out. Sure handcrafted minivans sound appealing, but then you realize you wouldn't actually be among the 1% of the population that would get them.

August 5, 2008 at 9:46 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

In general, mechanised techniques and simplified designs of products came in when they were more cost effective, not when they made a better product, e.g. a wheellock is a better system than a flintlock and hand made guns were for a long time better than standardised machine made ones - particularly since standardising didn't work at first because the tolerances needed for assembly were stricter than could be reliably attained; parts had to be chosen from bins according to what would fit.

By the way, in one of his Lord Conrad novels Leo Frankowski described how to make a high precision screw with simple methods, using what is clearly a variation of the technique invented to make the first tool for cutting precision diffraction gratings. You hand carve a screw thread into a long bolt, and hand carve a matching nut - but you split the nut into two C shaped halves. Then you press the two parts loosely together around the bolt with wedges and work the bolt back and forth while pouring a coarse abrasive in the thread. Gradually you wedge everything together tighter as you switch to ever finer abrasives, and after a few weeks (get the apprentice to do this) you have a precision hand made screw thread. Don't even start me on rubbing three plates together to make a flat surface so as to make a straight line guide...

August 6, 2008 at 5:01 AM  
Anonymous m said...

Interesting how much controversy this poem has generated. 27 comments and counting, versus 9 for Mencius's last poem. Is it the controversial message or the ease of understanding (I didn't understand more than half of Grant's Tomb) or a combination?

Would seem to confirm Palmer's thoughts regarding poetry...

August 6, 2008 at 8:37 AM  
Anonymous incredulous said...

Incredulous, yes it would have, at least the parts of it with real value as opposed to value to states. Do you think it requires state funding to discover applications of basic physics?

I disagree with the premise that things that have "value to states" have no "real value".

But yeah, in fact, it does require state funding to do a lot of basic research, because the market won't allow private industry to pursue things that cost too much to start and take too long to pay off.

The "either / or" view is totally simplistic. There is a role for both government and private scientific R&D.

August 6, 2008 at 9:15 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Leonard, it's a mistake to assume that modern medicine or surgery and industrial mass production are comparable things. Modern surgery, though safer and more effective, certainly isn't "cheaper" than were pre-existing medical techniques. In fact, modern medicine is extremely expensive compared even to what medicine was fifty years ago. I don't think penicillin put anyone out of jobs, artisanal or otherwise. Medicine and allied professions/trades are 'growth industries' on which an increasing rather than declining amount of money is spent.

Further, while subsistence farming certainly involves some skills, it was and is not customarily considered a skilled craft or trade in the traditional sense of those terms.

Incredulous, I suggest it is worth looking at how much 'basic research' is actually funded by the state. State expenditures have typically been directed towards rather narrow purposes - mainly military applications (including the space program). That they have had many unrelated benefits is purely a byproduct. The archetypal example of how state expenditures work in this way was the £10,000 prize offered by the British government for a method of determining longitude, after Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell ran the British fleet aground in the Scilly Isles in 1707. Among the many methods proposed the one that prevailed was the use of a precise marine chronometer, for which John Harrison eventually claimed the prize. So energized by the naval demand for accurate timekeepers, British horologists became the best in the world, and dominated the industry - not only for marine chronometers, but also for ordinary watches and clocks used by civilians - well into the nineteenth century, until Swiss makers out-competed them with their more efficient production.

There's no doubt that much basic research was done in the course of developing atomic bombs, guided missiles, and the like, and that ordinary civilians have derived many benefits as side-effects. It is important to remember that these have been purely unintentional as far as government is concerned.

August 6, 2008 at 10:15 AM  
Blogger Moshea bat Abraham said...

I think you may find The War for Righteousness of interest.

August 6, 2008 at 8:44 PM  
Anonymous incredulous said...

Leonard, it's a mistake to assume that modern medicine or surgery and industrial mass production are comparable things. Modern surgery, though safer and more effective, certainly isn't "cheaper" than were pre-existing medical techniques. In fact, modern medicine is extremely expensive compared even to what medicine was fifty years ago.

On the other hand, society receives a benefit commensurate with the increased cost, which is that people live longer and healthier lives.

Incredulous, I suggest it is worth looking at how much 'basic research' is actually funded by the state. State expenditures have typically been directed towards rather narrow purposes - mainly military applications (including the space program). That they have had many unrelated benefits is purely a byproduct.

I looked at NSF figures, and the government funds about 56% of all basic research in the US - that is, basic science, not applied research or development. The majority of that spending is via government support to colleges and universities. Sounds pretty essential to me, both for its own sake and from the standpoint of educating scientists who probably won't work on Federally-funded projects later.

Industry R&D is pretty damn specific and narrow, too. I know exactly how narrow, because that's what I do. We get paid to solve company-specific technology problems, not to do general research in the hopes of someday having an unpredictable future breakthrough.

Anyway, so what if there are unintended incidental benefits of narrowly focused research? If we can know that there will be incidental benefits - and we do - then it is not really necessary to be able to predict beforehand exactly what they will be. If you get what you intended to get plus some unintended spinoffs as well, then you are certainly better off than if you only got the intended narrow benefit.

There's no doubt that much basic research was done in the course of developing atomic bombs, guided missiles, and the like, and that ordinary civilians have derived many benefits as side-effects. It is important to remember that these have been purely unintentional as far as government is concerned.

If we got the civilian computer revolution because the government was interested in missile guidance, I don't think it's especially important at all that this was an unintended consequence. The argument that the private sector would have done this anyway, without government spending, seems dubious at best. I am highly doubtful indeed that anyone would have founded a semiconductor firm in the 1950s / 60s without the assurance that the government was going to buy most of their products. The guys who became the semiconductor gurus probably wouldn't even have gone into that field at all if the government wasn't subsidizing it.

August 7, 2008 at 11:22 AM  
Anonymous working class shmo said...

hey mencius, u got a problem with the fact that the working class arent noticeably poorer than you.

fuck off dillhole.

go to africa where you can be rich and shove it in everybody's face. walk in front of a starving child while eating a big juicy cheeseburger. this poem lacks taste and u must learn one day that to feel good about yourself you must be comfortable and accepting of yourself. having everyone recognize how much richer you are is an unrewarding and unhealthy way of acheiving self-actualization.
now, self-actualization may not be your goal. perhaps the path of harmony and balance isn't what you want. i can't understand that, maybe your mother didnt accept you for who you are and you don't know how to deal with that.
i could be totally wrong.
actually, the more i think about it, the more i realize that you are fully entitled to your opinion, those feelings and thoughts. after all, they belong to you and you are simply expressing how you feel.
so keep on keepin on man. i hope it works out for you.

