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Archive for May, 2019

How the Trump Administration Harms Science

 Preface

     Donald Trump has been in office since January 20, 2017. In just 28 months no one has done more to harm the scientific research community than him. Trump supporters fail to understand just how much they’ve been harmed by having helped elect this President.

     In order to explain just what has happened and who is affected by his policies I will present a refresher overview of what exactly science is all about. Then I will show an article from the Journal Nature that articulates the harm that has been done, particularly to funding. At the end of this blog I will discuss my final comments.

Science and the Scientific Process

The academic science research community (both physical and social sciences) in this world of ours has always had a daunting task of teasing out relationships in data like important correlations among variables. However, science’s goal has always been to explain, “cause and effect i.e., what causes something to happen and why.”

Only tightly controlled double-blind research experiments with random assignment of subjects (the Cadillac of research models) can truly determine cause and effect. But even with well controlled experimentation science will always be a building block and revision process. Why? It is because there is no truth (absolute) in this world of ours. Why? Because truth will always what we agree it is, nothing more and nothing less. While absolute truth is not really the goal—building knowledge is. And, that is an exciting process!

We develop knowledge and carry out a process over time in three coordinated ways: (1) by promoting and conducting experimental research (2) by asking critical research questions and developing workable hypotheses and theories, and (3) by analyzing statistical or self-reported data, and publishing results of one’s findings.

All these processes in science are important. Among these processes it is my opinion that one of the most important functions any scientist can ever perform—is to ask intelligent thought-provoking questions. Such questions become the actual basis for developing hypotheses (statements of relationships among and between variables).

In a way, even journalists, although more open-ended and less controlled in their approach to the process of collecting information, try to ask intelligent thought-provoking questions. It is done by these folks with the same intention—to report facts and build a consensus about the world and the people who live in it.

However, although thoughtful and at times perceptive, journalists do not build scientific explanations for events. Too many questions are often not addressed or left unanswered, and the scope of their inquiry is almost never scientific. Generally the MO of the journalist is not to build scientific knowledge but to elicit responses from people being interviewed (A strictly qualitative undertaking). This is due to the short term nature of their business. You know—“Got to meet that deadline!” What factual data they do collect tends to come primarily from secondary sources such as documents or archival information.

However, as part of the consensus building nature of science, scientific research uses what are called paradigms.

Definition of a Research Paradigm

“A research paradigm is an approach or a research model to conducting  research that has been verified by the research community for a very long time. Research paradigms emerge from one of two approaches to research. One is the positivist approach and the other is called the interpretivist approach. Every research uses one of the research paradigms to use as a guideline for developing research methodology and to take on the research venture in a manner that is most valid and appropriate. Basically, there are two paradigms. But there are several other paradigms that have emerged especially in social science research.

 

One of the other paradigms that have emerged in recent years is mixed-method research. In pure sciences, quantitative research methodology is clearly the most favored approach to conducting the research. In social sciences, there has been debate for over half a decade about the best methodology to use and this resulted in the emergence of mixed-method paradigm or mixed-method methodology.

The word paradigm originated from the Greek word “paradeigma” which means pattern. This word was first used in the research by “Kuhn” in 1962 to describe a conceptual framework that is accepted by a community of researchers or scientists and that provides them with an in-depth guideline to conduct the research.

Since that time a debate between scientists regarding the best paradigm to conduct research has always been there. Until 1980s scientists believed that the quantitative research paradigm is the only paradigm or research approach that should be used in both pure science and social science research.

 

Types of Research Paradigms

  1. Positivist Paradigm

Most of the scientific or quantitative research use positivism as a conceptual framework for research. Quantitative research always follows positivist approach because positivists believe in empirical hypothesis testing. In pure sciences, positivism is preferred because of its empirical nature to study facts. In quantitative research, the research follows a probabilistic model that is determined by previous research.

Positivists believe that the findings of one study can be generalized to another study of a similar kind regardless if it is conducted in a different environment and situations. This is true of scientific variables like volume, speed, density, strength, and weight. For example, if a scientific study proves the hypothesis that if a certain finish is applied to fine cotton tulle fabric it will lose some of its natural strength. Therefore, these results can be generalized to another similar fabric that gets the same after-finish.

