Dr. Larson's Blog

Struggles With the Politics of Science

 

Politics

 

Politics - 1. Introduction. In the next posts, politics will be looked at from the view of the struggle for dominance. Once one has achieved a relationship with other people wherein those other people submit to ones will, that one has achieved power and is able to dominate others. This interaction between people is continuous, and occurs at many levels. Indeed it occurs to some degree whenever two or more people interact. Politics then is something that runs through all human interactions. It can also be fragmentary and fleeting, in that someone may have power over some, but not others, the level of control can vary widely within those boundaries, and all of the various relationships can change over time. As such, the subject of politics remains quite difficult for me to get a handle on, yet it is important if I am to ever achieve my aims of getting fusion funded and my science known. I suspect that there may be many books written on this matter, but I have only read a few of the classic philosophical texts. So, at the outset of this these posts I simply wish to mention that of all the posts so far, this one will be the most speculative in nature - I do not consider myself an expert in these matters, and my record to date at getting my ideas known certainly backs up my diagnosis of myself as a novice in this regard. On the other hand, I don't know if anyone is truly an expert. Since power is desired by so many, whatever tricks and techniques work for a while tend to not work for very long, as other power-seeking individuals scheme and plot to acquire power from those who have it. Hence, not only is politics a complex subject, but I am afraid it is an ever-changing one.

 

Politics - 2. Queen Bees. Before delving into the politics of science as it relates to my endeavors, we should pause to consider the politics of man. And before doing that we should take a look at some of the politics of social creatures from the animal kingdom. Looking at animals first will provide a distance from our eventual subject so that we can perhaps gain by starting with something we aren't so invested in. The first social animals to consider are bees. In bee colonies, a single individual, the Queen Bee (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_bee), is the mother to most or all of the other bees in the hive. Yet a queen bee starts out just like any other bee. It is just that the queen gets special feeding that enables her to develop into the dominant creature. Within the politics of man, this "feeding" is different. Some kids get all the reps in sports or music practice, so even if they were just slightly better (or worse) early on, they are indeed significantly better later and the treatment appears "fair" in the end. (The adults knew they had it in them!) Some kids get a good endowment of funds to get started in life and never have any idea why some other kid might steel a loaf of bread. Those we elect to high offices get all the support they need to make their opinions sound good, and with the power they obtain their ideas are heard widely and they gain many followers. Like the queen bee, we often become something based on the resources we have access to as we grow and mature.

 

Politics - 3. Alpha Males. The alpha male is a position in the animal kingdom that can be a useful model for what we see in human interactions. In the case of the alpha male, one male of the species will obtain dominance. That dominant male will be the one individual that will predominantly mate with the females in the group, and that male will also obtain preferential access to the best food and shelter available. This relationship becomes reinforcing, since with access to better environmental factors the alpha male will be able to maintain the superior strength necessary to defend his position from rivals. Eventually though, the alpha male will be supplanted in the group. Once dethroned, life is not kind and life expectancy is short. However, for a while, like the queen bee scenario, preferential access to environmental factors leads to the maintenance of a condition where the alpha male enjoys a superior life, with access to the best, while other members of the group are considerably less fortunate.

 

Politics - 4. Herd Behavior. Yet another animal behavior worthy of study is herd behavior. Here I quote from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herd_behavior : "In 1971, in the oft cited article 'Geometry For The Selfish Herd,' evolutionary biologist W. D. Hamilton asserted that each individual group member reduces the danger to itself by moving as close as possible to the center of the fleeing group. Thus the herd appears as a unit in moving together, but its function emerges from the uncoordinated behavior of self-serving individuals." Herd behavior is a key ingredient in the politics of man. In any large organization there are central ideas that everyone tends to follow, whether or not they make sense to the individuals following them. Those who don't follow are frequently let go from the organization, so to maintain one's position within the group individuals go along with the central ideas.