August 7, 2008 at 11:56 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

The argument that government subsidy of universities and colleges = funding of basic research deserves further examination. First, how much of that government subsidy is wasted in a sort of equivalent to frictional loss? There are always strings attached, and administrative expense in connection with taking government money. Thus, only a fraction of it is spent on actual research - I'd like to know just what that fraction is. Also, there is an assumption that if government didn't provide funds, they would not be forthcoming from other sources. This can neither be proved nor disproved, as a hypothesis contrary to current fact. However, we do have some knowledge, both historical and current, that suggests the contrary.

The nineteenth century, when government subsidy to education - and to higher education in particular - was much less than it is today, was a period of great private philanthropy directed to higher education. Many of today's most prestigious private universities were founded then. Private philanthropy today, coupled with the tax-exempt status of universities, has resulted in the accumulation of such huge endowments at some universities that their students from all but the wealthiest families now enjoy free tuition. Never before in the history of American higher education has this been true - and never before have its endowments been worth what they are now.

Universities are not subject to the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code that require most other public charities to derive a majority of their gross revenues from contributions rather than investment income, or otherwise be re-classified as private foundations. Nor are they subject to the requirement that private foundations disburse a given minimum percentage of their assets each year. There is no indication that this very lenient tax treatment will change. These are among the good reasons to believe that were direct government subsidies to universities or colleges to be curtailed, other money could be found to pay those expenses now borne by taxpayers.

August 7, 2008 at 2:37 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Michael S, wrong as usual, says we can fund science out of university endowments. Let's do the numbers! This document reveals that the total endowment of the top 785 institutions of higher learning is around $410 billion. Let's very generously say they can all get 10% a year return on their investments, and they spend half the results on scientific research. That's $20 billion a year. The NIH alone funds $28 billion of research in a year; the NSF budget is around $6 billion, DOE funds basic science at arounf $5B, and god knows how much basic science is funded by the military and other agencies. So that's around twice what you could hope to get from university endowments under even grossly optimistic assumptions.

I thought you were a banker; perhaps you should get in the habit of running some spreadsheets before spouting off.

As for "friction" -- all organizations impose some overhead costs. The federal agencies that support scientific research are for the most part relatively lean, well-run organizations; grantmaking decisions are done by a peer-review process. In fact, it's the universities that impose overhead charges on government grants, around 25-50% typically.

I'm all for billionaires like Bill Gates who want to fund private research projects; but why should science have to depend on him? Anyway, his money or any other vast fortune doesn't come out of thin air; in his case he got it by being able to use monopoly power to extract license fees, in other words, it is in effect a tax on (almost) all computer users.

August 8, 2008 at 7:16 AM  
Anonymous incredulous said...

The argument that government subsidy of universities and colleges = funding of basic research deserves further examination.

I don't need to examine it - I lived it! I did basic research in grad school and as a postdoc, and the gummint paid me and the prof I worked for. Yaay, NSF!

First, how much of that government subsidy is wasted in a sort of equivalent to frictional loss? There are always strings attached, and administrative expense in connection with taking government money. Thus, only a fraction of it is spent on actual research - I'd like to know just what that fraction is.

Oh geez, do you think private industry has no "frictional loss" due to overhead and administrative expense? I can assure you - from everyday personal experience right now - that it does. I don't see any reason to believe that university overhead is any higher. Might even be lower - they already own their facilities, which not every corporation does. The cost of labor for universities has to be significantly lower, since scientists don't come much cheaper than grad students and postdocs, in contrast to scientists in industry who expect to be paid six figures. Even professors are paid less than scientists in industry, since they are willing to accept the obvious advantages of academic life in exchange for less pay.

The nineteenth century, when government subsidy to education - and to higher education in particular - was much less than it is today, was a period of great private philanthropy directed to higher education. Many of today's most prestigious private universities were founded then.

The government did not subsidize science back then, and technological innovation proceeded at a much slower pace, so it's hard to see how this example is relevant to your case.

These are among the good reasons to believe that were direct government subsidies to universities or colleges to be curtailed, other money could be found to pay those expenses now borne by taxpayers.

There is little reason to believe that in the absence of government funding, that universities would redirect their endowment funds to replace the funds that currently are used for scientific endeavors. Who the heck knows what they would do? Probably something insane.

In any event, I don't see any good reason to attempt this experiment at the risk of the national scientific and engineering knowledge base. No, libertarian dogma that private funds could replace public funds (or should replace them in the libertarian dream world) is not a good reason. If you're looking for "stupid wastes of taxpayer money that should be eliminated", there are many better examples than subsidies to university scientific R&D.

August 8, 2008 at 10:01 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

The assumption that if government doesn't fund scientific research, no one will, is simply not demonstrable. If government did not exact the taxes to pay for it, the money would not disappear - it would still be there, just in other hands. It cannot be assumed that none of it would be used for scientific research. The industrial revolution did not arise from research funded by governments. Edison, Bell, and Tesla did not feed at the public trough. If less money was spent on research at that time, that reflected only the lower productivity and consequently lesser wealth then present in the economy. Thanks in great part to the prosperity created by private enterprise, there is now much more wealth, and it is reasonable to suppose that given suitable incentives a due proportion of it would be spent on scientific research without having to be channelled through government.

That Mtraven cannot conceive other models than the socialist one for the funding of scientific research attests to his limited imagination rather than to their impossibility.

As to why either private, for-profit research, or research privately funded through philanthropic subsidy are preferable to that funded by the taxpayer - the former types are voluntarily funded, and the last is not. As for the supposed monopoly power of industrialists to extract license fees, it should be observed that no monopoly can exist without the support of state power. If one objects to uses of state power to create monopolies (as, for example, grants of patents or copyrights do), then the answer is to change the laws that permit this. It seems clear enough that the patent system is being gamed in ways that were not envisioned when Congress was delegated, under Article I, section 8 of the Constitution, the power "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."

As for frictional loss in the private sector as opposed to the public sector, industry is disciplined by the need to keep costs below revenues - whereas government is notoriously not so. It has no incentive so to do - when it runs out of money, there is always more to be mulcted from the taxpayer, borrowed from bondholders, or created by the Federal Reserve system. Businesses cannot afford to become hives of drones, whereas drones flourish in government.

That Incredulous confesses to have been the recipient of government subsidy makes quite clear he has a considerable conflict of interest in his argument. Obviously he knows what side his bread is buttered on. Were he a juror, he'd have to be stricken; were he a judge, he'd have to recuse himself.

August 8, 2008 at 10:40 AM  
Anonymous incredulous said...

The assumption that if government doesn't fund scientific research, no one will, is simply not demonstrable.

