Thursday 14 October 2010

Because We’re Worth It!

Michael Atiyah (honorary professor at the University of Edinburgh and former president of the Royal Society) co-opts a group of eminent scientists to write an open letter demanding the government take money away from other scientists and give it to them instead:
As senior scientists and engineers, we are deeply concerned that while the government is threatening to cut public funding for research and development as a whole, it appears to be committed to maintaining high levels of military-related R&D.
Let’s take a look at those ‘senior scientists and engineers’, shall we?

First, we have those who are currently filling their boots from the green scam as fast as they can:
  • Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development, University of Surrey
  • David Infield, Professor of Renewable Energy Technologies, University of Strathclyde
  • Amyan Macfadyen, Professor (Emeritus) of Ecology and Environmental Science, University of Ulster
  • Stephen Morse, Professor of Systems Analysis for Sustainability
And in amongst them, we have a few who, frankly, I can’t figure out what their angle is, other than ‘Military bad! Soft science good!’:
  • John Sloboda, Professor (Emeritus) of Psychology, Keele University
  • Christopher French, Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London
And that attitude seems to permeate the letter. In fact, if I’d not seen the names of the signatories, I’d have assumed it was something from a Greenham Common protest march, circa the Eighties:
Official statistics indicate that the total public spending on R&D is currently about £8bn. Of this, the Ministry of Defence spends over £2bn, more than 25% of the total. Much of this funding is used to support defence industry projects at a time when the industry is reaping bumper profits thanks to a massive increase in global military expenditure over the last decade.
‘Waah! The eeeeeeevil military gets all the money! It’s not fair!’.

Mind you, they do – grudgingly – admit that there’s some use for the armed services. And that, of course, is in enforcing their own worldview at gunpoint:
However, there are some areas of security-related R&D that should be expanded, including those which support monitoring of arms control agreements, non-violent conflict resolution, and tackling the roots of conflict and insecurity.
You see, we can forget all those terrorists and unfriendly nations. Our real enemy is the very planet itself.

And, of course, the fact that not enough of the world has gone socialist yet:
The overarching threats to international security arise from rising fuel and resource costs, the impacts of climate change and other environmental problems, and the widening gap between rich and poor.

As commenter CforCynic points out:
Someone seems to have forgotten the huge number of scientific discoveries that have come off the back of military research.
Carbon Fibre & LCD are two, just from one of the organisations that I worked for a while back.

Isn’t it a pity that so many of our ‘eminent scientists’ seem to be closet Marxist whackjobs?

Update: More 'science' ecofoolishness over at 'Counting Cats'...


Shaun Pilkington said...

The US DOD is now directly funding neurology research in general and MS research in particular. A form of blast injury that people now survive due to body armour can cause brain damage that, in effect, is not dissimilar to MS.

Regenerative technologies will significantly cut the future expenditure on veterans welfare while holding out hope for significant bionic augmentation of soldiers. They have an integrated bionic arm in trials (human) arm that connects directly into the brain and is controlled by it as naturally as the ones you are born with - AND it relays sensation. This is not science fiction. This is going on today.

Everything is dual use now, brother!

Anonymous said...

There is nothing closet about my marxism AP (one doesn't use the capital these days - no they don't get the pun, they are still humourless bastards). I keep my whackjobs private though.
Our eminent scientists tend to be complacent middle class jerk-offs these days, protecting sinecures and attending various funding committees on which they can vote each other money, which turns to prestige for their careers. Once they have enough prestige, they get research assistants to do all the work and publication in their name, never doing an actual jot again.
Much as I detest the species Julia, "marxism" isn't in play here. When that was in vogue in British academe, it took the form of opening a bottle of claret or two in one's Welsh cottage second-home, driven to in a new Volvo, in order to prepare for the 'Sons of Owyn Glydywr' meeting one had been invited to address on the oppression of workers and the lack of affordable homes.
One can tell there is nothing closet about my marxism in the first line of my 'Revolutionary Donkeys 101' lectures:
"I follow Groucho in not joining any club that would have me as a member".

JuliaM said...

"Everything is dual use now, brother!"

That, more than any of the silly teenage-style political posturing, is the thing that annoyed me the most about that letter...

Our eminent scientists tend to be complacent middle class jerk-offs these days, protecting sinecures and attending various funding committees on which they can vote each other money...""

Yup. They need a wake-up call. Let's hope it's provided by the wheels finally coming off the gravy-train that 'green issues' have become.

David Gillies said...

Atiyah is one of the greats: the Atiyah-Singer Index Theorem got him a Fields, and they don't grow on trees. The rest of 'em? Meh.

And of course the list of examples of tech that came from or were catalysed by military R&D is virtually endless. A quotidian example: the first large-scale use of polytetrafluoroethene (AKA Teflon) was as a joint sealant in the Manhattan Project's Oak Ridge, TN uranium enrichment plant because it could stand up to the highly corrosive uranium hexafluoride being used as the carrier vehicle for isotopic separation. Now it's all up in your ten quid saucepans, people.

But there's a whole level of silly superimposed on this. It really boils down to Ogden Nash's apercu about our willingness to give a break to people who really don't deserve one: "It is tempting to impute/Unlikely virtues to the cute." There's no more reason for this gang of eggheads to be sounding off about funding priorities than there is for the gang of boneheads in Hollywood to be opining on US foreign policy. I'm an engineer, formerly a scientist. It probably cost society at large a half million greenbacks to vault me into my currently exalted position and if I were asked to stake my reputation on the one thing I know without even thinking about it it's how to make really good chips, from the time I worked in a chippie and sold them to morons. Maris Pipers, peel, soak, blanch cool, tray 'em up over the friers, hot oil to finish: happy punters. Oh, and I have a MIL-STD certification in soldering shit. I own circuit fabrication. I've hand-soldered 0402 SMT components under a 25x microscope. The rest of it is a pure bluff. But I have the humility to admit it (notwithstanding that I am freakishly smart.)

JuliaM said...

"It really boils down to Ogden Nash's apercu about our willingness to give a break to people who really don't deserve one: "It is tempting to impute/Unlikely virtues to the cute.""

It's something we really need to cure ourselves of, or forever be held to ransom by unreason...