Giant controversies in science arise despite lots of good research. Certain research disputes have become so controversial that they are deadlocked. Traditional grant-supported research only increases the stalemated dispute and does not succeed in resolving the controversy. The federal granting agencies do not seem to recognize that the best answer to these large controversies is to not fund more of the usual limited investigations, but instead to sponsor better research! Definitive additional experimental data and analysis will permit expert scientists to reach a consensus about what really is known or not known, and what is true or false.
What causes research controversies to become long-standing?
Controversies in science are good except when disputes become stalemated and further ordinary research can make little or no progress. Some disputes involve big disagreements about opposing interpretations of research results. Others involve directed interpretations of scientific data coming from commercial manufacturers. Occasionally, the scientists employed by national regulatory agencies are alleged to hide data or purposely misinterpret some test results so as to give a falsely positive evaluation (e.g., U.S. Food and Drug Agency). A different type of dispute arises when ordinary people personally observe effects and activities that are quite different from the conclusions drawn by research scientists. Big disputes are not just academic activities, but even can involve public health and safety.
Some examples of big controversies in current science.
All very large controversies are long-standing stalemated disputes, and often have big importance for society and science. Examples of topics where research conclusions in both basic and applied science currently are widely disputed and very controversial include: (1) glyphosate (e.g., Is widespread use of this commercial chemical in modern agriculture poisoning all of us?), (2) white LED light bulbs (e.g., Do they truly pay for themselves in common household usage versus the cost of modern incandescent light bulbs?), (3) various vaccines (e.g., Do influenza vaccines also cause new flu infections? Do they cause autism or other health problems?), (4) cold fusion (e.g., Is cold fusion possible or not?), (5) post-Fukushima radiocontamination of oceans with uranium derivatives (e.g., Can entire oceans be decontaminated? How can that be done? What improved or new measures can reliably prevent any repetitions of a Fukushima-type disaster at nuclear power plants?), and, (6) global warming (e.g., How much do environmental temperatures naturally vary over shorter or longer periods of time? Have temperatures recently increased more than natural variations? Have humans and industries caused any increase in prevailing temperatures?). Research results from all the many previous ordinary scientific studies on these questions have failed to permit a consensus to be reached; therefore, new kinds of research studies are needed in order to specifically break each stalemate and result in a new consensus view being accepted.
Details about proposed new research grants to resolve big controversies in science.
I propose a new research grant program to support research studies on very large controversial questions in science. This new kind of support program aims to finally resolve stalemates in giant controversies, so that basic and applied research then can proceed and progress without being tied down for more decades with endless controversy about the same disputes. All proposed new projects must be realistically able to fully resolve a giant controversy in 10 or less years of experimental research studies. Awards will range up to 10 years of support. Awardees with a 5 year award can apply for one renewal of 5 more years; awardees for 10 years of support cannot be renewed.
Who can apply? Applications will be accepted from scientists and engineers holding a doctoral degree, and being employed in universities or industrial research labs. At least a 50% effort by the Principal Investigator (P.I.) is required. Both individual scientists and small groups (i.e., up to a maximum of 12 doctoral co-investigators) can apply for research support from this new program.
Proposals: Key questions to be answered and criitically evaluated in all proposals are: (1) exactly how can the selected controversy be fully resolved within a 10 year period of work, and, (2) how will the new results obtained cause a consensus to finally be reached?
Applications must give: (1) detailed description of the experimental data to be collected and analyzed, (2) different conclusions that could arise from full completion of the proposed new studies, and, (3) what will happen when the controversy finally is resolved. All research facilities to be used must be desribed in detail. Additionally, all applications must explain: (1) where the P.I. and all co-investigators initially stand with regard to the selected controversy, (2) how the expected new results will be able to finally resolve the controversy, rather than simply leading to further disputes, and, (3) exactly what will be known and what will remain unknown after the new studies are completed. Applications should carefully justify percentage efforts of all participants, and, explain how the proposed studies relate to research projects supported by current awards to the P.I. and all co-investigators.
Due to the nature and size of the research questions involved in big controversies, small groups using highly coordinated experiments and bringing a good range of specific expertise to the project will receive preference; however, proposals from especially well-qualified individual investigators also will be welcomed. The P.I. must have had at least one regular external research grant awarded (on any subject) within the past 6 years. Applicants can request support funds for all usual kinds of research expenses, except that no funding for purchase of new research equipment is permitted; however, funds can be requested for the required construction of special research instruments enabling production of new data that will resolve the controversy.
How will proposals be evaluated? Priority for funding will be evaluated by peer review primarily on the basis of: (1) quality of the planned new experiments and data analysis, (2) likelihood that completion of the proposed definitive studies will be fully completed within a 10-year period of support, and, (3) plans for finally reaching a general consensus amidst the ongoing disputes.
How will science benefit from resolving giant controversies? Resolving big controversies will dramatically advance science by helping to invigorate the weak status of experimental research studies in U.S. universities (see: “Could Science and Research now be Dying?” ). Resolving a big controversy will: (1) preclude spending more research time and funding that leads nowhere; instead, later research will involve practical applications via new applied research and engineering developments, without distractions from commercial and political interests; and, (2) permit future research studies to be based on the new consensus conclusions, rather than on the same old controversial positions. After each large controversy is resolved, smaller research questions following from the newly-accepted consensus conclusions can be supported through regular research grant mechanisms.
Everone should be able to recognize the negative effects of stalemated giant controversies in modern science. These not only cause wastage of time and money, but result in decreased public esteem for science, research, and scientists. Resolution of these controversies will finally enable future research studies to investigate new details and specific questions, without being forced to be involved in the former dispute itself; continuing these controversies is pointless. Science then will be able to free itself from the politics and emotions behind these controversies. Future productive new research studies in science and engineering will be based upon the new consensus. After the giant controversies finally are resolved, the progress of today’s science will be improved, and the public will benefit much from new practical advances.
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