Friday, 1 November 2019

The mindless mumblings of Mariana Mazzucato.

One of the allegedly important and original points that MM makes in her books and articles is that scientific advances stem from government funded research rather than private research.

Well frankly that strikes me a statement of the obvious. I mean I concentrated on science subjects at school and was an avid reader of two science periodicals for two or three years: the Scientific American and the New Scientist. I never thought that most basic research (as distinct from firm specific research) was done anywhere other than in government funded laboratories, e.g. university laboratories and military labs.

But perhaps I’m wrong there: that is, perhaps the general population has always been under the impression that most research is done in private labs. Or perhaps I should say “perhaps the so called “intelligentsia” have always been under the impression….” because the intelligentsia is MM’s main audience. So does MM offer any actual evidence that the population in general or the intelligentsia have got this wrong all along? Nope: she doesn’t offer a scrap of evidence.

She could have done a survey of people to find out where they though most basic research was done. But she didn’t: she just shouts from the roof-tops that everyone has got this wrong all along, and the MM is riding to rescue of us plebs and rectifying our ignorance.

It’s all patronising nonsense.

Her second main claim is that the most important scientific advances have come from what she calls “missions” or “mission oriented” projects. Those are projects, like Kennedy’s Moon shot, which do not specifically aim bring about scientific advances, but which are inherently difficult, and thus require scientific advances in order to succeed.

Well that’s a trifle debatable, to put it politely. Of course there is no disputing the fact that phenomenally expensive projects like the Moon shot bring scientific advances. No doubt rocketry improved as a result, and the need for small but powerful computers on board the Apollo mission gave an extra push to the miniaturisation of computers. But given the obvious benefits of weather satellites and communication satellites, not to mention the demand for rockets by the military, the idea that rocketry and computer miniaturisation would have proceeded much more slowly in the absence of the Moon shot is straight out of la-la land.

So does Mariana Mazzucato offer us any sort of PROOF that “missions” pay for themselves in terms of scientific advances? Nope: she offers no evidence at all. That is she doesn’t actually cite computer experts who attest that improvements in computer power are largely down to “missions” like the Moon shot. Nor does she cite rocket experts who attest that “but for the Moon shot, rocketry would still be in the stone age.”

In short, her material is hocus pocus.

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