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Should fundamental science be funded by international agencies?

melian          29 November 2015 06:36 AM


Typically, there is 20-50 years interval between the time when major discoveries in fundamental science are made and the time when their practical applications start generating commercial profits. The inability to patent such discoveries results in a free-rider problem (countries that do not fund fundamental science end up getting the same benefits from it as those that do). Would it accelerate the scientific progress if most countries merged their research budgets?



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VoiceOfRa 29 November 2015 07:42 PM
74%

The problem is that it leads to biased science. Large bureaucratic agencies tend to converge on the "right approach" prematurely, and then not fund anyone who disagrees with the approach. Look at the recent history of nutrition in the USA for a (not too politically charged) example of this happening. Ideal no one source should dominate science funding.



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melian 1 December 2015 11:06 AM
73%

True. But my impression is that since the Cold War ended there has not been much competition between different countries anyways. It may also be possible for countries to make a joint effort while simultaneously increasing the level of competition. For example, instead of letting one or multiple bureaucratic agencies direct the research, set a joint fund that would distribute large financial prizes for solving major problems.

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is4junk 1 December 2015 04:47 PM
67%

How about a large financial prize for uncovering shoddy or fraudulent research? This would at least give incentive to researchers who merely try to reproduce a result and incentive for high quality research.

When I worked with Computer Science researchers there was always this mad scramble right before a major paper submission date. They were desperate to get publishable results by the deadline. They would be madly "fixing" bugs until they got the results they needed.

My proposal would be that a researchers grant money is reclaimed (100%) and given in part (10%) to the researcher that finds it shoddy or fraudulent.

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VoiceOfRa 1 December 2015 04:52 PM
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Agreed, that "prize fund" idea would be much better than the current methodology.


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FrameBenignly 1 December 2015 11:33 PM
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Dollar-for-dollar, as discussed in the other article you posted, the overwhelming majority of technological progress comes from the private sector; not public research. There's a large literature to attest to this. Look at the journal "Research Policy" which is an economic journal. Search for papers on public vs private research. Most companies ignore research that doesn't originate either in the US or the country the company is in. I'm not sure free riding is such a problem. Countries seem to be competing for academic prestige; not cheap technology. 20-50 years seems generous; it's more often closer to never. A lot of applied researchers only have a vague awareness of basic research conducted in their field 20 years ago, so it's hard to get them involved. And basic researchers seem to generally not care about applying their research.


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ChristianKl 4 December 2015 07:42 AM
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A lot of applied researchers only have a vague awareness of basic research conducted in their field 20 years ago, so it's hard to get them involved. And basic researchers seem to generally not care about applying their research.
Basic research does change the textbooks on the subject. While an applied researcher might not know of the exact experiment in basic research 20 years ago, he does read the textbook.

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FrameBenignly 4 December 2015 12:50 PM
71%

Frequently not. I don't think the intro textbook in my field contains a single study published in the last 30 years. Just think of how many math departments still don't teach Bayesian analysis at the undergraduate level. I recall one economist commenting that they don't care much if graduate school applicants have a economics degree because graduate level research is so different from undergrad. It seems they keep going until the textbook gets filled up with useful, replicated studies, and then progress mostly stops to avoid offending anyone. Take a look at the comments at psychology today on an author's decision to leave out an awful and completely useless study from psychology textbooks. Now imagine the uproar if he removed a useful, replicable, and important study because he found a more recent study that he decided was more important.

Psychology Today post: ... read more


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ChristianKl 1 December 2015 06:09 AM
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Empirically I don't think we see that states don't fund basic science because of freeriding concerns.

As VoiceOfRa already said, centraliziation of scientific research is bad because it forces the whole community to persue the same approach.

The blue brain project is likely worse value to money than if you would distribute the same pot of money to a variety of different projects that ask a variety of different questions about the domain of neuroscience, cognitive psychology and decision science.

If you look at basic research it's also important to note that governments aren't the only one's engaged in the topic.
Keith Stanovich project to spend a million dollar to develop a good test for rationality wasn't funded by the government but by the Tempelton foundation.

It's a quite important project because measuring rationality that way will tell us which genes increase rationality and a host of other issues. It's quite funny how the nonphysicalist Tempelton foundation helps to advance rationality while the government funded science rather funds voodoo fMRI studies and the blue brain project.

These days John Ioannidis who does very important basic research also get's the funding for his lab from a private foundation. That allows Ioannidis to criticize the scientific establishment much better than if he would get founding by a single big international science agency.


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melian 2 December 2015 09:08 AM
71%

Empirically I don't think we see that states don't fund basic science because of freeriding concerns.

The states do fund science but since their main motive appears to be national prestige, they may be investing significantly less resources in it.


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ChristianKl 2 December 2015 04:30 PM
62%

The states do fund science but since their main motive appears to be national prestige
Where did you get that idea? It sounds to me like an ivory tower explanation instead of studying the actual debate about changing science funding levels.

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