 

Politics - 5. Herd Behavior 2. The problem of herd behavior becomes very problematic in large organizations. People "at the top" must deal with things at a high level, which are summary approximations of truth. Typically, no one person can know all of the low level details of all of the facets of a very large organization. Hence, what must be done is that these low level details get rolled up into summary ideas that more or less represent what goes on at the low level. And no matter how difficult and costly it is to implement, the low level people - out of self interest - move to the middle of the herd and try to implement the decisions made at the top. Those who do speak up about real problems are frequently let go because they are not being a team player, and this leads others to follow the leaders even if losses are clearly evident at the low level. Of course the low level people think they know better, but they do not understand the top level needs at all. At each level decisions make sense; what is missing is knowledge from other levels. What is needed to correct the problem is full knowledge from top to bottom in order to make better whole picture decisions, but this is often not possible due to the vastness, complexity and difficulty of knowing it all, the queen bee leadership selection, the alpha male dominance to maintain rank, and herd behavior for survival at the middle and lower levels of the organization.

 

Politics - 6. Memes. A meme is an idea, behavior or style elevated to the status of a living thing. Memes, like politics, are also ever-changing. In the case of memes, new thoughts are continuously added to the environment, and so one can never be on top of all of them. Memes are also intimately related to politics, since the purpose of a meme can be, though it is not always, to generate power for an individual or a group. Religions can be looked at as a large collection of memes. Sects within religions adhere to most of the memes of other sects, while having some memes that do not overlap with the other sects. Memes also frequently become what I have referred to over the years as "Known Truths". Often, I would concur that certain Known Truths (the earth is not flat) are indeed true. But other Known Truths (relativity, high current low energy electron beams are unstable) are memes that I believe may not be correct. And this presents a problem.

 

Politics - 7. Groupings. When one thinks of "politics" one generally thinks of groupings, associations, categories, separations and "leaders" of people, usually done in the context of determining who has the power to make decisions. Often, it is a single politician who works to form the definition of the groupings and categories in order to separate out one group and category from the others and then claim to represent that group or category. Many people often make a very good living doing this, from each side of the separation. In fact presently we have entire radio and TV networks devoted to such efforts, and recently entire campus departments are set up to foment divisions most people weren't even aware of until just a few decades ago. In the era of "micro-aggressions" divisions can even in theory be made down to a single aggrieved person, or in the case of schizophrenics, one person may even be the sole representative of several one-entity "groups". (Although I don't know if that idea has hit campus yet.) It is quite the cottage industry now! And unfortunately, the separations produced by the groupings and their leaders result in prejudice between the groups. Prejudice is never a good thing, and has no place in science. In the realm of science, ideas should be evaluated on their merits and experimental evidence alone, but with all that money at stake, such idealism proves difficult to achieve in practice.

 

Politics - 8. Centralization of Power and Corruption. One of the biggest political problems for the average person concerns the centralization of power. As organizations or governments get large, power begins to accrue to just a few. And that is where corruption can flourish. At the petty level, a high school coach might set up a select team that grade school parents pay into, with everyone in town knowing that you must pay in if your kids are to have a chance to play later when they are older. Less petty is the collusion of big business and government to ban, or not ban, certain products. Tobacco is not banned, but as a result of suits lawyers were paid huge amounts, the states rake in huge taxes, and the small time addicted tobacco user gets hammered with the cost for it. Every time I see those curly light bulbs for $13 on the shelf as replacement for the 50 cent ones I used to be able to get, I am reminded of corruption. Environmentalists sided with corporations to eliminate my choice, all in the name of the environment. The companies making the new bulbs, which migraine sufferers abhor, got rid of their competition. The environmentalists exercised their power. Congressmen on both sides of the aisle got more money for campaigns. And the rest of us now pay way more for light bulbs. And the bigger the entity, with the more centralization of power, the more incentive there is for such corruption. The little guy only gets hurt a little and so complaints aren't loud, while the cumulative amount is very large for the few who benefit, and this keeps the corrupt policies going.

 

Politics in Science

 

Politics in Science - 1. Queen Bees. Within the academic world we can easily spot the hallmarks of environmental selection influencing who it is who achieves the top positions. (Like the development of the Queen Bee in nature.) Early on, who gains access to education is often based on what school district your parents live in. Later, admissions testing and prior grades in earlier schooling is relevant in getting into better colleges, although other factors sometimes play a large role as well. And the last issue that comes to the fore in determining who will get the best resources to advance science tends to be the acquisition of titles and positions within esteemed institutions. How one obtains such a position and title is generally not well understood. After decades of trying, I've come to the realization that it is generally done by one or at most a few individuals making a choice. And the choice is often made based partly on a reputation and partly on the personal relationship of knowing the person to some degree. Or knowing someone who knows that person to some degree. It is rarely if ever based on anyone actually doing a full analysis of the work of the individuals being considered - that would be a lot of hard work. There are interviews, but it is all far more art than science, since the interviewer is generally thought to be an expert in one sub-specialty, while the interviewee is thought to be an expert in another. I use "thought to be" here because once you get to a certain level, you really have no peers to judge you.

