STAFF NEWS & ANALYSIS
Big Science Goes Broke?
By Staff News & Analysis - September 08, 2010

In Europe, science collides with the bottom line … An era of fiscal austerity is sweeping over Europe, with governments moving to slash record budget deficits and avoid a Greek-like debt crisis by cutting everything from aid for single mothers to once-sacred state jobs. Under mounting political pressure, some countries are now balking at the mega-price tags of lofty regional cooperation projects such as the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), home to the "Big Bang Machine" that sprawls for miles across this complex straddling the picturesque border of Switzerland and France. Under orders of Europe governments to cut costs, CERN officials say the institute is planning to mothball all nine particle accelerators at the facility beginning in 2012 – saving $25 million on electricity alone. It will mean a critical period of lost opportunities for visiting research fellows and a year without fresh data for projects, including one on the cusp of trapping an atom of antimatter to better understand the early formation of the universe. "It will now take a little longer to answer some of these questions," said Rolf-Dieter Heuer, CERN's director general. – Washington Post

Dominant Social Theme: Without government funding, science will whither and die.

Free-Market Analysis: We've written a good deal about big, government-funded science. Whenever we do, we get defensive feedbacks from those who are somehow invested in the process. These feedbacks make it clear that in the 21st century – unlike the 20 preceding ones – things are "different."

Massive public funding, we must understand, is the only thing standing between human race and the inevitable subsiding of innovation and creativity. Here then, is an additional dominant social theme: "Taxpayers are an integral part of the creative process which is lubricated by ever-increasing salaries and massive entitlements."

Government money, the same government money that has raised bureaucratic do-nothingism to an art form, is held to be the indispensable element of scientific progress in the 21st century. Yet the Western academic industry (call it the academic-industrial complex) brought us "economic science" in all its gory glory – something called "econometrics" and endless justifications for the destructive price-fixing that is central banking.

The same industry poured out papers supporting the ephemera of global warming and peak oil. Whatever dominant social theme – promotional scarcity – the power elite wants to flog, the academic establishment stands at the ready, bloated by tax dollars and energized by entitlements.

But there is more to it than money. The erection of the academic-industrial complex has changed the way people think about education. Whereas once-upon-a-time, a liberal arts education was intended to give one an overall grasp of civilization and history, today's Western academic institutions have become a kind of production line for the talent demanded by the power elite.

Visualize a familial, intergenerational elite with a portfolio in the tens if not hundreds of trillions. Now visualize the demands that places on those with these incredible sums under control. Gradually, over the past 100 years we would argue that professions and compensation have been skewed towards supporting this portfolio. Impressive sums are paid to graduates in such areas as accountancy, finance and white collar law. Not only that, but those who are numerically literate are celebrated as "smart" while other kinds of thinking is in a sense denigrated.

We have long been aware of this trend, but a recent book that is receiving much mention has re-emphasized this perspective. The book is called "The Shallows" and it is authored by Nick Carr. Both the book and the author received a write-up in the UK Independent from which the following excerpt is taken:

[Two years ago,] Nicholas Carr, an influential American technology writer … wrote an essay for the Atlantic Monthly magazine titled "Is Google making us stupid?" Now, he has expanded on his thesis in The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember, a book which has already taken America by storm and was published on this side of the Atlantic this week. Every new technology has an influence not only on how we go about our daily lives, says Carr, but also on how we think and, more importantly, how our brains work. The Gutenberg press, the typewriter, the newspaper; all of these inventions changed how we think about the world, but also rewired our brains in the process. And the internet — so alluring, so seductive, so available — is doing the same, except to a much greater number of people.

Carr shows how our ever-growing understanding of how the brain works is beginning to prove that the internet is changing the very architecture of our minds. The way we use the internet — following links, skimming text, switching from print to video, viewing flash animations, switching in and out of applications — activates particular parts of the brain. Our brains, he says, are speeding up. They are becoming restless, in need of constant stimulation. "If … you were to set out to invent a medium that would rewire our mental circuits as quickly and thoroughly as possible," he says in a key passage, "you would probably end up with something that works and looks a lot like the internet."…

The more we flit and skim on the internet, the more we click through without reading, the more we follow link after link, the more we programme our brain to work like that. And after a while – and a surprisingly short while at that – this is the sort of activity our brain craves. It becomes like an addiction … Carr laments the threat to the post-Enlightenment mind posed by the onslaught of hypertext and scrollbars. He decries the death of linear thinking, of deep contemplation, of the solitary musings that so often lead to new ideas.

This is the predictable "intellectual" attack on the Internet we have been expecting. (The elite prizes its prerogatives and will defend them via the initiation of new memes such as this one.) We do give Carr credit for mentioning the Gutenberg press, as there seems to be some sort of mainstream media blackout when it comes to writing about it in terms of modern technology. But he apparently misuses the word "linear" – as in linear thinking. In fact, the definitions we are aware of are often negative. Here is one such definition from ScienceOfStrategy.com, as follows:

Over the last hundred years, the conceptual basis of strategy as an adaptive thinking was undermined by the rise of linear thinking as a way of seeing the world was based upon the deterministic physics of Newton. This mechanistic view of the universe lead to mass production, a mass economy, and the devaluation of individual human choices, but it also greatly improved human wealth and living conditions. However, the success of the deterministic worldview also created the need for something more. Increased competition creates more and more choices in the market. Automation replaces blue-collar factory work with a new generation of decision workers.

The basis of our educational industry is the factory model principles of linear thinking. Our school system was built around the idea that people had to be programmed to follow orders and a standard way of behaving and thinking. Indeed, in education today, linear thinking is equated with logical thinking. However, as the educational institutions increasingly lose touch with the realities of today's world, people are taking more and more responsibility for mastering the knowledge they need.

We think it no coincidence that Western culture has emphasized the linear over the holistic, especially in the past century. Linear thinkers are obviously more process-oriented than holistic thinkers and thus in our estimation more likely to accept the elite-dominated status quo, especially if they are receiving generous compensation. It is in fact the Internet and the massive availability of information that has provided fresh resources to holistic thinkers who are capable of putting together data sets from a wide variety of resources to create new and compelling conclusions. This is inordinately threatening to a power elite that depends for its survival on the creation of fear-based promotions to control society and further concentrate wealth and power.

At its root, the power elite is a Shamanistic enterprise, weaving dizzying stories of fear and magic that are intended to bewitch the larger public. But holistic-thinking individuals tend to be story-tellers as well, or at least people who understand the process of artistic invention. Thus, in a sense, holistic thinkers, provided with the tools of the Internet, provide a challenge to the memes of the elite. These holistic thinkers, in basements, clad in their pajamas, have begun to undermine the fear-based promotions issued by the elite's multi-trillion-dollar entertainment/education/media complex.

The rise of the Internet not surprisingly may parallel the demise, or at least the shrinkage, not only of Big Science but of Big Education. Both industries we would argue have been driven by the central banking economy and have constituted another excrescence of Dreamtime. The deliberate intent has been to create a professional resource supporting the power elite's "portfolio" while emphasizing linear thinking and denigrating (or at least making less lucrative) holistic thinking.

After Thoughts

Obviously here at the Bell we are not fans of state-funded bigness of any type, let alone the business of ideas. We think there will be considerably more creativity when there is less bigness and less linear thinking. While it may take large enterprises to realize the insights of creative scientists, etc. we are not aware of any such insights that have been generated by large groups. Invention still tends to be a solitary phenomenon as well it should be. Once again, as we reach our conclusion, we find Ludwig von Mises – and Human Action.

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