Your assumption that if the government doesn't fund it, then someone else will, is also undemonstrable, and since you're the one who wants to change a system that currently works very well, the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that your ideal system would work as well or better. You have not met this burden, you just keep spouting trite libertarian dogma and irrelevant examples from over 100 years ago.

If government did not exact the taxes to pay for it, the money would not disappear - it would still be there, just in other hands.

Do you seriously think the government would cut scientific funding to zero and then leave that money in the taxpayer's pockets? You're dreaming! They'd keep that tax money and spend it on something far more stupid and worthless than science.

The industrial revolution did not arise from research funded by governments.

Which industrial revolution, and where? Government intervention and support most definitely played a critical role in the industrialization of Germany, France, and Japan (to name but a few) after 1870, and in the industrialization of a number of East Asian countries after WW2. There is no question that industrialization would have been much slower in these countries, if it happened at all, without the positive support of the government. You can take as a case study how state-supported German industry rapidly overtook the more laissez-faire British in every measure of effectiveness. A major reason for the collapse of British power was their technical backwardness - this almost cost them World War I - and a major reason for their technical backwardness was their stupid adherence to laissez-faire and insufficient state support for technical education. Yet this is exactly what you want us to move towards now!

Thanks in great part to the prosperity created by private enterprise, there is now much more wealth, and it is reasonable to suppose that given suitable incentives a due proportion of it would be spent on scientific research without having to be channelled through government.

It is not reasonable at all to suppose that! Besides, one of the best incentives the government can provide for people to go into science and engineering, and thus create a strong national scientific knowledge base, is exactly what the government is already doing, namely, to subsidize scientific research in universities.

That Mtraven cannot conceive other models than the socialist one for the funding of scientific research attests to his limited imagination rather than to their impossibility.

Heh, much the same can be said for your inability to imagine anything other than the laissez-faire model.

As to why either private, for-profit research, or research privately funded through philanthropic subsidy are preferable to that funded by the taxpayer - the former types are voluntarily funded, and the last is not.

"Preferable" in what sense? Only from the standpoint of libertarian philosophy, as far as I can see. Joe Scientist does not care whether he gets his money from a generous philanthropist or at gunpoint from the taxpayer.

As for the supposed monopoly power of industrialists to extract license fees, it should be observed that no monopoly can exist without the support of state power. If one objects to uses of state power to create monopolies

Well, I don't object to this.

As for frictional loss in the private sector as opposed to the public sector, industry is disciplined by the need to keep costs below revenues - whereas government is notoriously not so. It has no incentive so to do - when it runs out of money, there is always more to be mulcted from the taxpayer, borrowed from bondholders, or created by the Federal Reserve system. Businesses cannot afford to become hives of drones, whereas drones flourish in government.

If you've never seen a business that's a hive of drones, your experience must be very limited indeed. Where do you work, exactly? I've worked in plenty of corporations where most of the people should be fired outright, but they aren't and never will be. I've always worked in "at will" states, too, and found the companies curiously lacking in will.

That Incredulous confesses to have been the recipient of government subsidy makes quite clear he has a considerable conflict of interest in his argument. Obviously he knows what side his bread is buttered on. Were he a juror, he'd have to be stricken; were he a judge, he'd have to recuse himself.

Oh, balls, what a load of hooey. What is quite clear that I actually know what I'm talking about, and you do not. Obviously you are just talking smack, and rather than admit this you're trying to raise the red herring of supposed "conflicts of interest". You live in a fantasy world where America can maintain its scientific competitiveness without any government support or intervention, and we can all be thankful that such lunatic theorizing is ignored in the real world.

You ought to recuse yourself on the grounds of complete ignorance before you embarrass yourself any further.

August 8, 2008 at 1:03 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Dear Incredulous, where do I work? I am a business owner - a rentier. I have seen plenty of lazy employees in private enterprise, but never so many and none so lazy as those in government. A business can go broke very quickly if it has too many unproductive or overly expensive personnel (consider the airlines, the automobile industry, etc.), whereas government can keep on going broke year after year without ever ceasing to grow.

I don't have to imagine a socialist model for scientific research because there already is one - in fact, there have been more than one. The former Soviet Union's was exclusively socialistic, whereas that in the United States is a mixed socialistic and private one. In which country did benefits flow more abundantly to ordinary citizens? Ours, of course, thanks to private enterprise.

If "Joe Scientist does not care whether he gets his money from a generous philanthropist or at gunpoint from the taxpayer," then he is completely devoid of moral sense. In any event, there are others who do care, among them the taxpayers.

Where is the Constitutional justification for subsidizing myriads of boffins at public expense? The power delegated Congress by Article I, section 8 is quite specifically related to patents and copyrights. Presumably some scientific and engineering personnel are necesssary parts of the military establishment. Other than that it is hard to find any applicable provision, other than the much-abused general welfare clause, which is unwarrantedly used as a catch-all for the sorts of activities to which Bill Proxmire used to give his "Golden Fleece" award.

What almost lost Britain the First World War was its lack of technical industry. For example, the Englishman Perkin was the pioneer of the synthetic organic dyestuffs industry - from which so much other organic chemistry, including that involved in the strategically important munitions and pharmaceutical fields, was developed - but the Germans did most of the development. To be sure, German universities took up the laboratory sciences (beginning in the time of Liebig) in a way that the British ones did not, which was a matter of organizational priorities rather than budgets. It cannot be shown that the British universities were starved for funds as compared to the German ones, in the period leading up to WWI.

If you want a parallel to this you have only to look at how vast segments of the U.S. chemical industry have been exported to other countries because of the extreme disincentives that environmental regulations pose to its further continuance here. The dyestuffs industry, for example, of such critical importance in the past, is now largely controlled by the Japanese. Public hysteria about perchlorate contamination threatens the space shuttle program. Our universities turn out thousands of lawyers for every petroleum engineer they graduate, and new oil refinery capacity is constantly obstructed. The same is true of nuclear power generation. If this country should suffer on account of lacking technical development, it will be because of excessive government rather than not enough.

August 8, 2008 at 2:01 PM  
Anonymous incredulous said...

I am a business owner - a rentier. I have seen plenty of lazy employees in private enterprise, but never so many and none so lazy as those in government.

I have worked in business, government, and academia, and for my money there is exactly nothing to choose between them in the level of parasitism. I don't know what kind of interaction you have with the government, but my experience has been mainly with the Feds, and the ones I've known are highly professional and hard working. The caricature of the government as a hive of lazy drones is just that, a caricature, and an intellectually unimpressive one to boot.

A business can go broke very quickly if it has too many unproductive or overly expensive personnel (consider the airlines, the automobile industry, etc.), whereas government can keep on going broke year after year without ever ceasing to grow.

