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The head of the House Committee on Science does not understand how science works

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Fermilab was designed by Robert Wilson, a physicist who made an impassioned plea for basic research in front of a Congressional committee (Image: Wikipedia Commons)

It’s been said many times. Curiosity-driven research with no immediate application or goal is what has primarily led to science’s greatest discoveries as well as our high standard of living. It is what has led to the ascendancy of American science during the twentieth century. If you want great discoveries to happen, the recipe is clear; get the best scientists together and leave them alone.

And yet politicians just don’t get it. In the latest incarnation of this ignorance, Representative Lamar Smith of Texas wants to tell the NSF how to fund research. And here’s a trivial and forgettable fact: Smith heads the House Committee on Science and Technology. It’s also worth noting that Smith had sponsored the egregious SOPA. Science Magazine has now reported on his lack of understanding of the history of science and technology:

“Science Insider has obtained a copy of the legislation, labeled “Discussion Draft” and dated 18 April, which has begun to circulate among members of Congress and science lobbyists. In effect, the proposed bill would force NSF to adopt three criteria in judging every grant. Specifically, the draft would require the NSF director to post on NSF’s website, prior to any award, a declaration that certifies the research is:

1) “…in the interests of the United States to advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare, and to secure the national defense by promoting the progress of science;

2) “… the finest quality, is groundbreaking, and answers questions or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large; and

3) “…not duplicative of other research projects being funded by the Foundation or other Federal science agencies.”

The first point cannot help but remind me of physicist Robert Wilson’s impassioned plea for basic research; when Wilson was asked by a Congressional committee if the giant particle accelerator he was planning was of any significance to national security, he replied that the kind of research he was doing makes the nation worth securing in the first place. If the Congressman or any number of politicians study even the rudiments of the history of science, they would instantly understand that pure, curiosity-driven research has led to innovations that have been paramount for national security, health and welfare. The Internet, lasers, computers, crop breeding, antibiotics and other drugs, electronics, genetic engineering; every single one of these innovations has emerged from largely idle and speculative research whose only purpose was to further our understanding of the natural and physical universe. It’s all out there, documented and repeated countless times. One would think that the man who heads a congressional committee on science and technology would be aware of at least some of the consequences of this speculative research. Perhaps he can start by reading Abraham Flexner’s “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge“, a clarion call if there ever was one for the benefits of unfettered thinking.

The second point again demonstrates an almost complete ignorance of how science actually works. It actually sounds like a mandate for a new Italian restaurant in Manhattan (“The finest, most groundbreaking Orecchiette this side of the Mississippi”). Almost none of the research that led to groundbreaking advances was seen as groundbreaking at the time. Or perhaps it was groundbreaking in a pure sense but its groundbreaking applications were far from clear. For instance thermodynamics, botany, electromagnetism and anatomy were all fields whose practical significance was far ahead of their times. Nuclear physics is the perfect example. If he lived in the 1930s, Smith would probably have strongly discouraged research on radioactive transmutations, perhaps even comparing the physicists who were attempting it to harebrained alchemists. He would also have deplored Thomas Hunt Morgan’s research on fruit flies as another spectacular example of wasteful spending (a sentiment we have heard before…). And quantum mechanics? That would probably have seemed to him to be the most outrageous example of speculative science, a set of mind-games and paradoxes pondered by obsessive philosophers and symbol-seekers with too much time on their hands; no matter that it later proved indispensable to an understanding of everything from lasers to biochemistry to astrophysics. Heisenberg would probably have given up trying to get funding from Smith’s NSF.

If scientists working on the frontier of their respective disciplines themselves have had a hard time deciding what constitutes “groundbreaking” work, why would politicians – a fraction of whom have degrees in science – be equipped to know any better or to dictate terms to this effect? Here’s my modest suggestion to Rep. Smith: instead of asking scientists to focus on research that’s of “the utmost importance to society at large”, perhaps what you should appreciate is that giving scientists the freedom to pursue research of their choice is in fact what is “of the utmost importance to society at large”. History amply validates this policy.

Charitably speaking, the last point sounds at least somewhat fair. It is important not to reinvent the wheel. But even this view poses a problem. If a hundred inventors tried to invent the wheel without knowing about each other’s work, they would probably end up with products that were all slightly different from each other and offered slightly different benefits. Plus, the congressman does not really need to tell scientists to not duplicate each other’s work since in this era of cash-strapped funding and tight deadlines, most scientists are well aware of this caveat anyway. No assistant professor wants to spend two years duplicating a piece of research, and he or she would presumably spend enough time doing the homework necessary to ensure novelty.