When talking about social and behavioral sciences quantitative researchers believe that any human behavior can be studied and predicted quantitatively and they believe that behavior can be explained using a scientific approach to research. While using the positivist paradigm in social sciences the researcher controls all the other factors that can ruin his/her research by having their impact.

To achieve a controlled environment the researcher has to conduct the research in a laboratory setting like a scientific experiment, though human behavior is difficult to study in a controlled environment; this makes it difficult for the social science researcher to use a positivist paradigm in the study of human behavior.

For example, if a researcher hypothesizes that adolescents who drop out of high schools are also involved in criminal activities, he/she has to study those students who dropped out in a natural setting rather than in a lab. As human behavior cannot be studied in lab settings it’s difficult to generalize human behavior to a wide and varied group of people regardless of if they have several similarities.

  1. Interpretivist Paradigm

Most of the qualitative research in social sciences uses a interpretivist approach to research. Interpretivists believe that human behavior is multilayered and it cannot be determined by pre-defined probabilistic models. It depends on the situations and is determined by environmental factors other than the genes. A human behavior is quite unlike a scientific variable which is easy to control. Human behaviors are affected by several factors and are mostly subjective in nature. Therefore interpretivist believes in studying human behavior in daily life rather than in a controlled environment.

 

Distinction between Positivism and Interpretivist

  • To summarize positivism and interpretivist we can say that positivism is governed by objectivity, measurability, predictability, probability, controllability and control laws that can predict human behavior. On the other hand, anti-positivism or interpretivist is governed by subjectivity and studying human behavior in a real-life setting.
  • Though, both of these paradigms are opposite of each other, they represent reality in two different approaches. Both of them have their own value and significance in the growth and development of knowledge.

References

  1. Cohen, Louis, et al. Research Methods in Education, 5th Edition. London, 2000
  2. Dr. Nirod K. Dash, Module: Selection of the Research Paradigm and Methodology, Manchester Metropolitan University, June 2005

Summary of Scientific Methodology

Regardless of paradigm selected, gathering information for explaining human behavior, it is critical to develop a convergence of the evidence devoid of bias and value judgements that all too often cloud our own reasoning and judgments.

What I’ve just presented to you, of course, is the textbook notion of scientific inquiry—clean and pure. Unfortunately, falsification of data and personal biases can influence what comes out in scientific journals (just as it does with U.S. Supreme Court decisions).

Fortunately, this is a very rare event among scientists as a profession. But it does sometimes occur (like the famous Piltdown Man—A Paleoanthropological hoax from 1912). Sometimes the problem stems more from selfish motives or pure biased value judgments clouding a person’s judgment.

Nevertheless, regardless of the power of societal values to influence our lives from childhood onward, the vast majority of scientists do their work with diligence, honesty, thoughtfulness and integrity. As we all know, you’d need a microscope to find any of these positive attributes in the White House or Congress these days.

In the final analysis, data must inform people making value judgments, not the other way around. When people try to do the latter they often resort to denial, distortion, or outright lying about research findings.

Societal or political forces must not have any control over scientific research and findings. Because of these attacks on science, one can only conclude that its purpose is to undermine the entire scientific community. A perfect example of data distortion today is the nonsense that comes out of Donald Trump’s administration on a daily basis, where we are told there is such a thing as “alternative facts.” What F^ %$@* moronic nonsense is that?

In his administration, there is so much lying and deceit all the time, it makes one think Trump lies more often than the entire American advertising industry ever has. And that would take some doing!

There is also a very clear and present danger to the scientific community when funding for scientific research is denied by governmental funding agencies in Washington, D.C. With that please read the article below.

 

Trump Seeks Big Cuts to Science Funding—Again

The president wants to cut spending at the National Institutes of Health and Environmental Protection Agency, but it is not clear whether Congress will go along

Nature’s news team reports on what Trump’s budget would mean for U.S. government science agencies.

National Institutes of Health

The White House plan would give the National Institutes of Health (NIH) U.S.$34.4 billion, roughly $5 billion below the current level. The plan would move the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), an independent agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, to the NIH.