Interesting that you choose the airlines and the automobile industry. They may well have too many unproductive / expensive personnel, but it is also undeniably true that their competitors come from countries that believe even more in government intervention than we do. If Toyota is kicking GM's ass, and Airbus is kicking Boeing's ass, it is not because Toyota or Airbus are sterling exemplars of laissez-faire theory put into practice. These foreign companies have benefited greatly from state protection, intervention, and subsidy! Regardless of any efforts GM or Boeing may make to cut costs and eliminate lazy people, how can GM and Boeing without any US government help hope to beat Toyota with Japanese government help and Airbus with European government help? Do you really think GM and Boeing can and should "go it alone" against state-supported rivals? I think the idea is naive to the point of absurdity.

I don't have to imagine a socialist model for scientific research because there already is one - in fact, there have been more than one. The former Soviet Union's was exclusively socialistic, whereas that in the United States is a mixed socialistic and private one. In which country did benefits flow more abundantly to ordinary citizens? Ours, of course, thanks to private enterprise.

You are conflating different issues. The production of "science" and the distribution of technological benefits to the consumer are two different things. I certainly wouldn't argue for a "socialist model" (which I guess in your world means any government intervention whatsoever) for the latter. "Benefits flowing to private citizens" is the wrong success metric entirely, since the Soviets weren't trying to do that. They were trying to develop basic science for military applications, and it that realm, the USSR was, in many ways, better at doing basic science than the US was, even though the USSR could not translate that into the production of quality consumer goods.

A better - and more troubling - comparison would be between the US and Japan and later, between the US and China. The Japanese mission in the 1960s and 1970s was to use government help to "bootstrap" their industries up to US technical levels, and then to exceed them. They succeeded triumphantly. The Chinese are now attempting to do the same thing. It is completely fatuous to contend that Japanese and Taiwanese leadership in the semiconductor industry resulted from free, open, laissez-faire competition ("thanks to private enterprise") in keeping with American economic dogma. Just the opposite! Japan is an outstanding example of socialism in action - a "socialist model" that even provides abundant benefits to ordinary citizens. It would not be going too far to say that Japan is an example of successful national socialism, inasmuch as Japanese "private industries" are coordinated and directed for state ends. Other Asian countries, e.g. Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, and now China, have noted the success of this model and are following it. It seems obvious to me that if US companies compete with state-supported Asian countries, the US companies are going to lose over the long term. Make no mistake, the Asian countries do not just want their companies to compete with US companies, and let the chips fall where they may. These governments are actively trying to destroy US companies in key technology areas (semiconductors being just one example), and they're not going to let their guys lose.

If "Joe Scientist does not care whether he gets his money from a generous philanthropist or at gunpoint from the taxpayer," then he is completely devoid of moral sense.

You can imagine me rolling my eyes here. When I took that NSF grant, little did I know how completely immoral I was. Someone should have slapped my face and told me I was worse than Hitler!

I hardly agree that it is immoral to accept government money in order to advance human knowledge in a way that ultimately benefits every taxpayer. How many Americans now have well-paid technical jobs in private industry as a result of government investments in scientific R&D? I don't know, but I bet it is a lot.

In any event, there are others who do care, among them the taxpayers.

Well, many taxpayers think government subsidies for science and scientific education are a good thing, so there.

Where is the Constitutional justification for subsidizing myriads of boffins at public expense?

It is certainly required to do so for national defense purposes, and that should be sufficient justification for any rational person.

Presumably some scientific and engineering personnel are necesssary parts of the military establishment.

This is an absurdly narrow view. It is not just the scientists and engineers who work "for the military establishment" who are necessary for national defense. A strong scientific workforce, writ large, is necessary for national defense, and this includes scientists and engineers who have nothing to do with the military and who don't work on Federal contracts. A country that tries to subsidize only the "purely military" scientists and engineers - like the USSR did - is going to get its ass kicked over the long term by the country that subsidizes science more generally.

What almost lost Britain the First World War was its lack of technical industry. For example, the Englishman Perkin was the pioneer of the synthetic organic dyestuffs industry - from which so much other organic chemistry, including that involved in the strategically important munitions and pharmaceutical fields, was developed - but the Germans did most of the development. To be sure, German universities took up the laboratory sciences (beginning in the time of Liebig) in a way that the British ones did not, which was a matter of organizational priorities rather than budgets. It cannot be shown that the British universities were starved for funds as compared to the German ones, in the period leading up to WWI.

It can absolutely be shown that state support was essential to the development of German industry from 1870-1914.

If you want a parallel to this you have only to look at how vast segments of the U.S. chemical industry have been exported to other countries because of the extreme disincentives that environmental regulations pose to its further continuance here. The dyestuffs industry, for example, of such critical importance in the past, is now largely controlled by the Japanese.

Gee, ya think Japanese government subsidies to chemical industry R&D has anything to do with that dominance and control? The problem is not that an overregulated, government-fettered American industry is competing with an underregulated, unfettered Japanese industry, but that a Japanese government-subsidized industry is competing with an insufficiently subsidized American one. This is a clear example of not enough government on the American side, not excessive government!

But hey, stick your head in the sand (or better yet, a bucket of chemical pollutants), keep chanting the laissez-faire mantra, and blame it all on those bad, bad, bad environmental regulations. As if the Japanese don't have any environmental regulations!

August 11, 2008 at 12:47 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Pay your property taxes in person the next time you have to do so. Walk into your county courthouse and observe the clerical pool. They are filing their fingernails, reading paperback novels, etc. One may eventually come over and deign to take your money. Federal employees at a suitably low level are no different. There's an old riddle - what do the U.S. Post Office and Kinney Shoes have in common? I'll leave the politically incorrect answer to your imagination. Federal employees at higher levels, e.g., in some of the regulatory agencies, are more diligent in making work for themselves - nitpicking detail is their specialty.

The bad condition of the automobile companies and airlines reflects their high level of unionization. Unions exist to protect slackers and dullards. The diligent and smart do not need them. Unions have been declining in the private sector for this reason, since their protection of incompetence and unproductivity can break a private-sector employer. Such recent growth of labor unions as there has been has all taken place in the public sector. Those nail-filing, paperback-reading clerks in the county courthouse all belong to AFSCME.

If "Joe Scientist" doesn't mind whether his funding comes from voluntary contributions or
"at gunpoint" from the taxpayer, it certainly does say something about his moral sense. Indeed, some such folk have accepted subsidy from several governments. Don't you think the moral character of Wernher von Braun, for example, was amply illustrated by his acceptance of the use of slave labor in the furtherance of his research? That was a fine example of the German state's subsidy of science that you profess to admire.