Science in the United States has led to untold benefits in the post-war years largely due to a lack of interference from politicians. That’s not for lack of trying; there have been scores of instances where politicians have tried to micromanage the details of research funding, along with more serious cases of active political interference, but in the bigger picture most of these attempts have largely been unsuccessful. Funding for science has also been rather independent of the political party in charge in Washington. This relative freedom from politics has undoubtedly been a significant factor in the great success of American science; one has to only look at the political and bureaucratic controls over science in countries like the former Soviet Union, China and India to understand how important it is to keep science and politics separate. There is little doubt that science in this country can only continue to thrive without politicians – and especially those who seem to have scant understanding of how science actually works – dictating the flow of funding and imposing their own politically motivated ideology on the work of scientists. In Robert Wilson’s words, that’s the only thing that will continue to make this country worth defending.

Ashutosh Jogalekar About the Author: Ashutosh (Ash) Jogalekar is a chemist interested in the history and philosophy of science. He considers science to be a seamless and all-encompassing part of the human experience. Follow on Twitter @curiouswavefn.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. rock1110 12:59 pm 04/29/2013

    Nice piece. Couldn’t agree more.

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  2. 2. timeisabsolute 1:04 pm 04/29/2013

    I’m in support of US Congress weeding out outright nonsense, such as, projects connected w/ internally contradictory “theories” (e.g. Einstein’s “theory” of relativity). Scientists should not be left alone regarding such travesty. That travesty persists because of the self-serving needs of some communities and is maintained through a corrupt peer-review specifically staged by them to make such harmful for society but useful to them idea to persevere. Einstein’s “theory” of relativity and anything connected with it must be removed from any public funding and that is only possible through the political will of the US Congress and should by no means be left to the scientists alone. cf. https://www.youtube.com/user/timeisabsolute

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  3. 3. syzygyygyzys 1:53 pm 04/29/2013

    Dr. Jogalekar,
    I’ve read many of your comments on other blogs. Your comments, in general, strike me as well considered and reasonable. Having politicians picking winners and losers for research money seems equally as bad as having the government acting as a venture capital group picking winners and losers in green energy projects.
    I’m in favor of basic research. What are your thoughts on how we can best direct taxpayer money to research and keep the politicians of all stripes out of the process?

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  4. 4. Sisko 2:27 pm 04/29/2013

    Mr Jogalekar-
    In a time when there is a far greater desire for government funds than there are funds available, there obviously needs to be an evaluation process to fund those projects that will yield the highest expected return to the taxpayer. You do not like Smith’s suggested questions but you have offered no alternative process.

    You pointed out that Smith cosponsored the SOPA as an example of what you believe to be an example of his poor performance, but you seem to fail to point out that there were 31 co-sponsors of that piece of legislation from both political parties. You seem a bit biased, and I am no repubican.

    Again, in a time of very limited financial resources, how should a US Congressperson choose what science research should be funded vs. what is not? Not only will everything not be funded, most will not be funded. Are the questions unreasonable? What are the right questions in your opinion?

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  5. 5. timeisabsolute 2:38 pm 04/29/2013

    @syzygyygyzys, Your point is well taken. However, what do you think should be done to stop public funding of projects based on internal contradictions, as the ones I mentioned, which intrinsically can never lead to new knowledge whatsoever and which can never be an object of experimental verification. Nonsense cannot lead to new knowledge and cannot be part of fundamental research. Like I already said, it is hopeless to rely on peer-review to resolve this problem because of the self-serving, corrupt ‘invisible colleges’ which form an impenetrable wall. Therefore, in such an extreme instance the existing one-way funding street — from US Congress to the recipients — should be reformed to include also a component for the recipients of funds to be accountable before US Congress.

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  6. 6. curiouswavefunction 2:39 pm 04/29/2013

    Sisko: I agree that in a time of limited resources all sectors of the economy – including scientific research – should be scrutinized. My problems with Rep. Smith’s recommendations are twofold; firstly, they are blanket recommendations. Smith is not saying that 10% of scientific research should be examined and evaluated on a case-by-case basis. He is suggesting that the NSF apply these criteria to all or most research projects. I am fine with looking at individual projects and offering considered opinions. And secondly – and this point never ceases to amaze me – how about picking on defense spending or any number of foreign policy allocations with the same enthusiasm and attention to detail? Why is science often one of the first sectors cited as an example of wasteful spending? Finally, it would be more helpful to hear even critical recommendations from people who actually display an understanding of scientific history and the scientific method.

    rock1110: Thanks for reading.

