Discussion of Big Science Today, by an Important Member of the National Association of Scholars

I came across an article which should be of interest to many here. Even if many here don’t agree with all of the author’s conclusions, surely his theme – the relationship of Big Science, research money, politics, and society – is an important one for anyone who wishes to promote respect for science and scientists in the wider world.

The article can be found here:

For more information on the author, and on the activities of the National Association of Scholars, see:

The NAS website has links to a number of interesting articles on various aspects of academic, scientific, and cultural matters.


I hit a paywall after reading one paragraph.

The content of that one paragraph was about what I would expect in a report in National Review.


So US science funding is apparently blighted by institutions taking too high a cut for overheads, and may be affected by politicians directing research towards their pet ideas.

This doesn’t mean that the results of the funded science are wrong, only that the results may be concentrated towards certain fields, and less extensive than they could have been.

Meanwhile, intelligent design is still religiously-rooted garbage.

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How odd that the position of Director of the Diversity in the Sciences Project seems designed to oppose diversity in the sciences. And an apparent ID fan too. No wonder he’s in the National Review.

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So, apparently my “core values of science…" have been degraded because the administrators that oversee my academic unit “pressure” me to “drive up research expenditures, irrespective of the scientists’ own scientific judgments”.

To make science better, Turner seems to think that it should be the purview (more like playground) of people who are independently wealthy, or who manage to find wealthy and eccentric patrons (Ellie Arroway and S. R. Hadden, Alan Grant/Ellie Sattler and John Hammond).

It’s hard to take this tantrum seriously.


There is some bloat and inefficiency in science. That is the only valid takeaway. When I saw the usual science denial, complaints, and red pill thoughts, I was not surprised to see the Heritage connection.

Apparently the states rights movement (that is not actually what it means) needs a companion in science? The breakdown of the weak federalist state is apparently everyone’s dream with a pet project that they wished forced on others.

Weird exposition of modern conservative talking points trying to create division and attack those they disagree with exactly as ExxonMobil wants it :slight_smile:


As you can see from the Wikipedia link (in a comment I posted that is awaiting moderation), the “National Association of Scholars” seems to be akin to the “American College of Pediatricians”, which is a far right fringe group that chose an official-sounding name to lend a veneer of legitimacy to its agenda of preventing same-sex couples from adopting and promoting dangerous quackery like “conversion therapy”.

As always, “Eddie” cites only the very best scholarship!


How convenient is it that the “National Association of Scholars” (nas.org) is so easily confused with the truly prestigious “National Academy of Sciences” (nasonline.org), which publishes the prestigious journal
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (pnas.org)?


That sounds like someone in industry who views academia as something of an ivory tower and is venting his frustrations.

It’s quite a common perception, and it’s not just an ID versus evolution thing. I see it quite a bit in my own field of software development. For example, here’s an article by one of the most well known thought leaders in the software industry, Martin Fowler:

The divide between academia and industry has always been an awkward one for software (as indeed for other professions). My contacts with academia have been stilted at best. The academics I respect are, I’m told, not highly regarded within academia because the things that I count as useful are usually dismissed by the academic community.

Here’s another article by a computer scientist who left academia for a career in industry:

It was living a lie that finally put an end to my being a professor. One day in 1999 I got up and faced the mirror and acknowledged I could not do the job any more. I quit; and from the day I quit, though things were often tough, I never experienced the sense of waste and futility that accompanied working in a British university. By stroke of fate, I am living only a few hundred yards from the institution at which I worked. Sometimes when walking past I see the people I worked with and they look old. Living a lie does that to you.

Are these fair perceptions? I don’t know. When I was an undergraduate I wanted to pursue a career in academia myself, but instead I’ve ended up on the “industry” side of the fence. Certainly I get the impression that there is a big difference in how the two sides think. One argument that I hear coming from academics over and over again is, “If your claim has any merit, publish it in a peer-reviewed journal.” From people in industry, on the other hand, the argument that I hear the most is, “If your claim has any merit, patent it, start up a company that makes a profit from it, and show us your balance sheet so we can decide whether or not to invest in it.”

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Let’s parse the reasoning here:

Wikipedia (a massively ideologically slanted source on any subject touching on social or political questions) says or implies that the American College of Pediatricians is a “far right fringe group that chose an official-sounding name to lend a veneer of legitimacy to its agenda of preventing same-sex couples from adopting and promoting dangerous quackery like “conversion therapy”.”

Faizal, who never heard of the NAS until yesterday, has, based on very quick and superficial look-ups on the internet, decided that it is “akin to” the American College of Pediatricians.

