From the Comments: Incentives, Academe, Science and Grants

In my experience scientists [including social scientists and including me] are incented to get more money for their research. The effects of funding on research can be worrisome. For example for reasons of politics and public opinion a disproportionate amount of money was devoted to HIV research. By disproportionate I mean that in my opinion there would be more bang for buck on bigger public health problems like malaria, certain cancers etc.

However does that mean that I should doubt the findings of the virologists, immunologists, and all the other -ists doing the research? I think not. Certainly not in the aggregate. Chasing the bucks might lead them to doing research in the ‘wrong’ area so to speak but it won’t lead them to falsify their results.

This is from Dr Amburgey (he’s real) and it comes from an exchange on climate change/global warming. I raised a concern I had about the incentive structure built into the scientific community of the West, but Dr Amburgey’s logic has put my skepticism to rest.

Emotion Trumps Reason in Santa Monica

Santa Monica Community College caused a stir recently when it proposed offering “self-funded classes.” These would be extra sessions offered at $180 per unit, or $540 for a three-unit class, versus the normal $43 per unit.

Like most California Community Colleges, SMCC has drastically cut class sections. Students are frustrated and angry. The new proposal was met with widespread criticism. There were student demonstrations and even a whiff of pepper spray. Why?

If you asked any of the student demonstrators why, their answer would surely be, “it’s not fair!” It’s not fair that rich kids get in while others are left out.

Sad to say, gut reactions based on crude emotions are the best many college students can muster these days. No wonder, when so many of their professors bar nuanced analysis from their classrooms in favor of rants about “activism” or “social justice.”

So let’s apply a little analysis here. How would the proposed new offering affect lower-income students? Assuming the new classes do not divert resources away from the low-priced offerings – instructors, classrooms and such – these students should notice only one difference: less competition for scarce low-priced seats. The very problem they complain about most – lack of access to the classes they need to finish up their degree – would be lessened.

It’s the same old story – jealousy trumps reason. Studies have shown that people would prefer to earn $50,000 in a situation where their peers earn $25,000 over earning $75,000 when most people earn $100,000. (But it could be that the subjects of these studies are smart enough to realize that the premise of equal living costs in both situations is unrealistic because with more income, prices will be bid up.)

Critical thinking. Analytical thinking. These are the skills that a good economics department emphasizes – skills that are so valuable and so sadly lacking these days.