 

Politics in Science - 2. Alpha Individuals. Once one has an academic position of professor, what they often get is power. The job typically involves writing proposals, reviewing other people's proposals, being co-authors on papers written by their team, and reviewing papers written by other teams. Often, the proposals aren't funded. Of those that are, most are funded for a first round of theoretical study. If they ever do get to the point where something needs to be actually built, the effort of designing and building things is often handed off to outside contractors, graduate students and post-doctoral students. These students, on rare occasions, are the ones who later graduate up the social structure to become professors, and they then get the power of final decisions on their group's proposals and papers as well as the power of reviewing the works of others. The professor becomes an alpha-individual within the science team. They are not always male though. So at least in that sense mankind has advanced past the animals - the rituals of dominance are at least no longer completely sexist.

 

Politics in Science - 3. Scientific Method. Most school children learn about the glory that is the scientific method. It begins with a hypothesis, the hypothesis should then be developed into a theory with logical progression, and that logical progression should then be used to eventually arrive at test which is used to determine which theory best represents nature. Unfortunately, I have learned that science today is something else - it is predominantly an effort geared to support and extend existing trains of thought to achieve progress through "raging incrementalism". This new approach, which is a gradual advance of science rather than the older revolutionary way, has a built-in reinforcement mechanism through our present funding structure. Projects that are chosen for funding are almost always "safe" projects that only slightly advance the state of the art. That way, successful completion is most likely, and the reputation of the Institution doing the work will not be harmed by an experiment that fails. Any revolutionary test is far too great a risk for future grant money, and must be stopped; often even before a proposal sees the light of day. Frequently critics now dismiss any new hypothesis immediately, before they even learn how it leads to testable differences between it and the presently prevailing hypothesis. We have come to the point where we don't really follow the scientific method; we just "know" that certain hypotheses should be rejected at once. Raging incrementalism does indeed achieve important advances in science, but it is also important that radical proposals following the scientific method receive attention and funding as well, even if many of those turn out to fail. This is because it is the radical proposal that might enable a fundamental breakthrough.

 

Politics in Science - 4. Being Wrong. One key aspect of the scientific method is the ability to be wrong. Yet, if one is frequently wrong, the natural tendency of people is to discredit such a person from future consideration. This, I believe has been one of my personal difficulties. As seen in the preceding posts, all of my important works (ECOFusion, the absolute theory, the aether model and the ABC Preon Model) evolved over time to where they are today. In each case a central idea (axiom) started things out, which as it was fleshed out with further refinements led to analytic testing. In every case the first attempts led to either an experimental or logical disproof - the full body of axioms was incorrect somewhere. And in every case this led to a re-analysis of the full body of axioms to determine which one was causing the flaw, or whether an additional axiom was needed. At their present state, I believe all four works contain axioms that lead logically to a prediction of all known experimental data plus predictions for future tests to differentiate them from existing theory. But I am never sure if it is all correct. It may be that one or another of the hypotheses still have a flaw. Or it may be that the future experiments proposed by the theories may show a flaw. People find such uncertainty off-putting, and this makes it difficult politically. That is why most scientists never venture out with something radically new, as it could threaten their research dollars if their reputation becomes damaged by an incorrect prediction. But of course, admission of error and the possibility of being wrong is actually the hallmark of the scientific method, and the only way we can achieve breakthrough advances. Theorize, test and repeat - let nature tell us her secrets. Admission of error is a critical component of that process.

