10 October 2013

Chicken research versus significant progress

Further to my post No need to be ‘committed’, there is much more that should be said about the impossibility of getting a supporter for:
(a) research in general
(b) research by those trying to regain access to a university career (I do not use the expression ‘academic career’ because people are liable to say, ‘Oh but you are doing academic research,’ regardless of the fact that we do not have the living conditions which a university career might, at least to some extent, provide.)
(c) research done by people with high IQs
(d) research taking into account factors which are habitually omitted from consideration.

What is the motivation underlying research that is provided with funding which is often lavish? For example, £2 million is reportedly to be devoted to investigating the historical development of the relationship between humans and chickens. Meanwhile, individuals who could be making significant advances in understanding of key topics are kept out in the cold.

Apart from the fact that all academics should feel a responsibility for taking an interest in, and supporting, academics or potential academics struggling in conditions far worse than their own, they should also feel a sense of responsibility for finding out about the circumstances of modern life for people in disadvantaged positions. As it is, there is sometimes an interest taken in the difficulties of the disadvantaged low-IQ population, but not of the disadvantaged high-IQ population.

It is of the utmost importance to us to gain ground financially as we continue to work towards the capital endowment necessary to set up even the smallest independent research department with dining hall facilities and domestic and administrative staff. At the same time we are, and always have been, determined never to get into debt.

In the past, when we still went in for making grant applications on normal terms, we used to be told that we might get a modicum of finance for capital equipment or specific research expenses, but we would not get our living expenses paid. This, of course, is ludicrous. You cannot do research unless you are paid a salary for doing research.

Some attitudes to doing research demonstrate a degree of unrealism even more extreme than this. According to some people, it ought to be possible to do ‘research’ without any money at all, just by living on the breadline and thinking profound thoughts. Some of these people, I suppose, even imagine that they themselves are actually doing research under such conditions.

However, if you look at actual results, a clear correlation emerges which contradicts this. The most significant of the research that gets done (though even that, these days, is usually not very significant) tends to be associated with the largest sums of money spent. And in those cases, nobody bothers to inconvenience themselves with the assumption that the bulk of the money should go to anything other than salaries for researchers and research assistants, and basic background property and other administrative expenses; in other words, things that would have to be paid regardless of whether or not anything that looks to outsiders like research actually takes place. Moreover, those leading the research are liable to be living comfortable, well set-up lives, with infrastructure and administration being taken care of by others, and with the equivalent of a hotel environment in terms of domestic support within a college.

At least, that is the case in the sciences, which is the only area in which I have any serious desire to do research. Other people may like to describe me as a philosopher, but I actually have little interest in the questions that are normally considered under that heading. My interest in lucid dreams and out-of-the-body experiences is purely in terms of the progress that could be made by studying these phenomena in the context of a sophisticated electrophysiological laboratory.

I cannot of course prove that I am more likely to make important progress, given a high-grade research and college environment, than someone with a conventionally illustrious CV; without actually being given funding to provide such an environment. However, a wealthy individual who wanted to make progress happen should consider the factors mentioned above, namely:

- that a high IQ and a high degree of motivation may count for more, in certain contexts, than any amount of experience or prestige;

- that a relatively high level of progress is likely to be made by taking factors into account which are usually omitted from consideration;

- that someone desperately trying to regain access to a university career after having had their education ruined by a hostile state education system should be supported.