“The Myth of Basic Science” (GreenWin)

The following post has been submitted by GreenWin

Today’s Wall Street Journal Review features a full page spread by (UK House of Lords member) Matt Ridley titled: “The Myth of Basic Science” (Link here: http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-myth-of-basic-science-1445613954). Ridley emphasizes the disruptive shift from institutional, tax-paid research to entrepreneurial innovation.

Speaking of years of government intervention and “forbidden tech,” Ridley observes: “The history of technological prohibitions is revealing. Ming Chinese prohibited large ships; the Shogun Japanese, firearms; the medieval Italians, silk spinning; Americans in the 1920s, alcohol.” Ridley does not mention onerous federal statutes like the U.S. Invention Secrecy Act of 1951. And while some prohibitions may actually defend national security, many simply defend industrial monopolies.

Ridley goes on to skewer the political structure and its dim support for the MIC: ”Politicians believe that innovation can be turned on and off like a tap: You start with pure scientific insights, which then get translated into applied science, which in turn become useful technology. So what you must do, as a patriotic legislator, is ensure that there is a ready supply of money to scientists on the top floor of their ivory towers, and lo and behold, technology will come clanking out of the pipe at the bottom of the tower.” This is the Wall Street Journal, not Buzzfeed, the Village Voice, or NPR’s All Things Considered.

Ridley continues on the history of innovation: “…You find again and again, that scientific breakthroughs are the effect, not the cause, of technological change. It is no accident that astronomy blossomed in the wake of the age of exploration. The steam engine owed almost nothing to the science of thermodynamics, but the science of thermodynamics owed almost everything to the steam engine. The discovery of the structure of DNA depended heavily on X-ray crystallography of biological molecules, a technique developed in the wool industry to try to improve textiles.”

The thrust of Ridley’s article demands we re-think innovation from the bottom up. He paraphrases Terrence Keeley, a biochemist turned economist: ”Technological advances are driven by practical men who tinkered until they had better machines; abstract scientific rumination is the last thing they do… It follows then that there is less need for government to fund science: industry will do this itself. Having made innovations, it will then pay for the research into the principles behind them. Having invented the steam engine, it will pay for thermodynamics. This conclusion of Mr. Kealey’s is so heretical as to be incomprehensible to most economists, to say nothing of scientists themselves.”

Herein lies the new paradigm exemplified by LENR/E-Cat/Brillouin/IH/SKINR/EM-drive,Tesla,TerraPower, Space-X, and dozens of innovative startups. The ivory tower had its day, and squandered it. We don’t need a cult of condescending priests to tell us how to innovate. The advent of LENR, EM-drive, time crystals, life on Mars, placebo, aerial phenomena etc. points the way. Sure, without theory we may stumble. But for centuries explorers have boldly gone into the unknown with little theory to protect them. I am confident we are returning to that
era. A time in which we practice the wisdom of Albert Einstein:

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”