    TimeIsAbsolute: At first I thought you were joking. Now I realize you are serious. Sigh.

    syzygyygyzys: That’s always a good question, and as I am sure you know the answer is complex. Public education should certainly be one of the highest priorities since there can be no informed Congress without an informed public; in this sense our education system has failed us. As for completely keeping politicians out of the process, I am not sure if that’s entirely avoidable or even desirable since in the past the government has certainly done a good job funding specific projects. But strategies like crowdfunding could be one small solution to get around centralized funding. Ultimately though, electing representatives who appreciate these issues is the only long-term solution, and public education will always be the single-best tool to address this problem.

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  7. 7. Trafalgar 2:55 pm 04/29/2013

    #3 reads to me like “DO NOT ATTEMPT TO REPRODUCE EXPERIMENTS PUBLISHED IN RESEARCH PAPERS TO CONFIRM THEIR VERACITY.”

    P.S. TimeIsAbsolute: What is your major malfunction?

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  8. 8. Trafalgar 2:59 pm 04/29/2013

    The citizens of a country shouldn’t need to crowdfund its research, they’re already paying taxes which are going to research – and somehow I doubt said citizenry will choose any more wisely.

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  9. 9. shorewood 2:59 pm 04/29/2013

    Yeah, all scientists should be afforded a free lunch. Give them all the funds they want so that they can pursue their pet projects. Some of those projects might prove fruitful, so without government funding, society would miss out.

    The author muses on only one side of the equation: He ignores all of those projects that were funded and turned out to be basically worthless. How much did they cost?

    And, why should the government fund ANY projects that are not directly tied to governmental functions? What makes scientists so special?

    If there is sufficient reason to believe that some project will eventually provide a benefit, then private sources will step up – assuming that the benefit outweighs the cost. Government funding should rest on economic considerations, not whether some scientist is denied the opportunity to investigate his personal fantasies.

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  10. 10. timeisabsolute 3:14 pm 04/29/2013

    @curiouswavefunction, it seems you prove my point. It appears, you have taken for granted that something imposed overwhelmingly on society as being right (recall, there were other times when governing views had became obsolete) and you’re ready to agree with its persistence even if you’re shown that it’s bogus. I, as a scientist, am passionate about maintaining the truth and removing bogus concepts from science, no matter how prevalent for the time being. The only problem is, I don’t see how the perpetrators of the bogus science, benefiting from it, can do the job of correcting the wrong path science has taken. Where do you see the problem in such view?

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  11. 11. curiouswavefunction 3:21 pm 04/29/2013

    timeisabsolute: You will have to forgive me for being skeptical; you see, your YouTube page has a video titled “Einstein’s “Theory” of Relativity Must be Removed from Science”. If you can indeed demonstrate that relativity is unscientific then it will be a great discovery and you should definitely think of publishing it in a peer-reviewed journal. I sincerely wish you good luck in this endeavor.

    shorwood: Scientific research is by its nature a process of attrition. Just like 90% of all drugs don’t make it to the clinic, 90% of ideas have to be discarded to find the 10% that end up significantly contributing to our knowledge. It’s the nature of science, and it’s tough luck if you have a problem with it since there is no other option. Nobody said science was easy. As for private funding (except for a few entities like Bell Labs), we would all be living in the stone age if we had waited around for profit-driven private sources to fund the kind of blue-sky research that led to so many useful products. They probably would have funded no research in basic genetics or atomic physics.

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  12. 12. timeisabsolute 3:32 pm 04/29/2013

    @curiouswavefunction, this is exactly my point. It is impossible to publish in peer-reviewed journals arguments going against so deeply entrenched views. Those who benefit from the status quo, the ‘invisible colleges’ I mentioned, have formed an impenetrable wall. This has always been the case in science with respect to governing views. Recall Boltzmann’s suicide when ridiculed by Ostwald for his atomistic view. It is more so today because science has never in its history seen such travesty as this deep entrenchment of an obviously internally contradictory proposal (nonsense, that is) as the “theory” in question. Therefore, there should be some outside help (in some way it may turn out to be help from US Congress, as an element of what’s proposed; otherwise I agree regarding the need for fundamental science to be funded properly) with enough power and political will to remove from science this harmful and completely wasteful “theory” and its progeny such as string theories and so on.

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  13. 13. dbtinc 3:34 pm 04/29/2013

    Many people have said this and forgive me for adding my 2¢. Basic research should not be subject to governmental oversight but there is a reality here – massive deficits, major infrastructure issues, economic problems to name a few. I don’t think it’s asking too much for NSF to feel some of the pain as well.

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  14. 14. energydogjeff 3:35 pm 04/29/2013

    I’m really very surprised that there are no comments on the application of the scientific method?! There is absolutely no way that the three questions posed above can have anything to do with theoretical science. In my reading I come away feeling that what Lamar Smith is proposing should be associated with applied research rather than theoretical research. That being said, applied research is a natural extension of the result of the try and try again nature of theoretical research.

    Dr. Jogalekar narrative seems to support this, and his examples of Russia, China et. al. are fine examples of applied research to find the path to an end goal. Be that a multi-megaton thermonuclear warhead or the next great economic advance.

    Until politicians and the average citizen understand the difference between theory and application it will be too easy for the Lamar Smith’s of the world to marginalize the depth of imagination and creativity required to execute theoretical science.

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  15. 15. Sisko 3:42 pm 04/29/2013

    Jogalekar-
    Your comment seems to apply logic inconsistently with the facts.
    1. Why should only a portion of NSF funding be evaluated to try to ensure that the spending is a wise use of the taxpayer funds? Funding of science by the US taxpayer is after all a luxury and not an essential service. I agree that this funding has had examples of a positive return on investment on certain efforts, but that is hardly the rule overall.

    2. The US defense budget is already getting significantly larger percentage reductions than are other areas of the US budget. (and I am not claiming this is inappropriate). Defense is being looked at on a line by line basis- as is should.

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  16. 16. timeisabsolute 3:48 pm 04/29/2013

    @energydogjeff, I cannot agree more with you regarding the necessity to apply the scientific method in research. I am totally opposed to views such as those expressed by Lee Smolin who insists that “scientific method is wrong”. I would, however, add, that prior to considering experimental confirmation of a candidate-theory, it should be examined for logical consistency. A candidate-theory must not be based on internal contradictions, as Einstein’s “theory” of relativity is. Once it is found that a candidate-theory is based on internal contradictions, it must be rejected without delay, in its entirety, without further considerations, least of all considering experimental verification. Internally contradictory theory is another name for nonsense. Nonsense cannot be the subject of experimental verification and must be rejected prior to any efforts to verify it experimentally. As for the said “theory”, all the talk for experimental evidence proving its validity is sheer propaganda, to say the least.

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  17. 17. curiouswavefunction 3:55 pm 04/29/2013

    Personally I think that funding of science, along with that of education, is an essential service. Without science we really can’t achieve the high standard of living that has so many other ancillary benefits. And I am not saying that science funding should not be scrutinized in its entirety; the problem is that someone will *always* find projects that don’t seem to have any immediate goal. The point which I make in the post is that this is a fundamentally flawed way to look at science. At the very least in times of financial adversity you could assign a percentage of research that’s unfettered and bring the rest of it under scrutiny.

    Defense is a very different matter in my opinion. There are aspects of it – for instance the presence of American troops in 130 countries – which are gratuitous, and I am hardly the only one complaining about this. Conservatives, liberals, libertarians all have one thing or another to criticize about this country’s excessive spending on defense and the untenable extension of its armed forces abroad. To me and many others, it seems that there are parts of defense spending which are much more obviously worthless than parts of science funding. In addition defense unlike science is much less amenable to ancillary spinoffs that can positively impact so many different aspects of our lives. So no, I am not saying that science should be exempt from scrutiny while defense should be intensely scrutinized, what I am saying is that in my opinion there’s a percentage of defense spending which can be rather obviously reduced, unlike science where it’s much harder to evaluate the future merits of particular projects.

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  18. 18. SSK 4:02 pm 04/29/2013

    According to the article it is curiosity driven research what has led to America’s scientific pre-eminence in the 20th century. I would have thought that the fact that America was beneficiary of the brain drain from Nazism from just about all countries in Western Europe has more to do with it. Before WWII the number of world stature American scientists was very, very small.

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  19. 19. tharriss 4:33 pm 04/29/2013

    Timeisabsolute: please remember to take your medication, your rationality is failing you again.

    Shorewood: Yeah, we hate those greedy scientists living large off the government dime… look at them in their huge mansions driving their fancy cars… wait.. what?

    Congress: Boo.

    People venerating ignorance, scoffing at education, denigrating experts, and denying reality… double boo.

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  20. 20. timeisabsolute 4:52 pm 04/29/2013

    @tharriss: Are personal attacks the best you can do?

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  21. 21. Sisko 5:09 pm 04/29/2013

    curiousJogalekar-

    It is easy to highlight wasteful US Defense spending but it is probably difficult to have an opportunity to substantially cuts costs in that arena until there is a discussion of policy and change in the “goals of US Defense spending”. Generally, I’d agree that we spend excessively on troops stationed abroad.

    It the area of US government spending on science-
    a. You agree that there is limited money to be spent and we both wish there was more, but in reality times ahead are tough on this issue. The US won’t balance its budget given currently projected spending and revenue streams unless unemployment is below 5.5% That is highly unlikely to occur in the foreseeable future.

    b. You agree that whatever limited funding there is needs to be allocated to make the best use of those limited funds. This will undoubtedly involve difficult choices with many good projects being unfunded and a few dumb projects somehow continuing to be funded.

    c. Given a & b there logically must be some party “Z” determining how the highly limited funds are spent. I’d guess that there will be a vastly larger number of disappointed scientists than there are happy ones as a result of “Z’s” decisions.

    In my opinion it would be interesting to see the results of an on line poll asking the question. What are the top 10 research projects that the NSF should fund. You might have a choice of 50 to vote on. Lol, the public would need a bit of help I’d guess.

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  22. 22. Bill_Crofut 5:20 pm 04/29/2013

    curiouswavefunction (comment 11),

    Re: “If you can indeed demonstrate that relativity is unscientific then it will be a great discovery and you should definitely think of publishing it in a peer-reviewed journal. I sincerely wish you good luck in this endeavor.”

    If the information available to me is correct, Prof. Herbert Dingle was, at the apex of his career, considered a (perhaps the) ranking authority on realtivity, lecturing on the subject all over the world. Yet, when attempting to publish a criticism, he was ignored by those who controlled the primary literature. Left no other option, he published his findings in a book:

    “It is ironical that, in the very field in which Science has claimed superiority to Theology, for example—in the abandoning of dogma and the granting of absolute freedom to criticism—the positions are now reversed. Science will not tolerate criticism of special relativity…[A] proof that Einstein’s special theory of relativity is false has been advanced; and ignored, evaded, suppressed and, indeed, treated in every possible way except that of answering it, by the whole scientific world…of physical science…[Einstein's theory]…is of the most extreme simplicity. According to the theory, if you have two exactly similar clocks, A and B, and one is moving with respect to the other, they must work at different rates…But the theory also requires that you cannot distinguish which clock is the ‘moving’ one; it is equally true to say that A rests while B moves and that B rests while A moves. The question therefore arises: how does one determine, consistently with the theory, which clock works the more slowly? Unless this question is answerable, the theory unavoidably requires that A works more slowly than B and B more slowly than A—which it requires no super-intelligence to see is impossible.”

    [1972. Science at the Crossroads. London: Martin Brian & O'Keeffe]

    As a non-scientist (an unlettered layman) my only intention here is to share information.

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  23. 23. ars-chemia 5:41 pm 04/29/2013

    First, we should require ALL members of congress who serve on the science and technology committee to pass a test of basic scientific understanding. Perhaps this will mean that the committee is comprised of only 2 or three people but that’s OK.

    Second, in regards to Einstein’s theory of relativity. It’s been experimentally tested and verified hundreds, if not thousands, of times. The issue with the clocks from Bill_crofut is resolved but establishing a reference frame. We have a clock on the surface in building which is our defining reference frame. We put an identical clock on a fast moving aircraft and see what happens. It ALWAYS happens that the clock in the aircraft ticks slower than the clock on the ground. The same thing happens for unstable high speed sub-atomic particles. The ones that are moving at high speed ALWAYS live longer than their counterparts which are not moving at high speed.

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  24. 24. sault 5:48 pm 04/29/2013

    So, how would Einstein’s ponderings on the nature of light, space and time satisfy these criteria? Was Newton thinking about how he could help the British People when he was working in The Principia? Or how about the thousands of scientists that looked for the Higgs Boson for decades and finally (probably) found it recently? How in the world would ANY of these people know ahead of time what the benefits of their work could possibly yield? These criteria are nothing more than a bunch of unscientific nonsense from the same type of people that think Creationism is a valid explanation for things and deny the existence of climate change. History will laugh at their hubris and willful ignorance…That is unless we let them succeed and we fall back into another Dark Age.

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  25. 25. timeisabsolute 6:01 pm 04/29/2013

    @Bill_Crofut, I posted a link above to several youtube vids some of which will not be difficult to be understood even by a layman. Einstein’s “theory” of relativity is based on elementary childish error, moreover internal contradiction, which can be detected even by an average high school student. Further, that so-called “theory” has been clothed in somewhat complicated math which obfuscates its non-scientific nature and scares some people off from looking more carefully into it. That math part has nothing to do with the “theory”, really.

    As for Dingle, while his argument is correct, it only pertains to a detail regarding the physicality (non-physicality, rather) of the Lorentz transformations, transformations which have nothing to do with said “theory” and cannot even be derived by it. I should make it very clear that the Lorentz transformations are perfectly legitimate mathematical constructs but they have no physical meaning and therefore have no place in physics. Any theory which uses Lorentz transformations is non-physical and can only be enjoyed by a mathematician who likes to play with formulae and is not concerned with their physical implications. You may be curious to see the “debunkung” by Max Born of Dingle’s criticism and one thing you can’t miss in Born’s text is that he takes Lorentz transformations as entities which already have physical meaning (which, as I said, they actually don’t) and finagles with them in the attempt to “debunk” Dingle.

    On the other hand, Einstein’s “theory” of relativity itself (not its use of Lorentz transformations) is outright internally contradictory, there’s nothing in it that makes the slightest sense and no part of it can serve any purpose whatsoever. It is a parody of science, isn’t a scientific theory at all and isn’t even wrong. The arguments presented in the youtube link I gave, hit at the heart of that so-called “theory”, they have never been given before and should constitute the final blow at that “theory”. Enjoy the videos.

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  26. 26. marclevesque 6:20 pm 04/29/2013

    “Initially Dingle argued that, contrary to the usual understanding of the famous twin paradox, special relativity did not predict unequal aging of twins, one of whom makes a high-speed voyage and returns to Earth, but he then came to realize and acknowledge that his understanding had been mistaken. He then began to argue that special relativity was empirically wrong in its predictions, although experimental evidence showed he was mistaken about this.[10] Ultimately Dingle re-focused his criticism to claim that special relativity was logically inconsistent: “The theory [special relativity] unavoidably requires that A works more slowly than B and B more slowly than A –which it requires no super-intelligence to see is impossible.”[11] Hence he asserted that the well-known reciprocity of the Lorentz transformation is self-evidently impossible.[12] As Whitrow explained in his review of “Science at the Crossroads”, this is not correct.[1][13]“

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  27. 27. timeisabsolute 6:22 pm 04/29/2013

    @ars-chemia: “It’s been experimentally tested and verified hundreds, if not thousands, of times.” This is not true. That “theory” is internally contradictory and therefore there have never been, nor can there ever be experimental verifications of it. Any insistence that there have been, is propaganda, delusion and an outright lie. In particular, it is not true that time-dilation or length-contraction has ever been confirmed experimentally — a careful inspection of the published papers claiming it confirm lack thereof; one sees confused experiments, incorrect interpretation of experimental results and so on. Consider, for instance, the fact that Lorentz transformations destroy the very concept of length — a body which Lorentz transformations represent in the moving system has only one point existing at any given time in that system, all other points of the body existing either in the past or in the future. What length to begin with is there, therefore? No length. For more details you may take a look at the youtube vids which I gave a link to.

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  28. 28. timeisabsolute 6:34 pm 04/29/2013

    @marclevesque: “He then began to argue that special relativity was empirically wrong in its predictions, although experimental evidence showed he was mistaken about this.[10]” Said “theory” makes no predictions. An internally contradictory “theory”, such as the mentioned one, cannot make predictions. Predictions can be considered as a result of the application of Lorentz transformations (Lorentz transformations have nothing to do with Einstein’s “theory” of relativity; that “theory” cannot even derive them). However, the predictions of the Lorentz transformations are non-physical (let alone, they contradict the first postulate of Einstein’s “theory” of relativity). For instance, as I already mentioned, Lorentz transformations represent an intact body in one system as a body in another system, which has only one point existing at every moment of time in that system — all other points of that body in that system existing either in the past or in the future. Also, Lorentz transformations predict that one and the same body in one and the same system has multiple values of its mass, depending on the number of the bodies, moving with respect to it, as well as on their velocity. That is an obviously non-physical conclusion and therefore, although Lorentz transformation are perfectly consistent mathematically, they have no place in physics whatsoever. You may also notice, that Einstein’s “theory” of relativity not only mentions an already known relationship E = mc^2 but cannot even derive it, despite the vehement propaganda foisting on the public that it has derived it.

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  29. 29. curiouswavefunction 7:11 pm 04/29/2013

    timeisabsolute and others: Please don’t derail the comment thread with extensive discussions of what you believe are your favorite holes in Einstein’s theory of relativity. That’s not what this post is about; I am sure you can find something productive to contribute to the topic under discussion.