Therefore, Faizal invites us to conclude, the NAS has an agenda that is like, or parallel to,

The first thing to note is that the reasoning here is hardly rigorous, for reasons that should be obvious to those who understand logic.

The second thing to note is that the self-description of the NAS (which Faizal might have taken the time to look up, but apparently did not), is in part as follows:

“The National Association of Scholars is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that seeks to reform higher education. We uphold the standards of a liberal arts education that fosters intellectual freedom, searches for the truth, and promotes virtuous citizenship. To accomplish this mission we defend the academic freedom of faculty members, students, and others through individual advocacy; investigate issues affecting academic freedom, the integrity, purpose, and neutrality of the university and publish our findings as in-depth reports; educate the public about policies and legislation that would preserve the liberal arts and protect academic freedom.”

"Our Mission

"The National Association of Scholars upholds the standards of a liberal arts education that fosters intellectual freedom, searches for the truth, and promotes virtuous citizenship.

"Our Ideals

"The standards of a liberal arts education that the NAS upholds include reasoned scholarship and civil debate in America’s colleges and universities; and individual merit in academic and scholarly endeavor. We expect that ideas be judged on their merits; that scholars engage in the disinterested pursuit of the truth; and that colleges and universities provide for fair and judicial examination of contending views.

“We expect colleges to offer coherent curricula and programs of study. We uphold a view of institutional integrity that includes financial probity as well as transparency in the curriculum and classroom. We uphold the principles of academic freedom that include faculty members’ and students’ freedom to pursue academic research; their freedom to question and to think for themselves; and their freedom from ideological imposition.”

Gee, I didn’t know that a concern for “reasoned scholarship and civil debate”, “individual merit in academic and scholarly endeavor”, “disinterested pursuit of the truth”, “fair and judicial examination of contending views”, “coherent curricula”, “financial probity as well as transparency”, “the principles of academic freedom”, and “freedom from ideological imposition” indicated a commitment to the agenda of “far right fringe groups”. I thought all of those things had nothing to do with being “left” or “right”, but were things good in themselves, consonant with not only traditional American values but the values of all modern civilized nations.

Is it just possible that we could learn more about what the NAS stands for by reading its statements of its purpose, than by inferring things about its motives based on its alleged likeness to some other organization?

And of course, it is interesting that Faizal does not comment at all on the contents of the main article that I was highlighting. Instead of addressing the question whether Turner’s description of research funding in the USA is accurate, and whether, if it is accurate, it indicates a problem, he chooses to try to indirectly undermine the paper by attacking the association to which the author of the paper belongs. Does Faizal know the Latin name for rejecting the argument of a paper based not on its contents but on the personal associations and connections of its author? It’s a well-known term in logic.

There was a guy sleeping under the overhang of our building this morning. I had to wake him up because he was blocking the main entrance. As he was clearing up his stuff, he told me he was the Directory of Diversity for the American College of Paleoanthropologists, and he says he knows Bigfoot. I see no reason to doubt any of this, as the man did smell like he’d been around the “Skunk Ape” recently.


The National Association of Scholars (NAS ) is an American non-profit politically conservative advocacy organization, with a particular interest in education.[2][3] It opposes a perceived political correctness on college campuses and supports a return to mid-20th-century curricular and scholarship norms, and an increase in conservative representation in faculty.

But, right, let’s have less influence of politics in science. LOL.


And this sarcastic jab is a relevant response to the NAS mission statement because… ?

So, like most others here, you aren’t interested in talking about the subject of the posted article – its description of how science funding operates, its concerns about the results of such a system? You just want impute a low motive to the writer’s organization?

I would think a description of how science funding operates, and an expression of concern about that system, ought to be of interest to scientists. If the description is inaccurate, then it should be corrected. If it is accurate, but the dangers the author perceives are imaginary, then that should be shown. Instead, what we get here is (as is usually the case) variations on argumentum ad hominem.

Given that the author of the piece is a biologist with over 100 peer-reviewed articles, plus books, one would think that he might know something about how science research (at least biology research) in his own country is funded, and that his article is worthy of a substantive response. Even if his article is badly wrong, it deserves a response. Complaining about the acronym of his organization is not a response. (And irrelevant to assessing his own motives, even if assessing those motives was relevant to determining the value of his argument, since he himself did not invent the acronym, which existed before he joined.)

Maybe one of the scientists here will actually discuss the facts and figures he presents in his article and their significance – but so far, there seems little interest in that.

