Who is really believing these rationalizations for research projects?

Sorry for the lack of posting for a while — I got very busy with both work and life, and had no time to write a long post.  I still don’t for a few days, but to break up the dead air a bit, I will try some short posting.

I have been reading NIH grants that fund experiments that use chimpanzees and other primates (for reasons that I will not go into).  As a point tangential to my work, I noticed was the almost-boilerplate claims that the researchers use to justify the work when asking for funding.  A lot of it reads (with only slight caricature that paraphrases “Yes, Minister” by way of Krugman) like, “Hepatitis C is a bad disease with the following effects on people….  Therefore, we need to do something.  This is something.  Therefore we need to do it.”  I always thought that the boilerplate at the front of most any paper or proposal that relates to smoking in any way was particularly silly (always recounting some grand total of the health impact, as if (a) this were not known by anyone reading it and (b) if it had anything to do with the little study in question).  But these are actually worse.

The proposals to try out new brain scanning methods, a highly fashionable area of research right now, are even worse.  They basically read, “People have a lot of psychological diseases.  Behavior is interesting.  Chimpanzees are kind of similar to us.  Therefore we should do things to them while they are restrained in scanners and see what lights up on our fancy new machines.”  Perhaps I am being naive or cynical about some useful science I do not understand, but mostly this reads (to put in the language of the movie version of a proto-human that lies somewhere between us and the chimps, and somehow learned pidgin English):  “Me have hammer.  Ape looks like nail.  Must hit that.”

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