The Folly Of Big Science Prizes

The New York Times published an article with that idea, a recurring theme on this site. It had very interesting content, adding to my general position, which the Times had the unusual kindness to publish. Here it is:

Why science prizes? To create celebrities in science, and thus, to make science famous, some point out.

But surely the reason for science ought not to be fame, but the search for truth? Therein the problem: using the celebrity principle, that fame matters most, one overwhelms the very reason for science, which is that truth matters most.

Prizes in science teach the identification of fame with truth.

We Are Far From Understanding Sun’s Thermonuclear Physics. Coronal Mass Ejection, Aug. 31, 2012. Such a CME Would Wreck Civilization, If Pointed At Earth

We Are Far From Understanding Sun’s Thermonuclear Physics. Coronal Mass Ejection, Aug. 31, 2012. Such a CME Would Wreck Civilization, If Pointed At Earth

Civilization depends upon truth, thus science. The confusion between fame and truth brought the near-collapse of civilization before.

Aristotle (320 BCE) taught physics which was obviously false (Aristotle taught that a force had to be continually applied for continuous motion; Buridan overturned this in 1320 CE). I have argued that the very fact that Aristotle’s physics was obviously false taught the suspension of common sense (and that was exactly what the powers that be wanted!)

However, because Aristotle was immensely famous, his false physics was viewed as the obvious truth. In turn, because Aristotle’s physics was so stupendous, Aristotle’s erroneous ideas in politics (that monarchy, thus dictatorship, was the best political system) were viewed as obviously true, too. In turn, these false ideas were used to demolish the idea of the Republic for more than two millennia.

Hence we can see who confusing fame with science advantages: those who view fame as the end all, be all. Naturally enough, celebrities set-up prizes to celebrate celebrity. In turn, such people are the best and most obsequious servants to the established order. And this is exactly why, throughout history, some of the worst tyrants have heaped praise on the few (and especially those they made famous).

There are more huge prizes in science nowadays, because some of the most influential people in the world today have a very dark, sinister and troubling relationship with science.

In turn a reader, “RamS”, had the kindness to offer the following compliment: “This is the best comment, and this is the real issue the author is worried about. It is not the prize but the fame that comes with…”

Here is how The Folly of Big Science Awards, by VINAY PRASADOCT started:

“On Monday, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine will go to a few scientists for work that untangles the intricacies of the human body and may advance treatments for cancer, heart disease or other major illnesses. The prize comes with a sizable check and virtually ensures that the winners’ research will be well funded for the rest of their careers.

Every recent recipient has undoubtedly deserved the honor. But that doesn’t mean that prizes for medical research are a good idea.

The Nobel, along with the Dickson, Lasker-DeBakey, Canada Gairdner and other major awards, honors the scientists who are usually in the least need of recognition and funding, which squeezes out opportunities for other scientists.

More important, by emphasizing the importance of scientific breakthroughs — serendipitous occurrences that rely on decades of research — these prizes play down, and diminish, the way that great medical advances build on one another.

All scholarship is, to some extent, built on prior work — but this is especially true in scientific research.”

This is exactly why I have fought the hyper celebrity status of Copernicus and Newton. Copernicus’ work, viewed on a historical scale, is little more than plagiarism from Buridan (who was madatorily taught at the university where Copernicus was an undergraduate). Similarly, although Newton was giant, he invented neither his so-called first nor second law (that was Buridan again), nor the universal attraction law (as he himself insisted he did not).

Mis-attributing discoveries is not just a question of justice. It is a question of falsifying the causality chain of evidence, and the very way the human mind works. Thus it undermines science, by giving the impression “excellence” is just a matter of the solitary genius. In truth, “excellence” is a matter of civilization.

Actually Ms. Tu, who just got the Nobel in Medicine, pointed this out. By reading a two thousand year old treaty, she had realized that her method of preparation — boiling the wormwood — damaged the active ingredient. She then prepared it using an ether-based solvent, which boils at 35 degrees Celsius. When tested on mice and monkeys, it proved 100 percent effective.