I know that if someone wrote an article on a parallel topic, i.e., how funding is allocated in religious studies in the US, I would be very interested in ascertaining the correctness of the claims and in assessing the reality of the dangers allegedly arising from the situation. I wouldn’t spent two seconds thinking about the acronym of the organization the author belonged two, and I’d spend zero seconds consulting Wikipedia about it. I’d address the substance. That’s what a responsible religion scholar would do in the face of such large and, if even half true, important claims and charges about the academic operations in the field.

Assuming there are some responsible scientists here, I was hoping for a similar substantive response from one or more of them regarding the claims made about science. So far, I see nothing but knee-jerk reactions based on the name of an organization, or on unsubstantiated (Wikipedia doesn’t count as substantiation of anything) negative characterizations of that organization. That’s pretty pathetic as a professional response to a professional issue addressed by a qualified and experienced professional.

Perhaps, but some organisations deliberately mislead in their statements of purpose. Finding out what an organisation stands for can often be done better by reading their reports.

In the case of the NAS, they claim to be upholding intellectual freedom, but scanning one of their reports suggests the opposite - that they are restricting the freedom of students to choose their fields of study, by not only insisting that students of e.g. chemical engineering, astronomy, Italian literature or music theater must take courses in US history and politics, but also that those students not be allowed to select courses that focus specifically on their own ethnicity (e.g. history of Chinese immigrants) or interest.

So despite their claimed ideal to “uphold the principles of academic freedom that include faculty members’ and students’ freedom to pursue academic research”, their publication indicates they want to force students to study material irrelevant to their chosen subjects. There is no need for someone studying mathematics, Japanese or electronics to take any courses in US political history, let alone four. NAS are indeed promoting an agenda under a misleading name.

Several people did comment on the contents of the article you were highlighting. You have ignored them all. Nor have you commented on the contents of the article yourself.

@Eddie, you are a hypocrite.


Have you ever come across the director of The Gene Emergence Project at the ProtoBioCybernetics and ProtoBioSemiotics Department of The Origin of LIfe Science Foundation, Incorporated?

The content of the article rather suggests that Wikipedia is entirely correct:

Science per se has thereby been replaced by ginned-up activism masquerading as science. Or more properly, “science.” Rewards aplenty flow to those willing to jump on the “science” bandwagon, exemplified by the ongoing and dubious “climate crisis.” No rewards, indeed, sanctions, are the lot of those who bring a properly scientific skepticism to the agenda. The aim, as always, is not advancement of our scientific knowledge of the world, but to sustain the colossal grift on taxpayers that the academic sciences have become.

Apparently “our scientific knowledge of the world” is meant to adhere to “conservative” belief regardless of reality.


Please specify the report that you “scanned” (presumably this means skimmed, as opposed to carefully read). Perhaps you could quote from it or identify the paragraph numbers or sections from which your material is coming, so others could look at what you are talking about.

Such a requirement, if it existed, would not “restrict students from choosing their fields of study”. When I was an undergrad, such restrictions were common in many university programs. A friend of mine in Chemical Engineering at a very good Engineering school had to take a course in English literature as part of his Engineering I program. That did not stop him from choosing the field of Chemical Engineering. And it was a rule in the faculty of Humanities at the university I attended that everyone had to take a first-year course in a language (Classical or modern) other than English. That requirement did not stop any student from “choosing a field of study”; as long as the language requirement was met, one could major in English or History or Philosophy or Classics or Art History or Music or any other Humanities subject. At another university I know of, they had (and I think still have) a core requirement for all programs, i.e., that a student in any faculty whatsoever (Science, Social Science, Humanities, Business, Physical Education, etc.) cannot graduate without at least one course in a Science, one course in a Social Science, and one course in a Humanities subject. This requirement never prevented anyone at that school from majoring in any chosen subject, and most students don’t object to the requirement. (You get the odd science-phobic student complaining about having to take a science, but there are science courses geared for the student without much math background and on topics of general interest, e.g., the environment, that a non-science major can understand and benefit from; and you get the odd narrow-minded science student who resents having to take even a single course during a four-year undergraduate degree that isn’t directly relevant to his or her career goals, but most students enjoy the broadening effects of the requirement and see the value of it.)

