[Coral-List] coral starvation and new ideas

Gene Shinn eshinn at marine.usf.edu
Thu Jun 8 09:10:54 EDT 2006

Like Alina Szmant I too enjoyed the coral 
feeding/starvation discussion and also remember 
the controversy from the 1960s when I thought Tom 
Goreau Sr. had answered the question. I hope this 
discussion helped Wade Lehmann who recently 
asked, "where is current research focused" I 
wanted to respond at the time but was tied up in 
other things. Wade asked "Where does the field 
need to be focused in the next 5-10 years in 
order to progress." That is a very good question 
(see little story at the end) but I would hope 
that Wade answers that question and decides to do 
what he thinks is important. That's the way 
science advances. What really got my attention 
was his question, "Is there a mechanism by which 
the public can browse current NSF/NOAA/etc grant 
funding to see where current funding has been 
directed?" (again enjoy little story at the end). 
For me this is a bothersome question. I can 
appreciate a young scientist wanting to be funded 
but it could be a mistake to go where the funding 
is. I worry that too many researchers are 
following well-worn paths and going where 
management thinks we should go. This approach is 
now pervasive in most all fields of science 
today, especially in government. The key word 
today is accountability which usually translates 
into more paperwork, multiple forms, quarterly 
reports, permit applications, and many paper 
chores that have little to do with doing the 
research. Of course we all want to be relevant 
but accountability is the double-edged sword. I 
worry about relevancy because what is thought to 
be relevant is usually determined by a committee 
or several layers of committees. New ideas that 
advance science seldom come from committees. The 
comments and work described by Ester Peters on 
the coral-list sounds like original research that 
I suspect was not decided upon by a committee, at 
least not a government committee. So, in 
conclusion I would hope Wade and others makes 
these decisions based on their own ideas. I think 
everyone will enjoy the little story I have 
repeated below. It is an amusing yet sad story 
written in 1948 by Leo Szilard, the man who 
convinced Einstein to write the letter that 
caused FDR to start the Manhattan project. I fear 
too much of this story has come to past. Gene

Back to the Future

In the April 8, 2002 Chemistry and Engineering 
News (vol. 80, No. 4) page 42 there is a story 
titled, Politics, Culture, and Science: The 
Golden Age Revisited, by Allen J. Bard. The story 
is his acceptance speech for receiving the 
Priestley Medal for chemistry. As the title 
suggests, he devotes a lot of the article to 
how-it-used-to-be, when kids could have Gilbert 
Chemistry sets and other toys now banned for 
being considered unsafe. Further in his 
acceptance speech he says, and I quote,
  "The situation is approaching that envisioned by 
Leo Szilard in 1948 in his amusing story, The 
Mark Gable Foundation, where the hero, sometime 
in the future, is asked by a wealthy 
entrepreneur, who believes that science has 
progressed too quickly, what he should do to 
retard this progress. The hero answers:
      "You could set up a foundation, with an 
annual endowment of thirty million dollars. 
Researchers in need of funds could apply for 
grants, if they could make a convincing case. 
Have ten committees, each composed of twelve 
scientists, appointed to pass on these 
applications. Take the most active scientists out 
of the laboratory and make them members of these 
committees. ŠFirst of all, the best scientists 
would be removed from their laboratories and kept 
busy on committees passing on applications for 
funds. Secondly the scientific worker in need of 
funds would concentrate on problems which were 
considered promising and were pretty certain to 
lead to publishable resultsŠ By going after the 
obvious, pretty soon science would dry out. 
Science would become something like a parlor 
gameŠ There would be fashions. Those who followed 
the fashions would get grants. Those who wouldn't 
would not."

     That was 1948! If only Szilard could have 
really predicted the future. He could have 
envisioned lengthy conference calls and how 
e-mail and the web would keep scientists out of 
the lab while recycling old information and 
filling out forms.


No Rocks, No Water, No Ecosystem (EAS)
------------------------------------ -----------------------------------
E. A. Shinn, Courtesy Professor
University of South Florida
Marine Science Center (room 204)
140 Seventh Avenue South
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
<eshinn at marine.usf.edu>
Tel 727 

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