Yeah, I completely agree that the incentives for academia - science or otherwise - are broken and most publications are garbage.

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Anyone interested in the current dysfunction in academic science should also read a current article on Nature's website about mental depression among grad students.

Perhaps most relevant to our discussion here is a comment from a Ph.D. student in Sweden, Franziska Frank:

Sometimes I question my worth to society, and this doubt has added to my feelings of depression. Everyone is publishing and publishing because that’s where the money in science comes from. But if everyone is publishing and nobody is reading, are we making a contribution?

That pretty much sums it up. Nearly forty years ago, my own thesis advisor told me not to bother keeping up on the current journals because most of what was in them was garbage. Being an idealistic young fellow, I ignored his advice and tried to read the journals.

He was right, and it has only gotten worse since then.

We need to face the truth about academic science.

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davidmanheim wrote:

I take this claim with a significant grain of salt. It took 50 years to take radiation from theory to practice, and it's taken a century to start using the advances from early quantum physics to help us in practical engineering.I'm sorry,, but that is just not true. I am afraid you are ignorant of the history of physics.

As to Bell's theorem, that is a straightforward consequence of the basic theory of QM developed in the 1920s: it was not a radically new discovery concerning the laws of fundamental physics (I wrote a term paper on Bell's theorem in the early '70s, so I have followed the associated work for a long time and know it well.)

Furthermore, the work involving Bell's theorem was pencil-and-paper calculations and "desk-top" experiments, not the hugely expensive and hugely wasteful kind of work done at Fermilab.

Again: as I suggested earlier, I know of no competent physicist who believes that research in fundamental physics (elementary-particle physics or gravitation) will provide any new discoveries that will have significant practical value.

We now know the physical laws that describe the everyday world, from electrons to stars.

No doubt there is still a lot of useful work for physicists to do in applied areas such as materials science or solid-state physics.

But, it's time to tell the truth: "Big physics" is just part of the welfare state.

I urge anyone interested in all this to read the brilliant satire, "The Mark Gable Foundation," written in the late '40s by the nuclear physicist Leo Szilard, published in his book The Voice of the Dolphins and Other Stories. For a current take by a thoughtful academic physicist, see Sabine Hossenfelder's recent essay. And, Peter Woit's "Not Even Wrong" website provides an ongoing (usually controversial) look at the over-hype in current physics.

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I take this claim with a significant grain of salt. It took 50 years to take radiation from theory to practice, and it's taken a century to start using the advances from early quantum physics to help us in practical engineering. It's now used heavily in some areas of bioengineering, materials science, etc. So I think you're going to need to give it more time to be widely useful - and yes, maybe that means another century.

But saying fundamental physics since 1960 is not used at all is simply false. Bell's theorem, from 1964, was critical for the development of quantum computing. In addition, in the coming decades, we'll see materials engineering, which *already* uses a huge number of the theoretical and mathematical tools developed to study physics of quantum scale systems, use these tools to create the coming generations of non-quantum processors.

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I'm afraid that is not really true. When I was doing my doctorate at Stanford (at the Linear Accelerator Center), we used to laugh at the idea held by some of our government funders that our work on theoretical elementary-particle physics would eventually have military uses.

We were right. The fundamental laws for the ordinary physical world -- classical physics, quantum mechanics, general relativity, and quantum electrodynamics -- were worked out before 1960. No basic discovery in fundamental physics since then has had any practical uses.

We are still working out the practical implications of the fundamental physics known by 1960.

Sorry, but the idea that fundamental science will pay off in the long term seems to be false.

(Note: this applies to physics and astronomy, not to biology: obviously there are still major things to learn in the biomedical sciences.)

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I'd agree that almost all physics fails to lead to short term advances. And I'd even guess that much of it doesn't lead anywhere, ever. But some of it becomes really important, and we don't have good ways of knowing which parts before we do the work - which is why we fund basic research generally.

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As an undergrad, I myself worked on a large Fermilab experiment.

As far as I know, nothing important ever came out of that experiment.

Most government-funded research, at least in my own field of physics, is effectively welfare to keep unproductive physicists off the streets and out of homeless shelters.

The pompous self-importance of far too many of my colleagues is really quite self-serving.

Dave Miller in Sacramento

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Switzerland isn't in the middle of nowhere, so your rank intellectual dishonesty is transparent.

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You and Betsy DeVos should get a room.

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Yeah, you could probably not duplicate their success in a land locked place like Switzerland.

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Hong Kong and Singapore benefit from very favorable geographic locations - lots of trade would pass through them under a wide range of government policies. Duplicating them in Middle of Nowhere would be impossible, because Middle of Nowhere isn't a key part of some of the world's most important trade routes.

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I live in Florida so I looked at Florida's funding of state universities and I saw that state funding of state universities was near the bottom for all states and tuition was near the bottom for all states. Seems to me that cutting the other states to the Florida level would be a good place to start for universities.

Utah funding of k-12 is near the lowest but students outcomes are good. So it seems to me that to me cutting the other states to the Utah level would be a good place to start for k-12.

It is kind of like Government taxing and spending is near the bottom in Hong Kong and Singapore yet GDP growth is good in Hong Kong and Singapore matching that looks like a good target.

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Maybe you should visit some Romani people and see how not going to school works out.

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It sounds like you're failing to understand the parent post's point in citing the quotation, and/or reading very uncharitably.

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Fermilab makes a nation more "worth defending"? There's a statement that needs a defense if it's to be taken seriously. (Presumably, nations that don't spend anything on science are also well worth defending.)

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1) Re: "observed variations in basic research funding don’t much predict variations in rates of innovation" - do the analyses that have concluded this do justice to the complexity of the system under analysis?2) Beyond impacts on innovation per se, basic research can help us as a society and species better avoid/deal with surprises, like scouts beyond the campfire's light. This seems a legit thing for governments to fund.3) One might argue whether govt should *fund* the following, but it is hard to argue against he inherent value to a curious species of satisfying our collective curiosity. Like the arts, this enriches life. As the director of Fermilab once put it in congressional testimony (paraphrased), Fermilab has absolutely nothing to do with the nation's defense, except to help make it worth defending.

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