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  30. 30. Shmick 8:19 pm 04/29/2013

    Short comment.

    Several people seem to be making the mistake of thinking that unless Congress sets rules “x”, then the money just spills forth on any and all Scientists who put their hand up. This is incorrect. The NSF and NIH etc already have protocols for determining who get funding and who doesn’t, but these protocols are set by actual Scientists who are familiar with how Science works.

    The grandstanding by by various Congressmen from time to time a la Lamar Smith seeks to meddle arbitrarily with this process and THAT is the problem. Work out how much you can afford to spend on Science, that is a Policy question, then give it to the Scientists to determine how to spend, Priority question. This is the system that has largely existed since WW2, and that has made the USA the world’s major Science power. NB For the person who mentioned the German Brain-drain, USA was not the only Country to benefit. Many ex-European Scientists also went to Britain and other places. It alone does not explain the USA ascendency.

    Defence spending is something I know next to nothing about so I’ll leave that well alone.

    Timeisabsolute, you are wrong to say that theories that have internal logical contradictions are non-starters. Quantum Mechanics anyone??? What matters is how they fit the observations, that’s why Science is NOT the same as Philosophy. In that spirit, without going off on a tangent, how do our GPS work if Special Relativity does not? How do gravitational lenses work, if General Relativity does not?

    Not SO short a comment after all ;-)

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  31. 31. rgargett 8:30 pm 04/29/2013

    Great essay! At the Subversive Archaeologist there’s a new post about the religious views of Rep. Smith. He’s a Christian Scientist, which is anything but scientific in the true sense of the word. In fact it’s worse than creationists or “intelligent design” advocates. If you’re not familiar with this 100 or so year old Christian Sect that’s more correctly called the Church of Christ, Scientist, the ramifications of Smith’s bill for science are even worse than at first glance. You and your readers are welcome at http://www.thesubversivearchaeologist.com/2013/04/scuse-me-lamar-smith-r-tx-youve-got-lot.html.
    It’s “Grab your torch and pitchfork time.”

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  32. 32. timeisabsolute 9:17 pm 04/29/2013

    @curiouswavefunction, It’s a pity that discussing that particular “theory” appears to you as derailing the comment section on the problem of science funding. The fact of the matter, however, is that the “theory” in question is at the heart of the most generously funded projects nowadays, constituting the so-called ‘big science’. Take, for instance, the multibillion dollar Hadron collider project at CERN. The very goal of that project is to confirm the existence of a particle, supposedly derivable theoretically from here-discussed bogus “theory”. I venture to say that particle and high energy physics nowadays have at its very center exactly that non-theory, which makes its discussion of utmost importance when funding of fundamental research in natural science is to be discussed. Therefore, setting science back on the right track, ridding it especially of the “theory” in question, will have enormous impact not only on the funding itself but on the enhancing really productive paths in science, freeing enormous resources and talent for the betterment of society rather than setting it further into the dead-end physics finds itself nowadays. I don’t know how to express this more emphatically and if you disagree I’d really want to know your reasons.

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  33. 33. timeisabsolute 9:25 pm 04/29/2013

    @Shmick: “Quantum Mechanics anyone???” Where are the internal contradictions of quantum mechanics? Wave-particle duality isn’t, Heisenberg uncertainty principle isn’t … What is it, then? Don’t get me wrong, QM also has its problems but they are nowhere near what we see in the discussed “theory”. As an analogy consider the following — consider a “theory”, according to which a circle is a circle but postulates that same circle is a square and then derives from these two initial conditions that the circle given is, in fact, a triangle. Does this make any sense to you?

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  34. 34. timeisabsolute 9:34 pm 04/29/2013

    @rgargett, what you said and the link you gave is a very valuable piece of information. One has to be really careful what exactly he or she is supporting because the last thing any true scientist wants is to hurt the funding of basic research. Not only funding of basic research is not to be diminished but it should entertain much larger support with public funds than it currently does. The question that I’m raising is that the financial support should go to real quality science and not to deeply entrenched parasitic “theories” leading science into the abyss of self-fulfilling wastefulness.

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  35. 35. curiouswavefunction 9:45 pm 04/29/2013

    timeisabsolute: The present post is about science funding being dictated by politicians; this includes all disciplines and their theories, so holding forth only on your pet peeves with relativity does constitute derailing the discussion. In any case, it’s ok to make your views known once or twice but posting a dozen comments on the same topic definitely detracts from the more important bigger picture. I hope this is the last time we will be discussing relativity; you are welcome to contribute to other aspects of the discussion.