Dr. Tu, with two colleagues, were the first human subjects. Suffering no ill effects, she conducted clinical trials with patients.

“We had just cured drug-resistant malaria,” Dr. Tu told New Scientist in an interview in 2011,“we were very excited.”

In spite of her very important success, Dr. Tu was later shunned by the Chinese scientific establishment, for her lack of a PhD. The “PhD” is a stamp certifying one belongs to a tribe.

However, researchers who are truly extremely original tend to not have a network, or less of a network (“scientists” and “thinkers” always exist; simply, in some periods of history, lasting centuries or more, they can all be wrong, in no small part from pleasing the oligarchies above… When the oligarchies themselves do not think that they think enough for all of society… As seems to be happening in the West presently, from lack of a dissenting intellectual class!)

Prasad gives a detailed example of how celebritism masks the thinking process:

“Consider James P. Allison, the winner of this year’s Lasker-DeBakey prize in clinical medical research. His work helped clarify one way cancer cells hide from the immune system.

Around 1990, a team of scientists found a protein on the surface of immune cells and proposed that it stimulated the immune system. Dr. Allison’s lab and a third group suggested that the protein put the brakes on immune responses. A fourth group confirmed that it halted the immune system, rather than stimulating it. Dr. Allison later showed that blocking this protein with an antibody could unleash an immune response in animals that could lead not only to rejection of but also immunity to many kinds of cancers. A decade later, similar antibodies to this protein and other related ones were found to prevail against several types of human cancers.

Dr. Allison’s work is surely impressive. But it occurred alongside and in dialogue with a number of related findings. Researchers analyzed the citations that led to Dr. Allison’s drug and concluded that it relied on work conducted by 7,000 scientists at 5,700 institutions over a hundred-year period. Yet only he was recognized.”

People are social primates, they are ambitious. The most meditative and contemplative ones tend to produce the breakthroughs, those who are more ambitious tend to exploit them.

Prasad: “The prize industry contributes to a deeper problem in scientific research: We throw resources at a privileged few who have already achieved enormous fame.

…80 percent of research funds in basic medical sciences are concentrated among the top fifth of researchers… We especially need to dispel this myth now because the scientific community is in the midst of a replication crisis. Nearly all published medical papers report significant or positive results, but many efforts to duplicate the findings failed… The regular occurrence of false leads also hints at the enormous role serendipity plays in discoveries, which some Nobel Prize winners have acknowledged in their acceptance speeches. In one study of 101 basic science discoveries published in top journals that claimed a drug had promise, just five led to approved drugs.

… science is hard. It’s like exploring an unknown land; we’ll never know whether over the next hill lies an expansive vista or just another hill. A finding that seems mundane or trivial may become immensely important years later… Or we could break up big prizes and give out many smaller awards. This may be more effective in supporting science, a view shared by Terence Tao, a mathematician who won $3 million from the inaugural Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics but tried to talk the man who gave it to him into spreading it around to more people. Alternately, instead of giving out big science awards, let’s use the prize money to study better ways to fund science.”

I have excoriated the Breakthrough Prize (although Tao himself is a great mathematician competing with computers… Some of the “discoveries” that prize celebrated are probably… errors).

Prize money is not about science. It’s about celebrating the oligarchic principle. If we want a great scientific society, we need a great scientific mood, all over the land. And that means, first of all, no BS.

Today the physics Nobel was given for the oscillation of neutrinos. For the reason that authorities (of physics) had proclaimed neutrinos had no mass (that augmented the authorities of the authorities, as they were talking as if they were gods), it had been decided neutrinos could not oscillate (until major discrepancies were found in the Sun’s output).

Can we colonize Mars? Interestingly, there is a connection with a refined knowledge of neutrino physics. At least, so I think.

