Science Becoming Political

For those who wonder whether science, like everything else these days, has been perverted by political agendas, I give you two of the dumbest “scientific” research studies conducted at Oregon’s major universities. Each carries it’s own “political agenda” disguised as “scientific fact.”

The first is a recent study by an Oregon graduate student designed to bolster the case against logging — even logging of burnt out forests. As reported by the Oregonian:

“New research by another OSU grad student released Monday backs up a key point of the earlier work: Logging and replanting forests after wildfires makes them likely to burn more severely in fires over the next few decades than forests left on their own.”

The article goes on to note that the OSU researcher cannot say exactly why, but it leaves the reader to believe the solution is to not cut the dead trees and replant new ones.

Let me try to help with the answer. Of course a forest replanted will burn more severely than one that is left barren. Fires need fuel and replanted forests have more fuel than dead, barren, burnt out forests. I just drove across Santiam pass again last week and while everywhere else was green and lush from the snow melt and spring rains, not the remnants of the B&B Complex fire of 2003. It is dead, dead, dead. You couldn’t start a fire there if you had a blowtorch and all weekend.

The difference between a student researcher and a practiced veteran is made clear by Michael Newton, an OSU professor emeritus. In the Oregonian article, Newton said he is not surprised by the finding that replanted forests are more susceptible to fire. He notes that young trees planted close together will burn intensely in the heat of the summer. But Newton notes, “The way you manage it can make the difference between a healthy stand and a thicket. The best way to grow big trees in a hurry is to plant them far apart and control the fuel beneath them.” You know, just like the forest product companies do with the trees on their private land. Plant them, groom them, take care of them. A simple formula that the government, which controls most of the forest lands, steadfastly refuses to do.

But the OSU “scientific study” pales in comparison to the latest dribble from the UO. The Oregonian reported last week,

“Using brain-scanning technology, University of Oregon researchers have found an unlikely force at play in the minds of people paying taxes: Pleasure.

“Paying taxes can make people feel good,” said William Harbaugh, UO economist and co-author of the study. Previous research had established that voluntary giving stirs activity in the brain regions that process feelings of reward. The UO study, published today in the journal Science, is the first to show that involuntary payments can evoke the same reaction.”

There it is — the agenda. “Paying taxes can make people feel good.” What a load of guano!

Here’s how the study was conducted. Nineteen female volunteers (read 19 female college students) were each GIVEN $100. They were then told that they could give the $100 to the food bank, or the $100 would be taken from them (like a tax) and given to the food bank. (Those were the only two choices, they couldn’t keep the money, pay an outstanding bill or buy a new dress.) In both instances, brain scans detected a “warm glow.”

From this, these “scientists” concluded that paying taxes makes us feel good. One of the problems of university life is that it seldom reflects reality and this research confirms that.

So let’s introduce a little reality into that research. First of all, 19 female college students hardly reflects the population demographics or maturity. Second, real people are not “given” money, they earn it. Try the experiment utilizing 19 people who are forced to work a hard day to earn the $100 and then take that from them and see how much of a “warm glow” you get. And finally, giving money to the food bank is about as far from the reality of paying taxes to the government as you can get. The food bank uses all of its money to feed the poor, the government uses most of its money to feed the public employee unions.

While some pointy headed professor might like to convince Oregonians that they will feel good by paying more taxes, Oregonians themselves are too smart for such bunk. Over sixty percent of Oregon’s adult population twice rejected tax increases just four short years ago.

Put that in your academic Meerschaum and smoke it, professor.

  • Anonymous

    And had you noticed it didn’t matter that we rejected tax increases, They went around us and we got em any way. Also I’ve noticed Oregon is full of educated idiots. Book learning but no brains to use it wisely

  • eagle eye

    Larry: Get a Ph.D. in neuroscience or economics, apply for a job at UO or another university, and you can design your own experiments, if you can raise the money for the equipment and the personnel. Oh, and then you have to get the paper accepted in Science, which is not easy to do either.

    As for Harbaugh’s “political agenda”. I happen to know the man, he is one of the most libertarian-leaning professors at UO. You are 180 degrees off on this one. As in totally cockeyed.

    Did you actually bother to talk to Harbaugh about his political beliefs before you wrote this nonsense?

  • bill harbaugh

    Thanks “eagle eye” whoever you are.

    People have really zeroed in on the satisfaction from taxes meme. The result that really excited me when doing this study was that you could see increasing brain activation as people’s money went to a food bank. For some people the increase was very large. And when it was, those people gave more. I think that result will very likely hold up with men, etc., and we plan on finding out. If you don’t think it’s cool to be able to peer inside someones brain and tell whether they will be altruistic or not, you have no sense of wonder.

    We interpret this result to mean that people “can get satisfaction from paying taxes.” I don’t think there’s much debate about that, really. It doesn’t mean that taxes should be raised, and it doesn’t mean everybody gets that satisfaction, from every tax-like situation. Just that taxes aren’t always painful to everybody.

