21 May 2008


Some miscellaneous science notes today:

Terence Kealey has written a book about the effectiveness of government funding of scientific research. His view: not effective. I'm a little dubious. (Grain of salt: I earn my paycheck through such funding.*) One example discussed is the failure of a Federal flight program just months before the Wrights got airborne. I think the question to ask is not whether government research can invent airplanes, but whether it can discover the Bernoulli principal that keeps them in the air.

Vatican endorses GM food. A wise, ethical, pro-science position from the Church. Perhaps this doesn't really belong in my science post, since as Renato Cardinal Martino correctly observed "This controversy is more political than scientific." Amen, Your Eminence. Amen.

Not convinced GM food is an acceptable substitute for "organic" comestibles? Check the Independent. My conclusions: Organic food: tastes yummier. Non-organic food: better in all other ways.

From the "Drugs that would make Dr. Jonathan Crane jealous" file: inhaling the neurotransmitter oxytocin makes you trust people and take extra social risks. Here's the original article in Neuron. I can't even count the ways that could be abused... frat parties, casinos, military recruiters...

Finally, Moody's is investigating whether it gave out AAA investment ratings due to a computer error. Really, Moody's? Really?

* Well, not for the next 12 month funding cycle, but still...


  1. That Reason magazine bit is interesting. I think that they don't make a big enough deal about "at least in the short-term," because it seems to me that the difference between short-term need and long-term need is precisely the difference between what the private and public sectors resolve.

    You wouldn't expect the government to invest in things that have short-term profitability, because that's what industry is good at--reacting to problems in the present tense. The whole reason you have a government is to abrogate slightly short-term interest to look at long-term solutions.

    Unless, maybe they think that the internet had no long-term practical value?

    (Also, Marconi made most of his early version of long-range telegraphs while working for the Royal Post Office in England.)

  2. I think you're generally on the mark, but I'm not so optimistic about governments taking the long-term view reliably. Anything occurring past the next election is, to one degree or another, dispensable.

    Nevertheless, I think pretty much everyone agrees the government has more business funding "basic" research that pays off far down the road rather than R&D to productize things right now.

    This is something I'm going to have to think more about.