Without some quoted material from the report, or a pinpointing of the passages from which you are deriving this statement, it’s impossible to tell whether you are accurately representing the report. You may be leaving out relevant context. I doubt that anyone at the NAS thinks that if a particular course on the history of Chinese immigrants happens to be taught at a school, no student should be allowed to take it. I suspect the concern is about the “X Studies” phenomenon, whereby students of particular ethnicities or other groups take whole degrees related to their ethnicity (e.g. Afro-Caribbean Studies, Puerto Rican Studies), and the contents of those degree programs are largely centered on venting social and political grievances, rather than rigorous intellectual analysis. But without seeing any passages, I have no context by which to assess your suspect characterization, and given that you admitted to only “scanning” the piece you are talking about, there is every reason to think you may be mispresenting the intent of the words you saw.

In any case, even if some fault could be found with the position of the NAS on undergraduate education, that is a separate topic from the one I highlighted. The article I highlighted was the one concerned with research funding in the sciences. It was not about the ideal undergraduate curriculum for obtaining a good liberal education. I thought that the people here, so many of whom claim scientific knowledge (and some of whom are actually practicing scientists), might be interested in discussing research funding in science and the claim that there are disturbing or unhealthy trends in research funding. But as I suspected would happen when posting the article, a number of people here could not resist jumping off into side-questions reflecting their usual set of peeves. Disappointing, but not surprising.

I suppose that technically speaking, “two” could be called “several”. You came the closest to actually addressing the contents of the article, devoting two whole sentences to it, which were on topic but didn’t provide much analysis, and Art Hunt also addressed the content of the article, but less substantially, dismissing it as a “rant”, and imputing a proposal to the author that did not correspond to what the author actually argued. Neither of those brief replies constitutes a serious professional response to a well-thought-out article by a professional biologist, either to its factual claims or to its concerns about the control and direction of research funding. And other than those two responses, all the rest have been ad hominem responses that ignore the argument of the article and concentrate on the alleged motivations of the organization to which its author belongs.

Your final sentence, being sub-intellectual in content and unnecessarily personal, I simply ignore.

Yeesh. I have looked that guy up. I have known ranting vagrants who were vastly more coherent, and whose views were more well-informed. Yes, having the words “Live fast, die young” repeatedly shouted at me with the aroma of cheap gin following close upon the sound was a bit disconcerting, but it at least was possible to get what the man was driving at.

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First up - any large public expenditure is not above scrutiny and questioning, so it is legitimate that individuals have a voice. That said, I do not find Turner’s article very substantive.

I’m not a scientist, but I’ve certainly paid my share of taxes, and thus contributed to a slice of the pie. All in all, there are many more wasteful uses of the public treasury, and I would support, even prioritize, the present system reasonably intact. For one, even with federal money, funding for projects is extremely competitive, so there is a decent payback for the outlay.

From Turner’s article

The Big Science cartel has become too deeply entrenched, and too invested in defending its power. It may be time, therefore, to consider tackling the source of the problem: the entire edifice of federal funding of academic research.

It would mean restoring science to the Small Science ecosystem that prevailed before the Second World War.

Fundamental science very often does not present an immediate commercial incentive. Technological application can be generations away, and may be more serendipitous than anticipated. This means that reliance on private funding means that the great swath of basic science simply would not happen absent public funding. Most small scale basic science is also supported by public money. Reliance on private funding would also slow the dissemination of results as private research is encumbered with trade secrecy, patent creep, and black boxing.

I do not believe Scott Turner has even attempted a viable alternative. Leisurely science, where a gentleman can make discoveries with a prism and thermometer, is largely done. The low hanging fruit has been taken. CERN and the James Webb are obviously big science, but research microscopes, spectrometers, negative pressure labs, ice cores, and so forth are not small budget. “Small Science” would not step up with the funding to fill the void.

Nonetheless, there is nothing stopping anyone from passing the plate to support non government funded research. I think it is telling that research from creationist societies or the Discovery Institute largely consist of responding to publications, side gigs from scientists otherwise employed or emeritus, and public database downloads, and is entirely concerned with origins and social policy. It is pretty challenging to actually discover anything when you have not invested in a working lab. Small Science can be small indeed.


Yes, a most convenient “coincidence.”

I wonder if @Eddie actually thinks any of use believe he had the faintest clue what the “National Association of Scholars” actually was before it was explained to him. If he had, he probably would not have portentously referred to “an important member of the National Association of Scholars” in the title of the thread.

I do not wish to malign all conservatives as scientifically ignorant conspiracy theorists. I will merely provide another bit of useful information that will hopefully provide context to this screed bemoaning how filthy lucre compromises scientific objectivity:

The Heritage Foundation rejects the scientific consensus on climate change.[70][71] The Heritage Foundation is one of many climate change denial organizations that have been funded by ExxonMobil.[70][72]