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  36. 36. timeisabsolute 10:45 pm 04/29/2013

    @curiouswavefunction, your main idea is that politicians must stay out and not be involved in decisions what research such be funded and that independence of scientific research should be encouraged. This idea is very good and I do agree with it, however, it is not how science functions nowadays and that is not due to the politicians but to the scientists themselves. Certain subjects are pronounced ‘closed’, new ideas will not be published unless they support the bias of the editors of journals, entrenched wrong ideas with massive funding benefiting only the ‘invisible colleges’ and going contrary to the interests of science and society as a whole are rampant and this is the real problem that’s holding back science in the US. Thus, if you only leave solution for this problem to the scientific community this stifling will continue and will get even worse. These practices are abhorrent, they are are horrible and unless they are changed we’re going nowhere. There must be some other powerful avenue, external to the existing hermetic situation, especially in physics, that would get us out of this dead-end. There has to be a total reform in the whole system of governing science with new, honest people at the helm.

    Thus, I do agree with most of what you wrote in your essay but, again, it’s very important what one really defends. If one defends peer-review as it’s now, it plays right in the hands of those who benefit from the corrupt status quo. Conversely, if one sides with the politicians in question, this may be construed that you support demolishing of basic research in the US. You may remember what happened with the National Endowment for the Arts after similar attacks — it seems practically non-existing today after the massive attack by Jesse Helms a decade or so ago. I also realize that in the discussed case there are clear political motives for curbing funding of studies in social sciences because of the perception of many republicans that it feeds the liberals in Academia.

    Your proposal that “perhaps what you should appreciate is that giving scientists the freedom to pursue research of their choice is in fact what is “of the utmost importance to society at large”” is absolutely great but, unfortunately, as I said, it is the scientists themselves that won’t allow that to happen and free thinking is completely stopped with a big impenetrable wall right in front of you.

    So, at this time, the problem are not the republican politicians (we don’t need them anyway) but the real problem is what should be done to reform and put an end to the existing situation within the scientific community itself. If we don’t find the exit science will be dead soon (probably it’s dead already, replaced by technology — look at the children becoming multi billionaires by the trove, all with practically foreseeable trivial engineering ideas).

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  37. 37. syzygyygyzys 12:07 am 04/30/2013

    Dr. Jogalekar,

    It seems a certain demographic has found your blog post. Good luck getting them back on topic.

    Back to topic.

    I believe you are correct in saying that voters require education to elect enlightened politicians. I’m not optimistic that we can educate enough voters to do that. We already spend more per student than the vast majority of developed countries. That isn’t working.

    Encouraging immigration to the United States by educated people from around the world helps. We need more of them. We also need to make it easier for highly qualified foreign students studying here to stay.

    It is clear we need a more effective educational system. Without a culture that values education, I’m not optimistic that can happen. The reality is that there is a bell curve. If we could achieve a system which allows everyone to achieve their highest potential, without regard to their station in life, there may be hope.

    I have seen blog posts on this site that worry more about equal outcomes rather than valuing achievement. I don’t remember where I heard it, but someone somewhere was saying that homework was discriminatory because higher income families provide their children more resources to do homework. Therefore the more affluent have an advantage. Taking away homework to level the playing field would harm the nation.

    Few are willing to discuss the subject, but some cultural groups place a higher value on education than others. That gives advantage to some and disadvantage to others. That disparity should be addressed by having all value education. I wish I had the answer to that problem. We have to keep trying to get there.

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  38. 38. eculley 10:46 am 04/30/2013

    Unfortunately, I believe this push toward restricting scientific funding is as much the scientists’ fault as anyone’s. We do a horrible job at explaining how science works, how to evaluate scientific knowledge, what outcomes mean, and why both seemingly idle and clearly groundbreaking results are equally important in driving knowledge forward. We have not bothered to develop a scientifically literate public, and I believe the consequent lack of investment (conceptual and financial) is predictable. Indeed, the scientific community holds things like human origins research in high esteem, but research on science education goes unnoticed. Universities award their graduate students for publishing, but overlook their public outreach efforts. Scientists make the news and their reputations as discoverers, but not as educators; tenure follows suit. What did we expect? As long as the scientists themselves favor sexy scientific discoveries over science education and the concomitant promotion of science for science’s sake, why should anyone else understand or care about the way science works? And if they don’t understand it, why *should* they fund it? This is horrible legislation, but perhaps it will prompt us to do our jobs just a little bit better.

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  39. 39. curiouswavefunction 11:13 am 04/30/2013

    eculley: Completely agree. Outreach is neither practiced nor encouraged.

    Link to this

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