August 11, 2008 at 3:21 PM  
Anonymous Libra said...

incredulous-

What kind of companies did you work with? And which levels of government? Many big companies are defacto parts of the government ( for example defense contractors). If you look at the biggest American companies - GE, Citigroup, AT&T - they only exist at their current size because of connections with government - whether it be explicit contracts, the backing of the Federal reserve, or government granted property rights to airwaves and coaxial cable. These companies have grown far larger than they would in a free market, and as a result are bloated, bureaucratic, and often pathological.

Small businesses and startups seem to work both harder and - more importantly - work much smarter. I just read a quote from a startup founder the other day who said that after his company was bought by a big corporation, their productivity dropped by an order of magnitude.

As for the "caricature of lazy government drones" it comes from the experiences of real people. I've certainly know people who work in government agencies who tell me how they do absolutely nothing all day. Or check out this story from a government contractor ( and the comments).

Or how about this quote: "I am currently at a government contract as a contractor. When you get on-site it is impossible to believe anything can be as bad as people say - but it is worse in many cases. Here is what I have observed and speaking with other people more familiar with government contracts this is the norm. Imagine the worst of Dilbert and you are just touching the surface." source.

It's definitely not always the case, I have some friends in government who work extremely hard. It definitely varies a lot depending on where people are.

I do agree with Michael S., though, that a lot of the hard working government officials are solving made up problems. There are many people at NASA who are working hard and producing some kind of output. It just turns out that the output they are producing is completely useless and has been for decades.

Michael S.-
I think you're too hard on incredulous for accepting government money. I tend to agree with Mencius that the most sane way to view government is as a landlord collecting rent. If the Cathedral wants to pay incredulous to do a job, why should is it immoral for him to accept this offer? Should he reject the offers of employment from any property owner?

August 11, 2008 at 7:54 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

incredulous: thanks for the informative post, I agree 100%. Also must add that the Internet is a prime example of government-sponsored research and development that was gradually released into the commercial world, obviously with great success. In this case the government not only supported the early-stage research but supplied the framework for open standards and end-to-end protocols that allows the diversity of the net to flourish. There are several examples of purely commercial networks such as CompuServe and AOL for contrast; they all sucked.

Since Michael S. condemns anyone who benefits from government activity I suggest he take himself off of the Internet and restrict himself to CompuServe, Prodigy, and AOL...although since the computer itself came out of government research in WWII, and the postal system is obviously tainted, maybe he should restrict himself to carrier pigeons.

August 12, 2008 at 9:29 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Mtraven, I do not "condemn anyone who benefits from government activity." The state, like any human invention, is a tool that has its purposes. Problems arise when we attempt to use tools for purposes to which they are ill-suited. One may pound screws into wood with a hammer, but the resultant job is not a neat or workmanlike one. On the other hand, one cannot drive nails at all with a turnscrew.

The state's function is principally associated with maintaining a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. This is something a firmly established state usually does adequately, and many do very well. It is when the state strays too far from the purposes for which it is suited that it makes a mess of things. The analogy is to the use of a hammer to drive screws - excessive strength applied crudely to a delicate job best done by other means.

Hegel identified service to the state as the summum bonum, and indeed this notion was embraced by Wilhelmine Germany, which Incredulous so admires. I don't argue that the Second Reich was the worst possible government - only because it did not take the Hegelian exaltation of the state to its logical conclusion, as the Third Reich did, and as the Soviet Union (which got its Hegelianism through Marx) did. The results of scientific research subsidized by the Nazi and Bolshevik states cannot be considered, from any but the narrowest of technical standpoints, without bearing in mind the other things they did. These remind us what happens when the state is driven by an ideology that holds there is no purpose that the state ought not to pursue.

August 12, 2008 at 10:20 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

One more point -- the thrust of this blog is that the United States should be run more like a corporation. Shouldn't that corporation have an R&D department? Real corporations sponsor academic research as well as their own labs, so why shouldn't a for-profit government do the same? If the government were to be suddenly converted into a profit-making enterprise, do you think NIH and NSF would be one of the expenses cutback as unproductive? I sure wouldn't, should I somehow obtain the role of CEO of Americorp.

August 13, 2008 at 9:30 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

If the state should be run like a corporation, it ought to specialize in what it knows and does best rather than lose focus like some rag-bag conglomerate.

We might as well put universities in charge of fighting wars or catching and punishing criminals as put the state in charge of academic research. Ne sutor ultra crepidam.

August 13, 2008 at 10:01 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Scientific knowledge is a non-excludable good, which means that standed economic theory predicts it will be under-produced by private enterprise. This is the economic rationale for government funding of research, just as it is for other non-excludable goods like military protection or clean air.

In practice, government is not "in charge" of academic research. Government research monies are administered by peer-review processes.

August 13, 2008 at 11:22 AM  
Anonymous incredulous said...

Pay your property taxes in person the next time you have to do so. Walk into your county courthouse and observe the clerical pool. They are filing their fingernails, reading paperback novels, etc. One may eventually come over and deign to take your money.

This ain't no different from the HR department at any large corporation.

Federal employees at higher levels, e.g., in some of the regulatory agencies, are more diligent in making work for themselves - nitpicking detail is their specialty

Obviously you prefer the caricature to the reality, and far be it from me to attempt to dissuade you from your cartoonish view.

The bad condition of the automobile companies and airlines reflects their high level of unionization.

Does Toyota in Japan have an employees union? Yes. Does Airbus in Europe have an employees union? Yes. Yet somehow these clearly diligent and smart corporations succeed tremendously. Obviously their unions have not held them back, and there is something else that's holding GM and Boeing back. Congratulations on your successful ingestion of anti-union dogma, though. You are able to recite the anti-union propaganda devised by corporate leaders as if you actually thought of it yourself (and who knows, you may even think that you did).

If "Joe Scientist" doesn't mind whether his funding comes from voluntary contributions or "at gunpoint" from the taxpayer, it certainly does say something about his moral sense.

No, it just says your conception of morality is bizarre.

Don't you think the moral character of Wernher von Braun, for example, was amply illustrated by his acceptance of the use of slave labor in the furtherance of his research?

I think reductio ad Hitlerum is a fallacy in this case as it is in so many others. Yes, the Nazis had state supported science, and yes, the Nazis were immoral, but no, this does not mean state supported science is immoral. Next you're going to tell us that vegetarian dog lovers are evil just because Hitler was a vegetarian dog lover.

If you look at the biggest American companies - GE, Citigroup, AT&T - they only exist at their current size because of connections with government - whether it be explicit contracts, the backing of the Federal reserve, or government granted property rights to airwaves and coaxial cable. These companies have grown far larger than they would in a free market, and as a result are bloated, bureaucratic, and often pathological.

In point of fact, in a truly free market there would be many more large corporations, not many fewer. The government has to intervene to prevent industry consolidation and to encourage the existence of small businesses. I am skeptical of what you actually know from personal experience about the "biggest American companies".

As for the "caricature of lazy government drones" it comes from the experiences of real people.

Not mine, and I dare say, not yours either. You can dig up all the anecdotes you like, they don't mean much. I am sure one can find just as many anecdotes from people in private industry who say their coworkers are lazy drones.

Small businesses and startups seem to work both harder and - more importantly - work much smarter.

The failure rate of small businesses and startups hardly justifies the "smarter" conclusion.

I do agree with Michael S., though, that a lot of the hard working government officials are solving made up problems.

Hey hooray, you both read the same cartoons!

Problems arise when we attempt to use tools for purposes to which they are ill-suited.

It is spectacularly ill-suited to expect the private sector to address large scientific problems that have no immediate payoff or no large payoff.

Hegel identified service to the state as the summum bonum, and indeed this notion was embraced by Wilhelmine Germany, which Incredulous so admires.

A further logical error on your part is to assume I admire either Wilhelmine Germany or the Third Reich or the USSR. I simply state, in refutation of your claims, that the state played a key role in their industrial and technological development. This is a matter of historical fact, and no "admiration" can be inferred from a statement of historical fact.

The results of scientific research subsidized by the Nazi and Bolshevik states cannot be considered, from any but the narrowest of technical standpoints, without bearing in mind the other things they did.

Again with the fallacy of reductio ad Hitlerum. It does not follow in any way that because the Nazis and Bolshies had state-sponsored science, and were evil, that only evil states sponsor science or that state-sponsored science must be associated in some way with evil objectives or evil conduct. This line of "thinking" is simply absurd.

If the state should be run like a corporation, it ought to specialize in what it knows and does best rather than lose focus like some rag-bag conglomerate.

Yeah, those unfocused Japanese are really stupid to have government-sponsored R&D consortia. WTF are they thinking?

August 13, 2008 at 11:34 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

mtraven: whether or not a well-run state would engage in basic research would depend on the type of research, and the size of the state.

For research into matters directly relevant to running the state, which would otherwise not happen, even a small state would probably put some money. This would be stuff like "how to most effectively police". "Are tasers more cost-effective than bullets?"

For more general public goods, only a really large state would do research. If, for example, the USA went neocameralist, then it could almost trivially boost profits by selling off the NIH and then just free-riding on the research done by secondary corps and the remaining social-democratic states. There's plenty of excellent research being done in Europe and Japan.

A world-sized neocameral state would probably invest fairly heavily in certain kinds of research, since it can easily internalize the benefits. So, for example, much of what NIH does might be kept around. Of course, the motivation even in the world-state case is still profit. So, the "spin" is a bit different. Currently, we tend to gravitate towards research that serves the titular goal ("helping people"), but also the real goal (to maintain a large class of professionals supportive of and dependent on the state). Thus, we spend lots of money on really huge, long term, monster problems like "the war on cancer", and not so much on other problems like preventative medicine. You can be sure that a neocameral state would not have this particular bias. Rather it would always be looking for cost-effectiveness.

A neocameral state would also not be limited by our notions of individual rights, agency, etc. They'd probably put a lot of money into research that we'd find objectionable. Here's a few examples I can think of:
(a) how to genetically engineer humans for high IQ, low time preference, and in general sheep-like tractability.
(b) how to best effect involuntary sterilization of undesirables.
(c) how to regiment society so as to prevent the spread of costly diseases.

August 13, 2008 at 1:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A neocameral state would also not be limited by our notions of individual rights, agency, etc. They'd probably put a lot of money into research that we'd find objectionable. Here's a few examples I can think of:
(a) how to genetically engineer humans for high IQ, low time preference, and in general sheep-like tractability.
(b) how to best effect involuntary sterilization of undesirables.
(c) how to regiment society so as to prevent the spread of costly diseases.


Wow, there's a wicked awesome advertisement for the greatness of neo-cameralism! We're going to crush individual rights, turn people into regimented robots, and sterilize the unfit. Yaaay, neo-cameralism! As Bush Sr. would say, "Message: we care." Please try this out on Cuba and North Korea first, since they won't mind trading their hellish Commie dictatorship for a hellish neo-cameral one.

Is it even possible to have high IQ and sheep-like tractability all in one person? Anyone with brains will not be tractable, and certainly not sheep-like.

August 14, 2008 at 6:31 AM  
Blogger Leonard said...

anon: well, that's one reason to keep the neocameral states many, and small. When you do this, competition for subjects keeps them libertarian. It's only when a state is large enough to effectively cut off emigration that it has the incentive to do so, and when it does, to do serious social and human engineering. And of course, it's not just neocameral states that have this incentive, it's any large state. The difference is that a large neocameral state is much more effective, and so it is likelier to act in its own interest.

As for whether humans can be high-IQ and tractable, certainly. In fact contra your assertion, these things seem to go together. Neoteny is one cause of both. Now, perhaps "sheep-like" overstates things, perhaps not. (Sheep are much more docile than wild sheep, and also stupided, but also not as stupid as their reputation would have it. In any case, nobody cares if domestic sheep are smart, or not.)

Certainly, if it turns out that engineering people to be as docile as sheep necessarily interferes with their intelligence, then a neocameral world state would want to only engineer part of its subjects with those genes.

August 14, 2008 at 7:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's only when a state is large enough to effectively cut off emigration that it has the incentive to do so, and when it does, to do serious social and human engineering.

Yes, those vast, sprawling continent-sized states like Cuba, East Germany, and North Korea are perfect examples of states that are large enough to cut off emigration and thus have an incentive to do so in order to experiment with human and social engineering.

And of course, it's not just neocameral states that have this incentive, it's any large state.

Like Australia and Canada...

The difference is that a large neocameral state is much more effective,

Not Proven.

As for whether humans can be high-IQ and tractable, certainly. In fact contra your assertion, these things seem to go together.

Again, Not Proven, and certainly counter-intuitive.

The great revolutionaries of history - high or low IQ?

August 14, 2008 at 11:47 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

In the days of the original cameralism - i.e., those of Becher and Schröder - there was a great deal of state-sponsored research. Becher, for example, persuaded the government of the Netherlands to sponsor his research into the extraction of gold from sea-water. The courts of the German princelings were visited by every sort of 'researcher' in search of a handout. The Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II was an especial soft touch for such people, and if he occasionally chose a Kepler, he also patronized many charlatans. The street of the alchemists yet remains as a relic of Rudolphine Prague.

