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Similar to my history.

I grew up outside of the Hanford nuclear project, a site run by engineers & scientists.

And the engineers & scientists managed to create a massive mess wasting billion$, because the institutional design and economics was a disaster. (Remember something called WPPSS?)

The site is still an economic disaster, because of short term and least cost WWII and Cold War engineer designs that didn't consider costs or future generations.

I'll never forget running into the magazine Technocracy at the local library outside the Hanford site.

The magazine advocated making all decisions on technical grounds run by engineers and experts and eliminating all economic considerations and getting rid of economists and businessmen as well.

If I remember correctly, the Technocracy people were engineers and scientists who believed that productive efficiency could be calculated in terms of energy use.

In the 1970s & 1980s the BPA calculated energy use demand on the premise that a doubling or tripling of electrical rates due to costs of nuclear plants would have no effect on electrical demand.

It turned out that doubling or tripling of electrical rates had a huge effect on demand, and most of the nukes being built would not be needed.

The back story is that the BPA wanted more power production to assure that the aluminum industry -- which was given a guaranteed first dibs on electrical supply at special fixed and subsidized low rates -- retained a supply of electrical power.

All this was in direct conflict with the BPA legislation, but it was the political reality of an agency run by the Senators of the region.

Institutions problems at WPPSS:

Washington State had a law designed to spread the wealth among many engineering and construction firms -- over 120 firms at one point were building the WPPSS reactors, with no single firm in charge of the production process.

WPPSS was 'run' by a several dozen public utilities, which were run part time by farmers and local small businessmen, etc.

The reactors were being built under an economizing 'just in time engineering' concept, where the engineering was not done until it was required, which mean that work already done was typically incompatible with what was engineered next in the process, and work done was then ripped out, and re-done again.

The Federal agence BPA was the big player upon which WPPSS depended for energy use forecasts and for general engineering and political support, ie PBA was pulling the levers in its own interest and in the interest of big players behind the scenes, eg the aluminum industry and the United Steel Workers union.

WPPSS plants were built by the highest paid union workers in the world -- the just in time engineering scheme gave unions tremendous bargaining power at each construction step in the process.

Eventually, all of these institutional arrangements were swept away, Betchel replaces the 120 construction and engineering firms, the WPPSS board was replaced with professional management, the states of Oregon, Washington & Idaho set up an agency to oversee BPA, and the private and public utilities, and to produce energy forecasts for the region.

The most of the worker bee nuclear scientists and various engineers had nothing to do with all of this institutional and bureaucratic mess.

A few physicists and engineers who had gone into public policy and politics played a key role in working to fix the mess -- but they did this as folks who had studied institutions and markets and economics, not as physicists and engineers.

I should point out that there were few economists Ph.D heros in the WPPSS mess episode, a project which put more money into rusting metal and concrete than was spent on the Apollo project.

Most economists paid no attention, or simply picked up a check to tell people what they wanted to hear, eg concerning price/demand forecasts.

The big issues were institutional and public choice, and almost no economists in the region had any background or interest in that.

Kealey's work deserved a lot more attention--positive attention--than it received. Here's a review I wrote for a science & society newsletter of the American Physical Society:

I grew up in a foreign country, not in America but I feel like there's no such differences on the technological problem and economic funding issue in developed countries. I got the same view as the person who posted comment above about some short coast and least short technological design didn't actually consider what it will bring to the next generation. Also I think people really should pay more attention and be aware of Terence Kealey's opposition to public funding of science, specially in the 21st century.

Reading the great Michael Polanyi for the first time was a watershed moment for me. It openened my mind to realize how scientific research is first engaged by curiosity and the tacit dimensions of the mind. Really productive scientific thinking is almost a form of art like singing or painting. It is not close to the mechanical scientific process propogated by myth and elemetary school textbooks. The art of science often must be learned by watching the masters who have learned how to be successfull. The so-called cold, mechanical "objectivity" that so many of us were brainwashed with is simply neo-positive nonsense. This popular fallacy of science fits nicely into a socialist playbook where the discovery of new knowledge is planned out ahead of time by a committee.

