Tag Archives: science and research are dying

COULD SCIENCE AND RESEARCH NOW BE DYING?

They Just Don't Realize What Will Happen if Science Dies!!  (http://dr-monsrs.net)

They Just Don’t Realize What Happens if Science Dies!!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

Several knowledgeable science writers have published provocative and shocking speculations that science and research are dead [e.g., 1-3].  I myself do not believe that science now is dead, because new knowledge and important new technology continue to be produced by the ever-increasing large number of graduate students, postdocs, academic and industrial researchers, and engineers.  A very good example of recent major progress is found in “3-D printing and nanoprinting” [e.g., 4,5]; this remarkable advance developed from a combination of pure basic research, applied research, and engineering developments, and exemplifies to me that science and research indeed still are alive today.

Other science writers have concluded that science is undergoing decay and degeneration despite its celebrated progress [e.g., 6,7].  I agree with these perceptions.  The nature and goals of modern scientific research at universities have changed so much that I am sadly convinced that modern science is withering from its former vigorous state.  Since there presently is almost no push against the causes of this very undesirable situation, and since there are no easy means to accomplish all the reforms and rescue efforts needed to reverse the current very negative trends, I do indeed believe that modern science actually could be dying.  Although science still is quite alive, to me it obviously is not well.

Many who disagree with my harsh conclusion will point to the enormous number of scientists now doing research studies, the massive number of tax dollars being spent on academic research, the even larger amount of dollars spent by industries for their commercial research and developmental efforts, the huge number of research scientists reporting on their latest experimental findings at the annual meetings of science societies, and, the modern advent of new research centers, new subdivisions of science, and new directions of research.  Instead of responding to each of these true statements, I will counter that most of them are not reasons why science is successful, but rather are actual symptoms resulting from the decay and degeneration of modern science.

All of the following are strictly personal opinions, and represent my reasons for believing that science now is dying.  The fundamental goal of scientific research at universities has changed into acquiring more research grant money, instead of finding more new knowledge.  Today, science seems to be progressing more and more slowly, with research advances coming in smaller and smaller steps.  The research questions being addressed almost all are smaller than those asked by scientists just a few decades ago; very many scientists in academia now seek to work only on niche studies.  The significance of the reports found in the numerous new and old research journals is decreasing with each year; superficial rather limited reports now are becoming commonplace.  Few scientists are enthusiastic about undertaking the experimental study of any really large and important research questions, since those would require at least several decades of work to find a complete answer; such efforts  are made impossible by the fact that research grants mostly are available only for 1-5 years of effort.  Many modern PhD scientists working in universities today are functioning only as highly educated research technicians working within large groups (see my recent article in the Essays category on “Individual Work versus Group Efforts in Scientific Research“); group-think is prevalent and research in academia now is only a business activity (see my earlier article in the Essays category on “What is the Very Biggest Problem for Science Today?”).  The extensive commercialization of university science sidetracks basic research, stifles individual creativity, and encourages ethical misconduct.  Individual scientists still are the fountain for new ideas and research creativity, but in modern academia they are increasingly restrained by the misguided policies of the research grant agencies and the university employers; both of these have only a very restrained enthusiasm for basic research studies.

A different large and important question always is lurking in the background whenever the status of science progress is being evaluated: could it be that much of the totality of possible knowledge already has been established by all the previous research discoveries?  In other words, is modern scientific research only working to fill in gaps within the massive amount of knowledge already acquired?  I feel that this proposal is quite debatable, since there still are many large and important research questions that remain unanswered.  However, if one switches to asking about understanding, rather than about knowledge, then I believe that very much understanding remains remains to be uncovered in all branches of science.  Although many more new facts and figures will lead to some increase in understanding, I do not actually see that outcome resulting from the many superficial research studies today; many new experimental results are publicized and certified as being “very promising”, but these often simply increase the complexity of the question and  rarely result in significant advances for real understanding.

All of these negative situations adversely impact upon the research enterprise and make it less productive, less significant, less satisfying, and more costly.  Unless changes and reforms are made, the decay in scientific research will progress further.  I feel that therapeutic interventions must be made in order to save science and research from actually dying.  The time to start these needed changes is right now, before everything gets even worse.  My hope is that more and more research scientists, science historians, science philosophers, science teachers, and science administrators will come to see the truth in my viewpoint that the research enterprise currently has decayed and is approaching a morbid condition.

Can science and research be saved from death?  What changes must be made?  Which change needs to be made first?  Is more money to support science needed to rescue science, or will more supportive funds only make this pathological situation even worse?  Who can make the needed changes and reforms?  Who will take the lead in these efforts? How can more scientists and more ordinary people be persuaded that scientific research is dying and needs to be rescued?  I will try to deal further with some of these very difficult and complex questions in later essays at this website.

 

[1]  Horgan, J., 1997.  The End of Science.  Facing the Limits of Knowledge in Light of the Scientific Age.  Broadway Books, The Crown Publishing Group, New York, 322 pages.

[2]  Staff of The Gleaner, 2011.  Is science dying?  The Gleaner, Commentary, February 28, 2011.  Available on the internet at:  http://gleaner.rutgers.edu/2011/02/28/is-science-dying/ .

[3]  LeFanu, J., 2010.  Science’s dead end.  Prospect Magazine, July 21, 2010.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/sciences-dead-end/ .

[4]  Aigner, F., & Technische Universität Wien, 2012.  3D printer with nano-precision.  Available on the internet at: http://www.tuwien.ac.at/en/news/news_detail/article/7444/ .

[5]  3dprinterworld, 2014.  News.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.3dprinterworld.com/news  .

[6]  Hubbert, M.K., 1963.  Are we retrogressing in science?  Despite superficial evidence to the contrary, science in the United States is in a state of confusion.  Science, 139:884-890.  Abstract available on the internet at:  http://www.sciencemag.org/content/139/3558/884.abstract . [7]  Phys-Org, March 27, 2012.  Has modern science become dysfunctional?  Available on the internet at:  http://phys.org/news/2012-03-modern-science-dysfunctional.html .

 

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