I do not suppose that the talent of government officials for identifying worthwhile research has much changed since the days when Swift satirized the Academy of Lagado. However, the bureaucratic talent for covering up the waste of time and money has been considerably refined. Since the departure of Sen. Proxmire, there is really no one who cares to expose it. That does not mean it is not going on, and the sharpness of Incredulous's tone suggests that he protests too much. I'll bet his government-paid research has amounted to something equivalent to the softening of marble for the manufacture of pincushions, or the breeding of naked sheep.

As de Maistre observed long ago, the two essential functionaries of the state are the soldier and the hangman. Most other government employees exist somewhere along a continuum between these two end-points. The purposes of government are to exert force and to exact punishment. When government expands itself beyond these, its basic and original functions, all of its other activities take on some aspect either of the forcible or the punitive. How much government-sponsored research has to do with developing better ways to destroy property and to kill people? And how much has the great potential to go wrong? Klaus Fuchs, A.Q. Khan, and Bruce Ivins are great specimens of government-funded scientists. It would be hard to find private-sector researchers that have deliberately done comparable harm. Further, in the private sector there is always the constraint of needing to do profitable - and therefore implicitly useful - work. Under government, political imperatives prevail even when their direction produces nothing useful. Lysenko, or the German researchers of "Rassenkunde" during the 'thirties, are other fine examples of government-sponsored "science."

August 18, 2008 at 11:25 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

How much government-sponsored research has to do with developing better ways to destroy property and to kill people?

Quite a lot -- but I would think that that's the sort you and your pal de Maistre would approve of, since it's in line with the government mission you approve of (war-making). If governments are to make war and defense, they will be doing research in weaponry -- this has been going on since Archimedes at least. How can you cite de Maistre in one sentence and in the next use the language of a Quaker?

I thought it was the other kind of government-sponsored research we were arguing about; ie pure science or science in pursuit of positive ends such as medicine. But governments have always subsidized that as well, whether in the form of aristocratic backers or the more modern form of bureacratic states. The very definition of pure (as opposed to applied) science is that it is not something that can turn a short-term profit, and thus it is under-funded by private enterprise. This is very basic stuff.

Your citations of Lysenko et al are beyond moronic. Because there has been some bad research sponsored by bad governments, that condemns all government-sponsored research everywhere and for all time? Aiee, such stupidity is almost physically painful. You could just as easily say that the successes of government-funded research (like, say, the Internet) prove that all government research everywhere is great.

August 18, 2008 at 1:14 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

I approve of a government that is narrowly focused on its customary and traditional purpose, and I believe in keeping it small enough to do as little damage in the process as it possibly can. Soldiers and executioners have, by long experience, been shown to be necessary evils. To say as much is hardly to approve of war or punishment when they are not necessary. They burgeon as government expands beyond its proper sphere, as the ideological dictatorships of the twentieth century demonstrated. Bearing in mind those examples, I would prefer other activities, those of peace and the production of wealth, to be undertaken by voluntary associations that do not possess the powers of violence and compulsion that are the purview of the state. In other words, I prefer Nock's "social power" over his "state power."

Aristocratic patronage is surely preferable to that of bureaucrats. De Maistre observed that under democracy people get the government they deserve. We may observe that when art is patronized by bureaucratic committee rather than by a Renaissance pope or a seventeenth-century king, the people, in like fashion, get the art they deserve. Prelates gave us the Sistine Chapel, monarchs Versailles, 'the peepul' - what? I doubt not the same is true of science. Boyle was an aristocrat, Cavendish was an aristocrat, Davy was elevated to the aristocracy, as was Berzelius - and Lavoisier was decapitated as an aristocrat. Who are their like today? Not the kind of folk Proxmire used to "honor" with his "Golden Fleece."

August 18, 2008 at 3:55 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

If a government is to make war with other governments, it will need to have military R&D. It's a basic area of competition. You don't have to approve of this -- as a good leftist, I mostly don't, preferring that everybody just get along -- but you can't have a competitive military without aggressively pursuing technological advantage. So your position is self-contradictory. Which I pointed out in the last post, and of course you dodged the point. You emit irrelevancies the way a squid emits ink, and for much the same reason. But you can't avoid the fact that your belief system, whatever it is, can't even manage to agree with itself, let alone reality.

Other laughably stupid things you manage to pack into your comments: Asserting that 20th century science is valueless. Bringing up the largely irrelvant issue of quality in art. Bringing in the ignorant and grandstanding Proxmire as evidence of anything. Comparing the best of science under aristocracy with the worst of science under the modern state (assuming Proxmire's barbs were meaningful, which for the most part they weren't). All moronic and/or dishonest efforts to evade the actual point. Anybody who can't see through these transparent dodges doesn't deserve to have an opinion on anything.

August 18, 2008 at 6:09 PM  
Anonymous incredulous said...

Boyle was an aristocrat, Cavendish was an aristocrat, Davy was elevated to the aristocracy, as was Berzelius - and Lavoisier was decapitated as an aristocrat.

Ditto to what mtraven said, but I will add that even to mention 17th and 18th century tinkerers in the context of how 21st century science should be done is simply too stupid for words. Aristos can tinker successfully in their basement when there isn't much science to know and you don't have to have a lot of equipment to advance the state of knowledge. That is NOT the situation today, and "aristocratic tinkering" simply isn't a viable model for scientific progress now. Only someone who knows nothing about science would make this argument, but then, we've already established that michael s knows nothing about science.

the sharpness of Incredulous's tone suggests that he protests too much. I'll bet his government-paid research has amounted to something equivalent to the softening of marble for the manufacture of pincushions, or the breeding of naked sheep.

The sharpness of my tone is related to the painfulness of your stupidity.

August 19, 2008 at 6:21 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Incredulous, I suggest the sole basis of your argument is that you know what side your bread is buttered on. Mtraven, probably so for you as well. You feed at the public trough and are unwilling to have your slop cut off. You can't imagine any businessman having such poor judgment as to pay for your woolgathering, so you object to relying on a market-based system of funding scientific and technical research.

I never said that 20th-c. science was valueless. The research of Edison and Tesla, Banting and Fleming, owed little or nothing to government subsidy. Bell Labs is a private-sector institution although it did consulting for government during and after WWII on a fee-paid basis (which is not the same as open-ended grants).

Mtraven mentioned medicine as an area of basic research that should be subsidized by government. Yet is it not true that most new drug development takes place in the U.S., which as socialists never tire of pointing out, is the only industrialized economy not to have socialized medicine? This is the case precisely because drug companies stand a better chance for being rewarded for their efforts in the (limited) U.S. market economy for medical services than they do in socialized-medicine economies such as those of Canada and Europe. This was not always the case - the decline of pharmaceutical development in those countries is directly linked to the rise of socialism in them. Whatever government funding these countries offer for R&D in this field has not made up for the market disincentives they have created.