“I think it would be a disaster for science if it was enacted,” says Benjamin Krensky, associate director for legislative affairs at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in Rockville, Maryland.

But Krensky and others are skeptical that Congress will go along with the Trump plan. This is the third year that Trump has proposed cutting the NIH’s budget. Congress has rebuffed Trump’s proposed cuts the past two years, and last year rejected his plan to move AHRQ to the NIH.

“I look forward to Congress rejecting these budget cuts, just as they have rejected all the other cuts the president has proposed,” says Benjamin Corb, director of public affairs at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in Rockville, Maryland.

Corb adds that the president’s budget makes no sense in light of the proposal that Trump unveiled in January to halt the spread of HIV over the next decade. “The president committed to eradicate HIV/AIDS by 2030, and cut the very programs that would be necessary to make that goal happen,” he says.

National Science Foundation

The budget request includes $7.1 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF), roughly 12% below the current $8.1 billion. But the Trump plan does not include any detail on how to distribute that money within the NSF.

“Like everybody else, I don’t know what the details are,” says Joel Widder, a research lobbyist at Federal Science Partners and a former NSF public affairs officer. He says that the White House proposal would reduce the NSF’s budget below the 2015 level. “They’ve set the agency back at least five years with this budget request.”

Environmental Protection Agency

The Trump plan would provide $6.1 billion for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a 31% drop from the agency’s current $8.8 billion budget. That includes $440 million for science and technology. Trump proposed similarly drastic cuts to the EPA’s budget in 2017 and 2018, which Congress rejected.

NASA

NASA’s proposed budget of $21 billion—2% below the current level—focuses heavily on the administration’s goal to return astronauts to the Moon. The Trump plan would set aside $10.7 billion for various programs to advance human and robotic exploration of the Moon, including $363 million for a lunar lander that could carry cargo and astronauts to the lunar surface. Smaller commercial landers could fly to the surface as early as this year, and the agency claims it will put humans on the Moon by 2028. “We’re looking at going fast,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine in an agency-wide address on 11 March.

The White House plan would cut NASA science by 8.7%, to $6.3 billion. Of the agency’s four science divisions, planetary science would receive the biggest pot of money; the administration’s proposed funding of $2.6 billion is 4.9% below the current level. The Trump plan includes funding for a mission to retrieve rock samples from Mars; it could launch as early as 2026. The samples would be gathered by NASA’s Mars 2020 rover, now in development. It also includes funding for a mission, set to launch in 2023, to fly past Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. The project was championed by former Rep. John Culberson (Republican, Texas), who was voted out of office in November in part because his constituents felt he focused too much on Solar System exploration and not enough on their issues.

Astrophysics would suffer the deepest cuts. The budget request would fund the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, at $353 million. That would keep it moving toward a March 2021 launch. “This administration is committed to the James Webb Space Telescope,” Bridenstine said. But the White House proposal would cut the rest of the astrophysics budget to $845 million, a drop of 29%. And for the second year in a row the administration has sought to cancel the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, which is designed to hunt for exoplanets and dark matter. Congress restored funds for it last year despite Trump’s requested cuts.

The proposed $1.78 billion budget for Earth science is 7.8% below the current level. The Trump plan would cancel two missions that the White House has twice tried to eliminate: the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, Ocean Ecosystem satellite and a solar-reflectance mission called CLARREO Pathfinder. Two others that had previously been on the chopping block—the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3, which is expected to launch in April, and the Earth-observing instruments on the DSCOVR space-weather satellite—are not threatened this time around.

Funding for heliophysics would drop 2%, to $704.5 million. The Trump plan would continue funding for missions such as the Parker Solar Probe, which is currently swooping around the Sun closer than any spacecraft has come before.