I have made Polanyi assigned reading for many young scientists brandishing shiny new PhD's, and having not a clue how to free their mind from a defunct philosophy of science that keeps their mind in shackles.

Its really useful

Allan, nice article and right on. We suffer from a tyranny of scientism.

K Sralla - can you recommend some nice Michael Polanyi articles? Or at least a general overview of his ideas.

What's your area of research btw?


NYU sent this around to its faculty:

NYU has created a competition called the "Grand Challenge Award Competition" which will enable faculty members to compete for three awards of up to $250,000 in seed funding for defining a "grand challenge" and charting a pathway to solving it. More informatino about this challenge can be found at:

How likely is this to produce grand results?

For people who want to follow up Alan's feed on Kealey, by an incredible stroke of good fortune I happen to have a summary up my sleeve.

I picked up the book for $4 when it was culled from the Science library at Sydney Uni, apparently unread. This was before second hand bookshops started practically giving books away. Possibly the best $4 I ever spent, although Howard Jacobson "The Finkler Question" that I found for $2 this week is good value as well. It won the Booker Prize.

To get a glimpse of the mental mindset required for genuine research, try Francis Crick's story about the Double Helix, more analytical than Watson on the same topic.

You mentioned quite a few libertarian philosophers of science in this post. I saw Polanyi's name while doing some research on Hayek's philosophy of science. Outside of the ones mentioned here, are there any others you all think I need to read?

They are teaching the 1930s logicians picture of 'science' provided by Cohen & Nagel as the official picture of science in the California public schools, beginning in first grade.

My kids get it *every* year.

K Sralla wrote,

"I have made Polanyi assigned reading for many young scientists brandishing shiny new PhD's, and having not a clue how to free their mind from a defunct philosophy of science that keeps their mind in shackles."

Terrence Kealey in a SciAm interview on how there is no relationship whatsoever between government spending on science and economic growth:

I am not at all surprised, given the fact that science has rarely ever driven technology; it is technology which has driven science. And it is technology which has driven the economy.

Karl Popper remains the gold standard in the philosophy of science and "The Open Society and its Enemies" is one of the great classical liberal tracts.

From the Uni of Texas conference on Austrian thought. How Carl Menger could have used a theory of conjectural knowledge.

For a change of pace, at the football in Missouri with Pete Klein. Go Mizzou!

Matthew DeCarlo: There are a couple of us libertarians applying economic concepts in philosophy of science. We haven't really caught on. You might find interest in my "Science As a Market Process" (just google my name and the title). It appeared 10 years ago in the Independent Review. Also, check out Thomas C. Leonard at Princeton. On his page, under "research" scroll down to "economics of science." [On the other hand, for an example of bad economics enlisted in support of scientific collectivism, see Philip Kitcher's essay "The Organization of Cognitive Labor."]

By the way, I wouldn't characterize Polanyi as libertarian. His concern in "The Republic of Science" appears to have been that science maintain unity in order to command no-strings public funding.

Philip Kitcher has a construct built of 'givens' like a neoclassical equilibrium construct, the idea of which is to centrally plan the advance of science via gov science funding -- you can apply Hayek & Kuhn directly to that and give it a critique exactly as Hayek critiqued Lerner and Lange, substituting rival scientific paradigms for rival production pathways, and the whole topic of how advance via competition depends on the role of variety and the impossibility of knowing who knows best.

Polanyi envisaged science being ruled by an elite of scientist/philosopher kings. He also thought that Kuhn appropriated his best ideas without acknowledgement. Neither Polanyi nor Kuhn promoted the critical method which is the lifeblood of science and classical liberalism.

Kitcher is a maestro in the art of putting down Karl Popper. In his book "Science, Truth and Democracy" there is not reference to Hayek and one to Popper "The locus classicus of the idea that many truths are completely insignificant is Karl Popper "The Logic of Scientific Discovery'". Is that what the book was all about?

Appreciate the recommendation. Let me try it out.|

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