    Even most libertarians want some minimal government services – and would derive satisfaction from paying the taxes to support those.

    As for the rest, my email address is posted at, ask and I’ll send you the paper.


      LOL, whatever pal! If you’re socialistic utopian mind can somehow think that people enjoy paying taxes so people like you can be employed on their dime, then you have my pity. Your reality isn’t based on rational thinking; take a walk outside your ivory tower and hit the streets where us little people live. Do it with an open mind and it might enlighten you a bit!

      By the way, I’m a registered Libertarian in Oregon and with the national party……………..not one libertarian I have ever talked to has ever come close to enjoying paying any tax. The fact you can say that only shows how out of touch with the mainstream of public life you really are.

      Isn’t it time for you and your collegues to get an expresso and come up with some hare brained theory that the ignorant tax payers would really enjoy paying more taxes to give you an undeserved raise?

      • eagle eye

        Well, Dude, maybe that helps explain why libertarians get, what, 2% of the vote?

        • CRAWDUDE

          I wasn’t the one who tried to coral their thinking into their……………seems like to me, thinking with the heard isn’t thinking at all. That must be why thinking with the herd is so easy for you EE.

          Love the “thank you whoever you are comment above” though. Since you stated Mr. Harbaugh was an aquaintence of yours and then he said thank you for defending him like he didn’t know you………………strange since he had not made a presence on here before; yet he was here to defend his garbage paper after you defended him. Sounds like a couple public employees were blogging on our time!

          Have you found any real people who are thrilled to pay taxes to fund your salaries? or do you need to make a few more stats up to support lunacy?

          • bill harbaugh

            Actually, I only get paid a 9 month salary. Since June 16, nobody has paid me a dime, and I’ve worked every weekday and every weekend day, on research and following up with my students and a bunch of administrative stuff.

            And it’s 10PM, and I think I’m going to bed.

            Meanwhile, my offer for a free copy of the paper is still open – nobody from this blog has taken me up on it yet.

            Bill Harbaugh

          • CRAWDUDE

            I’ll let you know next time I need something to line my spotted owl bird cage with. Who are you now? EE , Anthony or you? e.g. the person no one has heard of prior to EE defending himself, er…I mean you.

          • eagle eye

            Dude, you don’t sound like the brightest crawdad in the pack. Let me explain about Harbaugh and myself. I am acquainted with him. He is acquainted with me. However, I don’t ordinarily go under the moniker “eagle eye”. Hence, he has no way of knowing who I am for sure. (Unless I am his only acquaintance, which I am sure is not the case). Is the mystery solved for you now?

            Why is Harbaugh here on this website? Well, maybe he reads it. As I said, he is known to have libertarian tendencies. (Maybe his experience here will cause him to reconsider.) Maybe somebody tipped him off to the article. I dunno. If so, it wasn’t me.

  • Steve Plunk

    Eagle is missing the point as is (Mr., Dr.) Harbaugh.

    While we may learn something from such studies is it worth the cost? I would say in this case no. As pointed out the results only give data that can be interpreted in given ways but for what societal good? The parameters and limitations further degrade any usefulness of the study.

    While such a study make excite academics the rest of us yawn and think of the money wasted. It has nothing to do with being uneducated or backwards, it’s just a different set of values.

    I certainly don’t mean to insult the researchers but the realities are what they are.

    • eagle eye

      Well, Steve, I guess if you want to think that observing the neural correlates of cognition, emotion, behavior is a waste of money, that’s your prerogative.

      Apart from the pure scientific interest of it all, perhaps someday you or someone you care about will suffer from some debility such as stroke, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, mental illness, any of probably hundreds or thousands of identified diseases and syndromes involving the brain? And perhaps you might benefit from the techniques that will almost certainly come out of this early imaging technology?

      I wonder, do you think the research that eventuated in diagnostic X rays, MRI’s, cat scans was a waste of money too?

      • Steve Plunk

        You’re throwing up strawmen Eagle. This is not about medical research but about economics. Harbaugh is with the economics department at U of O. The focus of his work deals with how the brain functions in relation to economic activity. I’ll leave the medical research to those qualified.

        Why is it so hard to understand that taxpayers want priorities in how money is spent? Looking for pleasure in paying taxes isn’t very high on the priority list for most Oregonians or Americans. If an academic sees this as interesting so be it but we have the right to criticize such work as trivial in the big picture.

        So rather than treat critics like myself as unenlightened you should accept the diversity of values in the world. Whether or not paying taxes is pleasurable to some has no value to me and many others.

        • eagle eye

          Steve, at least read about the experiment. It was done in collaboration with a psychologist — Ulrich Mayr — from the Cognitive Neuroscience Center.

          It used a $3 million imaging device. Economists don’t have access to things like that on their own. Most of the money for the machine and the study undoubtedly came from the National Institutes of Health. It absolutely has to do with medical research. Not high on most Americans’ priority list? Take a look at the NIH budget over the past quarter century.

          The article here chose to ignore the connection to the neuroscientist. That’s not Harbaugh’s fault.

