If you want government funding, there are certain ideas that you dare not question, stated Donald W. Miller, M.D., University of Washington professor of surgery, a member of AAPS.
Miller’s views are similar to those expressed in 2005 by another UW professor, Gerald Pollack, whose work on muscle contraction has challenged the reigning view in his field. Pollock said that science has become a “culture of believers,” The rule is “just keep it safe and get your funding.”
Pollack noted that breakthroughs in science were fairly common 50 years ago, citing Linus Pauling in molecular biology, Jonas Salk in vaccines, Richard Feynman in physics, and James Watson and Francis Crick in the study of DNA. “Where are the heroes of the past 30 years?”
He believes that Einstein’s challenge of orthodoxy would probably fail in today’s grant system. Granting committees demand that a scientist predict what he will be able to accomplish in year one, year two, etc. This amounts to “an implicit admission that no breakthroughs are to be anticipated.”
If science is likened to a skeleton, the grant system sets out to pay a multitude of scientists to add a tiny bit of flesh. But what if the skeleton itself is misdesigned? In the past, science was recognized to progress by overthrowing the “dominant paradigm.” Today, defenders of the dominant paradigm are probably sitting on the grants committee.
Today’s orthodoxy holds, according to Miller, that global warming is caused by humans, AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus, heart disease is caused by saturated fats, and cancer is caused by mutations. It also holds that radiation, cigarette smoke, and other toxins are dangerous in proportion to their strength, no matter how small the dose. If you want to test a contrary belief, you won’t get funded.
Miller predicts that at some point a major belief like one of these will come tumbling down. “And when it’s acknowledged, a lot of other science will be called into question” (Bruce Ramsey, Seattle Times 3/19/08).
Dr. Miller will speak at the AAPS annual meeting in Phoenix, Sep 11-13.