Against hypocrisy, take II
David Bruggeman had some problems with my last post:
You’re coming across as glib here, even suggesting some of the same carelessness you’re upset about in others. Deranged? What’s your evidence? Simplistic, sure. Incomplete, right there with you. Deranged? Can’t agree. The interwar period in scientific research and technological development could lead some to assume basic research led directly to the technological advancements of the 40s and 50s.
I’m also not persuaded by assertions that scientists’ promises of their research are intentionally overblown. If there’s proof, then they need to be called on it. But if they’re making an estimate of when they think certain things will happen, it needs to be treated as a prediction rather than a promise. If they can’t predict well, then they shouldn’t be funded, but I wouldn’t consider that to be fraudulent behavior.
My use of the word deranged was wrong, and I apologize. David is correct when he writes that the interwar period “could lead some to assume basic research led directly to the technological advancement of the 40s and 50s.” But scientists are supposed to do more than merely assume such links. Rather we must examine evidence and draw reasonable conclusions. Simply following our own protocols would have alerted us to the fact that at least since 1982 there have been doubts about a straightforward link between basic research and innovation. More recent work has not clarified the situation, which David himself has discussed several times. There would be no confusion if scientists were as rigorous here as we are with our own research.
Which is why I described our behavior as careless and hypocritical. These sins are less serious than “intentionally overblown” and “fraudulent,” which I don’t believe scientists are guilty of. I’m even willing to accept our actions as relatively mild and ultimately unimportant. But it’s still hypocrisy.