Exposing PseudoAstronomy

February 16, 2015

Podcast Episode 126: The Facts and Misconceptions Behind Funding in Science, with Dr. Pamela Gay @starstryder

The sordid subject
Of the coin: How scientists
Are – and are not – paid.

This is another episode where I don’t focus on debunking a specific topic of astronomy, geology, or physics pseudoscience, but rather I focus on a topic of misconceptions related to science in general: How scientists are funded. This is done via an interview and bit of discussion with Dr. Pamela Gay, who cohosts the very famous “AstronomyCast” podcast and is the director of CosmoQuest.

The topics are varied, but it remains focused on some of the misconceptions of how research is funded and the real process behind it. It’s also a bit depressing, but I can’t always have light-hearted topics like Planet X isn’t coming to kill you.

Since this is an interview, it is a somewhat longer episode (54 minutes), there is no transcript, and there are no other segments.

The episodes for the next two months should be focused on Comet Hale-Bopp and have a brief interlude of another interview with the chair of the program committee for a major planetary science conference, and what they do when they get submissions that seem like pseudoscience.



  1. I’ve been disturbed by what sounds to me like a mocking tone you have when talking about people who are concerned about the trustworthiness of pharmaceutical companies – “Big Pharma” as you call it. I am one of those people who have such concerns. I have been influenced, in part, by talks given by Lisa A Bero who is a Professor in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy, School of Pharmacy and the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies, School of Medicine at UCSF.

    One such talk is on Fora.tv and is titled “Dr. Lisa Bero: Bias in Drug Trials”. It seems to me her opinion is not pseudoscience. I’d be interested in your response to this.

    thank you

    Comment by Dori Jaffe — February 17, 2015 @ 7:39 pm | Reply

    • I think my derision was directed more towards the term “Big Pharma” (I personally hate it) and the overall conspiracies that people have of “it” — the magalomaniacal (sp?) Illuminati-like control and goal to make people sick and then make them feel a little better to keep money flowing. I – and Pamela, I think – are also coming from a more very hard-science kind of field where fraud is almost NEVER heard of, let alone seen. So it’s hard for the two of us to relate to people who really do commit fraud in science in those kinds of fields, though we know that it happens.

      I’m not going to apologize for my tone, but I hope that helps you understand where I’m coming from. I don’t doubt that it happens in drug studies, or that scientists are pressured to produce positive results, but most research scientists really aren’t like that.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — February 17, 2015 @ 8:35 pm | Reply

  2. Well, that was depressing.

    Almost forty years I started as a college freshman majoring in oceanography. The Ocean department invited all their new freshmen to a picnic. So we new students piled into university vans to a park over looking Puget Sound. Then the professors explained reality, that the only way one would really get a job would be to get a PhD, and the funding was not there.

    So the next week I switched to the college of engineering, and graduated as an aerospace engineer. Though I did take the intro to oceanography class required for the fisheries department (not the 101 version) and my senior design project I did with a guy who had left the Navy was a sailboat with hydrofoils. And as a structural dynamics engineer who was comfortable with metric measurement (spent a good part of my youth not in the USA), I was lent for a couple of weeks to a contractor analyzing a European off shore oil rig along with my German born lead engineer. So I did get my toes into the water a wee bit.

    In the few years ago the ocean department become part of the “College of the Environment”, and there seems to a bit more funding. Mostly out of panic: http://coenv.washington.edu/ . I have attended a couple of lectures by some of the researchers. On oceanographer is studying the changing of salt concentration in the Arctic Ocean (more fresh water flowing in as mainland ice melts, and it changes currents). He started off showing letters from a couple of climate change deniers demanding he be fired for his research. 😉 Fun times.

    Comment by Chris — February 21, 2015 @ 5:05 pm | Reply

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