 

Politics in Science - 5. Quacks, Cranks and Crackpots. A related problem of always needing to be right concerns which axioms get treated as unquestionable. Right now, Newton's laws are one such set of unquestionable axioms. And there is indeed an enormous body of experimental evidence to support Newton's laws. Relativity is also an unquestionable axiom right now. And really it is relativity that brings out the worst of unscientific behavior, both from its supporters and from its detractors. Relativity is an incredibly difficult idea to wrap one's mind around - even more so than quantum mechanics. As a result, there have been many detractors over time who simply don't understand it, and their criticisms of relativity are simply the result of someone carrying on about something they know not - it is a hall of fools. But sadly, most tenured physicists also do not understand relativity and so they take it as an unquestionable axiom, even though relativity's experimental predictions are in almost every case identical to those of its precursor - the Lorentz theory. This state of affairs has persisted throughout the past several decades. A very few scientific voices offering sound challenges to relativity are drowned out by a chorus of cranks and clowns who think they've now become the greatest mind of all time. And the whole circus is to be judged by a jury that rarely understands things very well. In the end, every axiom should always be viewed as being vulnerable to testing, but doing so often requires a deep knowledge that is unfortunately not present in everyone who deems themselves capable of judgment.

 

Politics in Science - 6. A Problematic Meme. Of the many political battles I have faced, none is perhaps more insidious than the battle I have in supporting a concept of objective reality in today's physics. Objective reality means that things actually exist in the world. If you assume an objective reality, the role of the scientist is to do tests on nature to learn about what exists. When you deny the existence of objective reality, then the results of tests are no longer definitive. Once the accepted viewpoint becomes one wherein objective reality is denied, anything goes. Worse, if one portrays a model (or in my case three: the aether, the absolute theory and the preon model) that assumes an objective reality, the first thing experts detect is the work of a novice. Abandonment of the concept of an objective reality is something that comes only after considerable effort on the student's part, and when models are proposed that go back to an objective reality the prejudice is that the author of such models simply hasn't gotten with the times. In such a world, works based on an objective reality are often dismissed out of hand. It is a bit of a catch 22.

 

Politics in Science - 7. Herd Behavior. An important facet of my struggles has come into clarity only recently. And that is the herd behavior of mankind, which has resulted in a few people being able to get enough others to join them so that they have been able to stop my work from becoming known. People who know they are not experts in a field often look for expert guidance to tell them whether or not a new idea is worthy. Self-appointed experts often appear to vigorously denounce any new idea as nonsense. I have even been told that some of my experimental results were assuredly wrong (this was in accelerator physics) - the claim was made that there must be something wrong with our measurement apparatus. In the case where one does have experimental proof, and also has many others working on the team to verify it, those "experts" usually slink back under the rocks from whence they came. But when you have new theoretical proposals, such critics can attack without fear of being shown to be empirically wrong. Such critics can then rely on the existing theory to debunk the new one with no experimental data getting in the way. The lemming-like followers then bury the new idea by following the critic. The critic advances socially within the group, the existing theory is more firmly established, and importantly - the money keeps flowing to those already getting the flow and all future academic positions are granted to those supporting the status quo. Herd behavior makes radical advance very difficult to achieve.

 

Politics in Science - 8. Centralization of Power. In previous posts it was described how professors play the role of power brokers in determining what proposals and papers get accepted, and how the large amount of money flowing to universities and national labs has led to a condition where "raging incrementalism" is now preferred, and a paper mill of proposals and publications exists that is far greater than the amount of actual scientific experimentation. I believe the root cause of this stems from the fact that science in the US is now funded predominantly by only one central authority - the US Government. This directly leads to the problem. Congressmen fight to ensure that funds flow to the universities in their districts, and tremendous pressure is put in place to ensure that there never is an appearance of waste. Experiments that fail are described as "waste". This then leads to an enormous amount of study to prove that the experiment will be successful before it is done. This, in turn, must rely on present theory for such an analysis, and hence it reinforces the approach of raging incrementalism over radical breakthrough. Worse, there is a generally accepted belief that the government will fund any important scientific research in certain fields, and as a result, venture capital is generally not available. With all power and money coming from a single source, and a strong emphasis on caution, the present status quo thrives. Now, a lot of good does come out of raging incrementalism, but I believe there should be more emphasis and thought given to more radical approaches for advance as well.

