Thursday, 3 November 2016

Hallmark of excellence


Government funding of scientific research is said to be essential. The Marsden Fund is government’s conduit for this welfare  these important research funds for scientists. The Marsden Fund, says the Marsden Fund,

benefits society as a whole by contributing to the development of researchers with knowledge, skills and ideas.. The Fund supports research excellence in science, engineering and maths, social sciences and the humanities. Competition for grants is intense. Marsden is regarded as the hallmark of excellence for research in New Zealand.

This is just some of what the “11 eminent researchers appointed by the Minister of Science and Innovation to make recommendations for funding” have decided should bears this year’s scientific hallmark of excellence:

Marsden Fund

Our hearty congratulations to all the well-deserving beneficiaries.



  1. Just imagine if the Marsden Fund money was put towards corporate tax cuts, thus freeing up private capital to fund research that actually would benefit society.

  2. If tax ever becomes voluntary as it should , spending on this bulldust would cease over night.

  3. While I'm certainly not a fan of government funding for research, I would also like to point out that many of these are likely far more useful than the titles suggest. The last, for example, is a very valid archaeological question. Music is a universal in human cultures, and it's a valid question as to how different cultures expressed this universal. The "Women and Complaint" study is one that I could easily see funded privately, or even conducted in the absence of funding--seeing how universal concepts are expressed via different cultures is a fascinating topic, one I've had many pleasant (if loud) discussions on.

    It's not that there's not stupid studies funded by government. My point is, unless you're well-versed in who scientists write (and some of these are just bad, bad, bad titles) translating the eye-catching titles into what the papers are actually about is difficult. This blog is usually better about diligence in regards to reporting on scientific studies, but in this case has fallen into the same trap as many news media outlets.

  4. They may be dumb. They may be fascinating -- and as you say, is a very valid and probably interesting archaeological question.

    But should you and I be made to pay for it? And if the money weren't being doled out by government, do you think the price paid to study the origins and development of pre-European contact instruments would be just over half-a-million dollars?

    And what about those who want to study things that are less politically correct than the origins and development of pre-European contact instruments and well-being in a multi-ethnic ECE community and so forth. Do you think seeing these lines of research and others like them being rewarded would encourage or discourage future researchers in their own lines of research? Do you think perhaps that doling out money this way might be just another way in which an establishment might be established? What you might call "a different kind of censorship."

  5. I fully agree that we shouldn't be forced to pay for it. My objection was to the use of the titles of these papers to somehow illustrate that our tax dollars are being used to fund vapid research. The argument is weak because it leaves one open to one's opponents pointing out that one has dramatically misunderstood the paper's context and importance. It's far better to stand on principle--or at least have more than the title to go on.

    As for the price tag....I just don't know. Crowdsourcing could generate such funding, and field work isn't cheap. I'd need to know more about the study to see if the price tag was justified. It's not that hard to spend a half-million on field work; about 400 person-days, plus expenses, plus lab costs, plus report writing (depending on the tests you do). That's with limited overhead, a reasonable profit margin, and modest labor costs (ie, grad students, not emeritus professors). It almost certainly wouldn't come from one source, I'll agree (and please note, I agree with the principle that the government should not be involved). I know of an Ediacaran study that cost about $1 million, paid for by a prize awarded to the researcher who funded it. The price isn't obviously outrageous.

    As for the rest of your argument, I can't find where it has any bearing on my argument. If you wish to discuss the possibility, I'll gladly accept that it's possible. I can find far better examples of it, too--the focus on global temperatures in paleoecological studies, for example.

    1. Most businesses are constantly doing their own research on how to improve their productive output and profitability, on what needs to be done to improve their products so as to meet the market. They don't need bureaucratic, tax funded organisations, that don't have a clue on how the productive world works,wasting shiploads of taxpayers money, doing it for them.

    2. The problem is that this isn't the topic under discussion. What you're talking about is applied research; the topics on that list up-thread are basic research. The boundary is fuzzy, but the typical way to divide them is that basic research has no currently known applications. It's stuff scientists do because they're curious. It's also the fodder for future innovations. When Maxwell drafted his equations on electromagnetism, there were no known practical applications--but later generations found them, and created the modern world. In contrast, if you're looking for a way to improve a product, or trying to develop a product for a particular need, you're doing applied research. It's how basic research gets translated into real-world applications.

      No company I know of is researching gravitational waves, because there's no way to translate this into a marketable product right now. In fifty years? Quite possibly.

      To be clear (and this is the last time I will say it), I agree that government funding should not be spent on such things. But it's also not the type of thing most businesses currently fund. We would need a novel source of funding to fund this sort of basic research. It's entirely possible--crowdsourcing has already demonstrated its power in terms of funding science.


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