Time to Shrink the National Institute of Health (NIH)?

In his recent budget, President Trump proposed to reduce taxes wasted in the NIH Money Pit sinkhole by twenty percent. Such a big cut will most likely not be approved by the Congress, because the political stars are aligning against it. The economic stars, on the other hand, are aligned in favor of drastic reduction of NIH funding in the coming years. We explained why in a post written four years ago. Shutting down parts of NIH, or even the entire agency, will not be an unmitigated disaster for science, and if at all, will be beneficial. We made an appeal to close NHGRI in “Let’s Discuss - Is it Time to Shut Down NHGRI?” and also wrote - “How Much Will the Americans Suffer, If NIH Shuts Down?”.

A smaller NIH is good for science, because it is bad for ‘science’. The first science refers to expanding human knowledge about Nature, whereas the second ‘science’ describes the collective acts of government-funded professional researchers masquerading as scientists. We made the distinction between scientists and professional ‘scientists’ in an earlier post, and were pleasantly surprised to find Chargaff making the same case in Heraclitean Fire.

The misconception that reduced government funding harms science comes from two false and self-serving claims made by the NIH-funded (or other government-funded) professionals -

  • giving them increasing amounts of money improves the health of US citizens,
  • giving them money is generally good for science.

Both claims are without merit, as we explained many times in the blog. A look at the life expectancy chart in the previous post debunks the first claim altogether. Therefore, let us focus on the second.

While researching on the topic, we came across a beautifully written paper by Chargaff “In Praise of Smallness - How Can We Return to Small Science?”. He proposed -

The support of individual, basic research should be taken away entirely from the NIH.

I recommend everyone, and especially professional supporters of NIH, to read the paper to understand how NIH has been systematically destroying science as well as young curious people getting into science. If young brains are our future, NIH is destroying our future to support the present, and wrecks the present by sponsoring ‘predictable’ research. A small extract is presented below.

I shall jot down here, topsy-turvy, a few considerations which have guided me in my thinking, if “thinking” is the mot juste.

  1. Men are first human beings and only then scientists, bank tellers, etc.

  2. Science is not a religion, although it may be a child, perhaps an illegitimate child, of philosophy. One can, therefore, not “believe” in science; but one can trust or distrust the scientific methods or the results of scientific research.

  3. Science is a profession or a conglomerate of professions, not a way of life. But the methods that science has developed and applied successfully - for example, the evaluation of the significance of observations - may guide one in one’s life; and this is not limited to practicing scientists.

  4. Science is the application of reason, and mainly of logic, to the study of the phenomena of nature.

  5. Therefore, the most important scientific tool is human brain.

  6. Each brain sits in its own head. Hence, the all-important unit in research is the individual scientist.

  7. Out of the labor of individual brains, there may develop a consensus which may be either right or wrong. (Peculiarly enough, this consensus is very much subject to the prevailing fashions of the time.)

  8. Despite the power of logic, true premise may lead to false conclusions, for in science we can almost never be sure that we have assembled all the premises that are required.

  9. It is, therefore, often only one, ostensibly tiny, item that may bring about an explosive change of consensus. If this occurs, there will be a few dissidents, who, as shown later, will sometimes be wrong and sometimes right.

  10. Science - and here I mean natural science - is good for the scientists; whether also for the rest of humanity is arguable.

  11. The natural sciences, as they grew in the last 100 or 200 years, have relied much more on inductive than on deductive reasoning. Whether this was entirely to their benefit, I do not know.

  12. This so-called advance of science rests, in most cases, on two kinds of observation: predictable and unpredictable. The major part is of the first kind, predictable; it grows out of the accumulated body of accepted knowledge, and these observations can very well be made by teams or at least by several people in collaboration. The much rarer kind, the unpredictable observations, are the only ones deserving the name of discovery, and they are always due to a single person.

  13. Very seldom it happens that great progress is made because of an intuition, sometimes of a nearly dreamlike character. This can certainly be achieved only by an individual, never by a group. Such intuitions are usually later verified experimentally and sometimes still later disproved by another set of experiments. As in most sciences the boundary between imagination and rational perception often is obscure, an intiution will sometimes be concealed by him who had it, being supplied ad hoc with an experimental underpinning out of which the inspiration will be claimed to have grown. Poets and scientists are ashamed of different things.

  14. Science, as an activity of the intellect, operates on no recognizatble schedule, similar in this respect to poetry or music. Some people work fast, others slowly; in any event, there never is any hurry.

Written by M. //