Saturday, December 15, 2012

Putting the Scientist in Charge

Science is the foundation of all human knowledge and yet scientists are often not at the center of business and financial decision making.  I have been racking my brain with this issue and think that if our society is going to have continued success we should make science a central principle that informs all that we do.  So why is it that we don't live in a science-centric society?

I recently attended a talk where I was informed that when working for industry, the pay scale goes something like this for those with scientific training;  Medial affairs; i.e. those who talk science, Regulatory affairs; those who know laws pertaining to science, Marketing; those who sell science, and on the bottom are those who actually do science; the researchers.  Many of you may be saying, no duh, man.  I mean we all know that business is not the strong suite for those with an ideological bent toward science.  We also know that companies are run by business managers and lawyers.  Furthermore, that applied science is not done by basic scientists but by engineers, who are trained to solve problems in a specific way.  So by the process of exclusion of utility, scientists are not part of the complex that leads to profit in industry and therefore society (some might argue that society is not just industry, but my retort would be that industry is the production of the economy, and the economy is the bread that fuels society).

 Society is other model-centric

Indeed, business managers, lawyers, and engineers are all trained to solve problems in specific ways (see previous links for examples). However, what is often overlooked by these professions is science.  I am not saying that scientists are smarter than everyone else, but like these other professions, those with scientific leanings are trained to think in a specific way; i.e. they are trained to solve problems using hypothesis based analysis involving the well known scientific method.  However, which components of business would most benefit from scientist involvement would have to be analyzed, controlled for, (all variables that have more than say a 3% impact being fully acknowledged), and accounted for before an accurate assessment of proper value could be associated (i.e. very scientifically).  One made up statistic that I have heard is that there are more lawyers in the United States than any other country on earth.  Which basically means we live in a highly regulated society, and you can double or triple that regulation (another made up statistic) for any venture that has biology or medicine in its name (ask any MD how much he pays in malpractice insurance).  But these highly regulated areas, are also the areas that require the most scientists, based on the rigor in which information must be collected and accounted for.  The high cost for this rigor is in direct contrast to the profit motive for businesses in our already squeezed economy, i.e. companies are already paying for social programs that provide no return (for more see my blog post How to Fix the Economic Suck).  In a nutshell, management by science is a rigorous process with low dividends and therefore other methods are commonly employed.

Society does not push science

But shouldn't the scientific method play a  role in running a business, understanding financial operations, or for that matter in understanding the psychology of human habits that make a product sell.  The quick answer to that hypothetical question, is of course this method of thinking should be of value to understanding the various facets of commercial enterprise.   The honest truth however, is that while big pushes in government have been started to fund training in so called STEM programs, we have not incorporated the scientific method into early childhood education, so that it becomes an important part of everyone's training.  And furthermore, while training programs exist for scientists, these programs have not lead to a sizable return in science job creation.  Society has pigeon holed the scientist to the dungeon-like laboratories of hallowed academe, i.e. they are informative but not practical, and even their role in production of products is so highly regulated that more money can be made from squeezing each innovation, then by the innovation itself.  As such, skills in orange squeezing, i.e. marketing, and skills in lemon slicing, i.e. law, have a much more obvious impact on the bottom line of companies in our risk adverse society.  To be more science-centric we need to push science earlier and more efficiently.

So how do we create a science-centric society?  First, we begin by training everyone at an early age that the scientific method is a good way to interpret the world.  Second, we build our businesses using this knowledge (for one example, see my Systems should be Designed with Biology in Mind). Finally, we begin to view our place in the world as one in which we must solve the riddles of the universe, because ultimately this will be more profitable to everyone involved. Our ability to squeeze the juice from the stones of the universe is directly (in not exponentially; see Training for our Future) related to our understanding of its fundamental nature.   

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