 

Politics in Science - 9. Violent Opposition. Throughout my struggles politically within science I have developed an appreciation for Einstein's quip about great spirits encountering violent opposition from mediocre minds. I am now quite certain that the mediocre minds he was referring to were primarily other physicists. Whenever I get censored or otherwise shouted down, I have generally found it is from someone who has not themselves done anything really new. Physics staffs are filled with people, and only the very rare ones do something that is a significant advance. Most of the staff work to understand past advances and after decades of study they have a pretty good mastery of them. They do contribute to raging incrementalism, and are certainly good stewards of past knowledge and helpfully hand that past knowledge down to others. So I really don't bear them ill will. What they do is important. However, when some of them see something radically new they react as if it is an attack on all that is good and pure, and they do all they can to assure that the new ideas don't get a wide audience. This phenomenon has been a frequent occurrence for me (the Quora post and what happened at Wikipedia, each discussed in my previous Preonic Wars postings, are excellent examples) and I've never been quite sure what to do about it.

 

Politics in Science - 10. The Societal Costs. The obvious reason for this blog is an attempt to get some publicity for several of my works that I feel are very important, and to get interest to fund ECOFusion. As part of that, I have shared my struggles to even get my work known, let alone accepted and funded. But it's not just about me. My fear is that my story may be one of many, and that there may be many worthy ideas that die without any serious thought before they become sufficiently known in the wider community. Also there may be many standard beliefs that humanity holds that are just plain wrong. And all of this leads to a situation where the world could be far better than it presently is if we would just do two things: 1) work hard to evaluate new ideas when they appear; and 2) follow the scientific method to determine which ideas are best. Crucially, the evaluation process must only use logic from the hypothesis to the test - it must not ask whether the hypothesis agrees with standard existing theory.

 

Politics in Science - 11. The Root Problems. Previous posts mentioned two phenomena that are now present within much of modern academia. Those two are: 1) a failure to follow the scientific method; and 2) abandonment of objective reality. In concert and coupled with the politics of the Queen Bee, Alpha Individual, Herd Mentality, and Concentration of Power, these two phenomena serve to provide extremely strong protection for the status quo. One game seems to be to invent theories that are infinitely malleable so that they can never be proven wrong, and then go on to claim great wisdom, and from there report on the tremendous future ramifications for mankind. Money flows in from governmental coffers to advance such theories, since it would never come from the private sector. The present situation can lead to much valuable progress through raging incrementalism, but it is extremely stifling for radical advance. And it is true that raging incrementalism can advance science by making many small changes to an otherwise sound theory, and so it can indeed be a valid way to correct errors. So whether or not one is following the scientific method can actually be a grey area to determine, as things are not always definitive. For tokamaks, the many small changes continually made to the design are likely meritorious and within the scientific method for that approach toward fusion energy, although that approach may never get us to the goal of a new energy source. For relativity, only a single change has been needed, but since that change is the abandonment of objective reality, that one change alone takes us outside the scientific method in my opinion. And by the time you get to the standard model, which both abandons objective reality and has made so many small changes as to now be a monster of complexity, it is my belief that it is now more dogma than it is science.

 

Politics in Science - 12. Summary and Conclusion. The previous posts on this topic have outlined the extremely strong power structure within academia that acts in practice to censor and stifle any revolutionary ideas before they can be tested. But what makes the situation worse is that the world outside of academia almost always defers to academic experts to decide on such matters. This means, in the case of all my important work, that it never got funded or even widely known. The primary problem stems from the fact that when a radically new idea appears in an advanced scientific field almost no one understands it. Hence, to judge it, people turn to experts. The ones who judge it are really not experts in the new idea, but rather, they are experts in the most closely related old idea. Their self-esteem and income come from the old idea, but the problem is far worse and more intractable than mere corruption - the experts BELIEVE in the old idea. They BELIEVE the old idea is extremely important to mankind, now and for the future. The experts are often very good people and mean the best for others. It is not that they selfishly cling to an old idea, but rather that they believe the old idea is truly better for mankind. Hence, they reject the new idea and attempt to suppress it, since it might divert attention from what they are sure is their own better approach. Everyone else just follows the experts. The experts teach the old idea to the next generation, and the process repeats with the old idea continually improving in the process of raging incrementalism. You can't even really play the game from the inside, because the community of experts will dismiss those who challenge the status quo from inside too. In any sub-specialty there aren't really that many experts, maybe only a few hundred worldwide. But there are enough of them that when any one individual disagrees in a radical way, that one individual will be shouted down and not be able to find further work. In the end there are only a few who judge, but they have the positions of authority to whom everyone else turns for a decision. You can't get the position of authority unless you abide by the past paradigms. So how can one possibly overcome this? I am not sure one can. At least not within the present system. So four years ago I decided I should likely try a different approach.