I come back to Incredulous's comment about whether Toyota in Japan has an employee's union. "In Japan" is an interesting side-conditon, and its presence is no doubt casuistically intended. I do not know whether they do or not, but if they do its economic effect would be governed by Japanese labor relations law, which is doubtless not the same as American.

I do know that the Japanese auto makers that have established plants in the U.S. have taken pains to situate them in right-to-work states (e.g., Kentucky) and to keep the UAW out. A Bloomberg News article stated in 2007 that "The United Auto Workers... has yet to organize a U.S. plant built by an Asian car maker..." and as of this month, that still was true. Doubtless this reflects business judgment on Toyota's part superior to that of Ford, GM, and Chrysler.

It is also to be noted that the results of Japanese central planning and industrial policy, which Incredulous so admires, have been quite a bit less than spectacular in recent years. The heyday of MITI is long past.

August 19, 2008 at 12:31 PM  
Anonymous incredulous said...

Incredulous, I suggest the sole basis of your argument is that you know what side your bread is buttered on. Mtraven, probably so for you as well. You feed at the public trough and are unwilling to have your slop cut off.

It's really pathetic that you actually think this lame ad hominem attack is a cogent response, and that "self interest" is the only basis for my argument. Neither one is true. I mentioned my previous NSF grant only to indicate that you don't know what the hell you're talking about, and that remains the case. Your characterization of Federally subsidized academic science as "woolgathering" only reinforces the strong impression you've already made of profound ignorance about how science is done and what it's good for.

Yet is it not true that most new drug development takes place in the U.S., which as socialists never tire of pointing out, is the only industrialized economy not to have socialized medicine?

If you think Federal R&D plays no role in pharmaceutical development in the US, you have again revealed your profound ignorance. Most of the important new drugs introduced by the pharmaceutical industry over the past 40 years were developed with the help of government-subsidized research. In the past decade, federal outlays on health-related research and development have totaled hundreds of billions of dollars at NIH alone. This includes not only spending on pharmaceuticals, but on the basic research into disease mechanisms that underlies the search for new drugs. Far from retarding private R&D, Federally supported research into the life sciences facilitates private investment in pharmaceutical R&D, making it less risky and more profitable where it might not otherwise have been possible at all. Increases in Federal R&D actually stimulate a disproportionate increase in private R&D, rather than displacing or discouraging private R&D.

A company’s incentive to invest in R&D is limited to its own expected returns. In the case of basic research and development, those returns can be particularly low compared with the social benefits, because it can be difficult for private companies to capture more than a small fraction of the total social value of their basic research. Thus, it makes sense for the government to subsidize basic research as it does.

In short, to compare the "market-based" US with the "socialist" Europeans in this case is wrong, and to say that government R&D negates private R&D is wrong, but hey, other than that you're right on target with the libertarian dogma!

I come back to Incredulous's comment about whether Toyota in Japan has an employee's union. "In Japan" is an interesting side-conditon, and its presence is no doubt casuistically intended.

It was deliberately stated in order to indicate that labor unions are not, in fact, necessarily a drag on economic growth or competitiveness, and cannot correctly be blamed for GM's defeat at the hands of the Japanese.

It is also to be noted that the results of Japanese central planning and industrial policy, which Incredulous so admires, have been quite a bit less than spectacular in recent years. The heyday of MITI is long past.

Ignorance Is Strength! You go right on believing that if it makes you comfy.

Over a trillion dollars in foreign exchange reserves; a trade deficit with us larger in constant dollars than in 1989, supposedly the last year of the boom, as well as hugely positive balances with Asia and Europe; manufacturing output that exceeds ours despite Japan's smaller population base; they're building 35% of the 787; dominance in industrial robotics and in the chokepoint technologies that control many high-tech industries. Oh yes, they suck. What a basket case. How unspectacular. What a triumphant example of the ineffectiveness of industrial policy compared to the "free market".

August 20, 2008 at 8:44 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

What incredulous said. If you're going to attempt ad hominem, you probably should at least get the facts straight. No government funding supports my current work. I've been funded through both private and government sources at various points in my career, and both involve a variety of good and bad points, for all parties involved (researcher, funder, and the public at large).

In fact, my lab when I was in graduate school pioneered techniques for getting corporations to fund research in areas that had in the past been mostly been funded through the government. And my current job also involves some innovations in raising money from private sources.

But in both cases, the work involved was in applied science, in areas where there was hoped to be commercial applications in a fairly short time frame (within 5 years). Most science isn't like that, and that's why you can't expect private enterprise to fund it. The time horizons are too long; the expected benefits are not predictable, let alone quantifiable on a balance sheet; and it's hard to restrict the benefits of the research to the funders (knowledge is a non-excludable good). Yet such work is vital to the advance of society.

Michael S is the type of person who is happy to reap the benefits of government research (such as the Internet) but doesn't want to pay for it. A cheapskate with aristocratic pretensions.

August 20, 2008 at 5:39 PM  
Blogger Black Sea said...

Accusing an opponent of ad hominem argument will be more effective if--in the very same thread--you refrain from responding to that opponent in the following ways:

Your citations of Lysenko et al are beyond moronic.

Other laughably stupid things you manage to pack into your comments:. . . .

The sharpness of my tone is related to the painfulness of your stupidity.

You ought to recuse yourself on the grounds of complete ignorance before you embarrass yourself any further.


It's really pathetic that you actually think this lame ad hominem attack is a cogent response . . . .

Michael S is the type of person who is happy to reap the benefits of government research (such as the Internet) but doesn't want to pay for it. A cheapskate with aristocratic pretensions.

August 20, 2008 at 10:24 PM  
Anonymous incredulous said...

Accusing an opponent of ad hominem argument will be more effective if--in the very same thread--you refrain from responding to that opponent in the following ways

What goes around, comes around. If he makes polite statements, I will respond politely. If not, then I won't.

Incidentally, accusing him of ignorance is not an ad hominem attack. If the guy does not know what he is talking about - and he doesn't - then saying so is not a personal attack but a statement of fact.

No government funding supports my current work. I've been funded through both private and government sources at various points in my career, and both involve a variety of good and bad points, for all parties involved (researcher, funder, and the public at large).

Ditto.

August 21, 2008 at 8:01 AM  
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January 31, 2009 at 9:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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March 2, 2009 at 10:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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March 2, 2009 at 10:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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March 6, 2009 at 6:40 AM  

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