We do not just like science, because our species evolved into truth machines. Truth has always been necessary to, although not sufficient for, survival. With existing technology, and the eight billion humans we enjoy, we can neither quite colonize Mars, nor survive on Earth (except as a much more reduced population).

Science is not a call, it’s a life raft. The one and only. And thus less folly in its financing is not just a question of reason, but of morality. Pure and simple.

Patrice Ayme’

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8 Responses to “The Folly Of Big Science Prizes”

  1. brodix Says:

    Patrice,

    Energy pushes out and up, propelling. Order and form push down and in, defining.
    Energy creates what will be the future, while form defines what becomes the past.
    We can’t very well predict the future, because it is pushing up through the cracks in what is defined.
    Despotism might be political, it might be cultural, it might be intellectual. It was created by a burst of energy that is since peeked and subsided, leaving the crust as cover for the next wave to build in resistance.
    There cannot be good without bad.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Any up means down, any black means white, any pushing means pulling, and Newton’s Third Law rules (except if we used Einstein’s GR, where nothing is clear…)????????
      Yet, as I pointed out last week about the GOOD, there is NO symmetry with the BAD. At least neurologically speaking.

      BTW, one of the big(gest) problems of physics is the nature of energy, and its relation to… form *as you pit it)…
      PA

  2. RamS Says:

    RamS
    New York 2 days ago
    This is the best comment, and this is the real issue the author is worried about. It is not the prize but the fame that comes with it that is the problem (to the author and this poster) Science shouldn’t be about fame, but it ends up being that way once one is famous. Famous scientists are listened to more than nonfamous ones, but it shouldn’t be this way: what matters in science is the truth. Just because you got it right once, or even consistently, it doesn’t mean you’ll be right the next time or in any given situation.

    I’ve seen Nobel prize winners behave in a way they wouldn’t have if they hadn’t gottten the prize. I’ve seen and worked with great and humble winners too (my postdoc mentor for one, Nobel in Chemistry in 2013).

    I agree with the poster above that the intersection is uncomfortable. Because more than a few people are deserving of these prizes at any time, there is a lot of politics attached to it, and a lot of it has to do with PR and salesmanship (I say this as the recipient of several prestigious awards). As someone who plays this game I worry that science is becoming too PR driven, which means driven by ego more than by the quest for truth, which I think is dangerous.

    Rather than lionising individuals and personalities, we should be lionising actions and discoveries. I understand the latter is the goal but it can be done more directly. Lionising individuals in any discipline I think is problematic.

    –Ram
    http://compbio.org

    • EugenR Says:

      Dear Patrice, I must to disagree. With all this ignorance in the world, belief in divinity of stones and walls, it is important to bring the science to the masses. Science is the only hope for humanity. If you leave the forums of popularity entirely to actors, sportsman and politicians, there will be no funding for science and no future for humanity. This is why the forums of Ted or World Science Festival are so important, even if scientific advance is done in laboratories. As to the nobel price, I am sure many scientists started their science as children dreaming about getting this price.

      • Patrice Ayme Says:

        All we are saying is that the less relative funding for science, the more the prizes, and reciprocally.
        All we are seeing is young and bright people go one further, and serve Mammon, in the financial sector. First they dream for the prize, then they realize the money is little. When Napoleon (see what I said to Martin) started his dictatorship, he distributed plenty of awards. Revolutionary colleagues smirked that Napoleon was offering little toys to please the children, and Napoleon basically replied same as you. Men needed to dream about rewards, etc…

  3. indravaruna Says:

    Putin is defeating the jewish NWO at this very moment, Happy Birthday Mr. Putin!

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      The black belt dwarf is defeating Jews by chewing the fact with Netanyahu? I am confused. In my analysis, to get out of the Ukrainian tar pit in which his diminutive frame is getting swallowed, he decide to help the West in Syria, his way. This way he can create a controllable occupation and ineluctable defeat for his OWN military while eschewing their will to drive to Kiev (which Putin knows is impossible now). While begging forgiveness, and saving something around Assad.

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