Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Is the Current Science or Trash Division Helpful?

  1. Sep 7, 2004 #1

    For a long time now I have pondered over our universal acceptance of empirical science, our methods, our successes...and its drawbacks. At the same time, I see a whole lot of unanswered questions, some of them "factual", but because they cannot be the subject of grant or that it requires a willingness to gamble your future or the likelyhood of zero returns or, most often, for our current impossibility to tackle a quantitative description, that our methods cast the 2nd class citizens aside.

    We, scientists, sometimes appear to be threatened by any potential sputtering from these grey-zone facts on our professional lives. I have read comments by physicists of great repute destroying any attempt to diverge funds, or efforts, into these "grey facts" ignoring, in some instances, that tremendous scientific and technological progress could be derived from a closer look.

    Aware, as we all are of the limits for research funds, the current decision on policy makers is not an easy one. With all that said, many issues of grey-science may just be helped by widening the spectra of possibilities, from the current science or trash, to several other possible alternative so that to talk or to tackle them may not be construed, automatically, that one "went native" on witch-town.

    Lets have small pots of money for grey-zone science, of small probability but tremendous pay-offs. Lets discuss which are the "grey-facts" that are most deserving or promising. If we don't, I am sure we will still, with our current methods, catch up with these grey-facts, but it will take a tremendous amount of time, till the quantitative understanding of the underlying phenomena is decoded.

    The Office of Science at DOE will soon re-review cold fusion...we may find that there isn't anything new about this subject -except for the larger number of researchers in it -. But, I motion, is a step in this direction.

    Lets be comfortable with well formed scientists putting their wits to investigate grey-science, instead of casting tremendous science opportunities as undeserving of our attention.
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2004
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 7, 2004 #2
    We must keep in mind where the funding is coming from : the public. One of the drawbacks of investing time and money into these "grey areas" of science is the lack of immediate or even projected results. By not giving any sort of results, these types of projects convey an image of failure to those in control of the funding. Research similar to those not yielding results are then cut off from funding.

    I admit it is possible, though improbable for these grey areas to generate a dramatic change in science or technology. Unfortunately funding for these projects is a risk; a gamble. Dividing our funding into much more solid areas of research (things we know we can figure out if we have the time/money), yields a more consistent advancement of technology.
    I believe that in our current state the scientific community is driven by our reputation. By associating one's self with apparent "failures" you are more likely to be taken less seriously with respect to your research.

    The fact that it is a gamble is what I believe turns most scientists and researchers off. How much money and time must be put into grey area research before it yields any results? Will any of these results increase our productivity and efficiency enough to make up the lost time and money?

    I could take my paycheck every other week and go to a casino and put it on roulette: black. I may only have a 47.5% chance of winning, but we have to look at what that would mean to ME. Could I survive the loss of that money? Yes, probably, though I would be seriously hindered for a time lasting longer than the 2 weeks it took to earn it. If I won, would the benefits surpass the suffering caused if I lost? Probably not. The course I am on now is positive, and though doubling my paycheck could make things easier, it doesn’t seem to change the constant rate at which I advance.

    Therein lies the problem. Unless this discovery changes the rate at which we can do scientific research in the positive, it seems a loss to take the risk. How many times should I go back to the casino? If I lose 3 times in a row, that money is lost and it DOES slow down the constant rate at which I advance.

    That’s how I see the problem of this "grey area" research. There is no foreseeable gain to outweigh the losses, and the losses will continuously deteriorate the constant rate of advancement.
  4. Sep 7, 2004 #3


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    The problem is that just a review, like the DOE is doing with cold fusion, takes quite a lot of time and resources (money). The government by its very nature can't spend "small pots of money."

    My other problem with this I said in another thread: I don't bet on the lottery either and thats a similar proposition - a small sum of money on a small probability, but a tremendous pay-off. The difference between the lottery and "grey science" is, of course, that someone always wins the lottery. With much of "grey science" (and indeed, much of regular science) we don't even know if there is a prize to be won.
  5. Sep 7, 2004 #4
    Both healey01 and russ_waters replies are generous, to the point, and 100% correct.
    They both concentrated on the PERSONAL aspects of grey-science for scientists, and also those for the funding institutions, which I see as more approachable. Both of these potential, and very likely, problems are real, and very possibly the reason for grey-science never took hold.

    However, I perceive that physics progress is being hindered by the black and white of science vs trash mindset. This is not a personal, but an intellectual problem. And it is the mindset against it what I perceive is the biggest intellectual block we must surmount. Once the "directed, structured acceptance" of grey-science is in place, I perceive the hallway-conference-forum talk/ideas will flow freely, and the other problems may find a way to be solved.

    Science is not speculative, and it makes sense for it to be that way. But keeping "real" (grey-real) facts away from scrutiny simply because they are too far from admitting a quatitative, reproducible explanation is a high cost to pay.

    Some of the readers might remember that a remote country in Latin America, in the late 40's early '50's, decided to invest in nuclear fusion (...). The whole thing was a hoax...but it considerably accelerated fusion programs around the world...even ours.
  6. Sep 14, 2004 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Heck, the folks at NASA, DOE, DOD, etc have a storied history of dumping tons of money into research many scientists would have charitably characterized as 'out there' at the time. re: cold fusion, 'free energy', anti-gravity, warp drive, force fields, psychic assassination... the list goes on and on. That investment is not huge compared to the total, but, it is certainly a big number.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook