By now you must have heard, read about or seen some media reports about scores of “breakthroughs” which will supposedly cure cancer, diabetes, aging etc and make nuclear fusion , cheap space travel or make some other desirable thing feasible.
So why do research groups touting these “breakthroughs” ALWAYS fail to deliver on their promises? and why do other groups keep on trying to pull the same scams?
Many scientists like to blame scientific illiteracy of media for exaggerations, however they are far from innocent. I would go so far as to suggest that scientists are the principal instigators of such frauds. But why do they do it?
The answer lies in the nature of publicly funded research in the west. Post-ww2, but especially after the 1970s, scientific research increasingly became dependent on fickle public and private money. In previous eras, scientists often had modest but very stable budgets. They had no reason to tout some half-baked crap as innovation, and such scams were generally frowned upon. However, a combination of the economic woes of the 1970s plus the tendency of governments to dictate and micromanage research based on popular demands led to certain unfortunate developments.
1. Funding for specific research areas became dependent on quality of their PR. The science behind and feasibility of any direction of scientific inquiry became far less important than who could scam, cajole and intimidate the public into giving them money.
2. It led to the centralization of research with bigger groups, more money for ivy-league and centers-of-excellence type scams. The result was- mediocrity and lack of innovation as these ‘connected’ cocksuckers did not want to perform risky research. Those willing to do risky and innovative stuff were weeded out.
3. Research funding became so politicized that any person who was not part of the current ‘in’ crowd could not get any research money. In earlier eras, such people might have been ignored or scorned but seldom had to leave their field. Of course, newer ‘in’ crowds continually displace older ‘in’ crowds who then bitch about fairness and decency.
4. All of the above has led to the almost total end of basic innovation years ago. However these conmen depend on public money to fund their ponzi schemes. Therefore they have to keep on lying and pretending that they are making new discoveries that will change the world.
This is analogous to paying legit-looking scammers who guarantee a complete recovery for your brain-dead relative within a few months, if you pay them more money. The person never recovers, but every few months they peddle new false hope to scam more money out of you, and spin lies to gloss over their previous scams. The problem with this approach is, at some stage, the scam victims realize that they are being looted. Once this realization sets in, each attempt to scam money results in ever decreasing rewards.
The most severe damage is however to the reputation of science. Every day fewer and fewer people believe in the ability of science to be truthful or achieve anything useful, and the growing crowd of unbelievers cannot be faulted for being cynical.
I should also say something about the effect of non-scientific considerations on research findings. The war on drugs created a flurry of research demonstrating the very deleterious effects of ‘evil drugs’ on the brain, environmentalism has created a lot of research that proves everything that certain people want to believe in. Scientific literature on the adverse effects of dietary fat on various physiological parameters, or research touting the efficacy of newer (and more expensive) drugs are other common examples of the influence of such considerations.
Today scientists are ethically closer to pimps, priests and snake-oil salesmen. Then again.. pimps, priests and snake-oil salesmen do not misrepresent themselves to the extent scientists do.