Department of Energy Office of Science

The Trump plan includes $5.5 billion for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, just over 16% below the 2019 funding level. The 2020 request would set aside $169 million for quantum information science, $71 million for research into artificial intelligence and machine learning, and $500 million for supercomputing. The office’s current budget includes $936 million for advanced supercomputing research; it is not clear how the administration’s $500 million proposal for 2020 compares to the 2019 figure. The White House provided few other details on its 2020 request for the energy department. It is unclear how Congress will greet the plan; last year, the Trump administration sought $5.4 billion for the Office of Science, but Congress ultimately gave the office $6.6 billion.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The White House budget documents do not include a detailed proposal for funding the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which received $5.4 billion in 2019. It does list $1.2 billion for NOAA’s satellite program, including “polar weather satellites, space weather instruments, and satellite data collection systems.” The Trump budget also seeks to eliminate NOAA’s National Sea Grant College Program, which supports more than 30 U.S. universities that conduct research, education and training about ocean and coastal topics. The White House proposed ending the Sea Grant program in 2017 and 2018 as well, but Congress has continued to fund it.”

Final Comments

One of the best cliché’s out there these days is, “Speak Truth to Power.” I’m going to do that right now.   

If Donald Trump is not impeached before 2020, he will nevertheless lose the election for his second term. While Jimmy Carter and George Herbert Walker Bush were only one-term presidents, they were honorable men and deserve the respect of our Nation. Donald Trump by comparison is simply a dishonorable man who will never rise to the level of a real president.

For those voters who simply don’t understand or care about scientific research, perhaps this message might be better made a little closer to home.

In the upcoming 2020 election, 54% of all voters will be women. Since Donald Trump took office January 20, 2017 he has done more to harm women in the United States, and worldwide, than anyone. All of that is in juxtaposition to his behavior prior to coming into public office.  Trump has a long degenerate history of having affairs and numerous encounters with prostitutes prior to taking office. Remember, he was alleged to have raped and beat a 13 year old prostitute with his good friend Jeffrey Edward Epstein, a wealthy registered sex offender in New York. Yet, some voters just don’t care about his history. But like the old expression, “what goes around comes around.”

According to the Los Angeles Times article on March, 2018, they reported:

“Trump almost certainly has contributed to the movement of women toward the Democrats, a long-term trend that gained strength in the past two years. More than half of women, 56%, now side with the Democrats, compared with 37% for the Republicans, Pew found.”

This large voting block is going to win back the White House, and hopefully the Senate. Then the United States can finally return to its normal squabbles and imperfections. But no longer will people of our country be so fearful and mistrusting of one another (Yes, I’m always optimistic). “The miscreant in the White House will soon be gone.”

We are not headed to disaster if we stay strong and resolved. Why am I so positive about this? I’m positive because I witnessed troubled times before in my life. It was 1965 and a war was raging in South East Asia with the United States at the forefront of the conflict. It was to divide the nation like nothing before, except for the Civil War 100 years earlier.

As a man in uniform, but also vehemently opposed to the war in Vietnam, I know the divisions well that can split us all apart. We were a very troubled nation at that time. In some ways, the conflicts of today reminds me of a title from a top 1965 Folk rock protest song by Barry McGuire—called, “Eve of Destruction.” We survived that period of history and “Eve of Destruction.” We will survive again the current “Eve of Destruction.”

The national embarrassment will soon be over folks!! Keep the faith!! In the meantime the United States Congress should move ahead with impeachment of the President. We must as a nation have the fortitude, and the courage, to get rid of the bastard once and for all.

The strategy of the Republican leadership in the U.S. Senate to protect Donald Trump is basically a “Fool’s Errand.” If Donald Trump does make it to the November, 2020 election that ship will sink, and Republicans will drown right along with him. The majority of American voters are really pissed at the Congress as well as the White House. Like I said, “what goes around comes around.”

Post Script

Given the news events of the last several days, it is noted that the “King of Obfuscation” has solicited Attorney General Barr to declassify data from all agencies including national intelligence agencies. We know the purpose. What we don’t know are the real motives of Attorney General Barr, who lied to Congress and effectively destroyed his own reputation and his legacy after what appears to be a very distinguished career. Why would such a man castrate himself like that in public view?

I’d like to suggest two things are hidden here. First, I’d like to suggest that some sick ideology is not what motivates him. He’s too pragmatic for ideology alone to be a motive. Second, I believe his financials should be investigated by both the House and Senate judiciary and/or intelligence committees. Greed is the oldest motive in the world. What research question should all committees ask?   It’s this one: Did Attorney General Barr take a bribe?    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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