          If you want to read more, take a look at the UO puff piece:

          Or better yet, contact Harbaugh at the link he gave above.

  • Ted Kennedy’s Liver

    Everyone is missing the point.

    That 19 year old women get off spending cash should be a surprise to no one – especially anyone who has a 19 year old daughter in college! It’s not where the money was going, but the act itself. In their minds, 19 year old women have associated the act of spending with pleasure. I think you’d get a very different result using the 50 year old fathers of those women as test subjects.

    Dr. Harbaugh, you should know better. I haven’t read the paper, so I may be talking out of turn, but if your conclusion is that these people derived pleasure from paying taxes, you could not possibly get there from the study as presented here for the simple reason that you were not studying people’s emotional responses as they paid taxes. You could, based on the study as described here, conclude that 19 year old women derived some pleasure from giving money to a food bank. Without studying these women’s response to disposing of the money in other ways (like I said, haven’t read the paper, so sorry if you covered this) you cannot separate the act from the object – you can’t tell if pleasure was derived from giving the money or if it was derived specifically from giving the money to a food bank.

  • Ted kennedy’s Liver

    Sorry – Last sentance should read

    …you can’t tell if pleasure was derived from spending the money or if it was derived specifically from spending the money by giving the money to a food bank.


      Or more like: you can’t tell if pleasure was derived from spending the money or if it was derived specifically from spending the money by giving the money to waste on an ill managed food bank.

      Much like a herion induced uphoria! It ain’t real but we think it makes us feel better about ourselves!

  • UO prof

    To one of the rare relatively conservative UO professors like myself, it’s pretty dismaying to read this article and the comments. “Perverted, dumbest, dribble, guano, bunk”. And then all the sneer quotes about “science” itself.

    All for a neuroscience experiment that got into Science, probably one of the one or two premier general science journals in the world. No wonder UO puts a story on their website! It helps them keep up the pretense of still being a major research university.

    Conservatives often complain bitterly that they don’t get a hearing in the academy, and not without reason. But this article is an embarrassment to someone like myself who might like to refer interested students to sources of reasonably intelligent alternative opinions. Any science student would be turned off by what is found here.

    I guess outlets like Oregon Catalyst don’t want scientists, professors, students to pay them heed. Perhaps the conservative/libertarian cause in Oregon is doing just fine without people like them?

    By the way, I am acquainted with Harbaugh too — I can’t tell if eagle eye is a prof or just someone in the community — Harbaugh was one of the faculty heroes in the fight to tone down the “Diversity” madness at UO. They did far more than anyone in the legislature or the conservative media in Oregon. Would that there were more like them, at UO and certainly at the other state campuses. Anyone who knows Harbaugh knows that he hasn’t any kind of “tax and spend” agenda. That is just nuts. Too bad his experiment didn’t turn out the way some people here would like. I guess there’s political correctness on all sides.

    • Ted Kennedy’s Liver

      It’s conditioned response. Conservatives are so used to reading about stupid/fraudulent/sloppy studies wasting tax dollars to prop up idiot liberal utopian theories that we just can’t help ourselves. A dog that is constantly smacked in the face will eventually growl every time a hand is reached toward it, even if that hand is offered as a token of affection.

      HOWEVER – the personal attacks on the professor are WAY out of line. Attacking the science may be valid, but attacking the professor persnally is the type of tactic used by the fascist left to stifle speech and should be rejected by conservatives.

  • Harry, son of 2 UnivProfs

    We need more critical thinkers, especially from the ranks of Professors.

    To the two Profs: the reason that the article got slammed here is because it was not very scientific. Just because Harbaugh got funding to waste in his research project, and just because Science thought it was worth publishing, does not mean that it deserves to be praised. And 19 yr old female college students reflect their own experiences, but as mentioned above, probably not the experiences of 19yr old males, or 50 yr old female/males.

    Perhaps Dr. Harbaugh could re-run his experiment a few more times with subjects who better resemble taxpayers, and find ways to better reflect how people treat money (hint: giving people cash, but only if they can ‘volunteer’ to manditorily give it away, vs ‘volunteer’ to have it taken away, is foolish at best).

    Speaking as a child of two UnivProfs, not all UnivProfs waste money quite like Dr. Harbaugh. At least my father used his NSF grants for real research on tree destroying beetles, and how to get them to not attact enmass forests like the Satiam prior to the B&B complex fire. Some research dollars are better spent than other research dollars.

    • eagle eye

      Well, Harry, I’m not a neuroscientist or an economist, and I’m not the child of two university professors. Personally, the stuff on the brain sounds more interesting than the stuff on the beetles. No offense to your dad.

      Everyone here seems to have different ideas on how to conduct the experiment. As I said earlier, get a Ph.D., get a university job, claw for grant funding, and you too can design experiments and have other people tell you how they could have done it better. Maybe Harbaugh will get more money and he can even do some of the experiments you suggest.

      I have to go with the judgment of the NIH and the journal Science over that of Larry Huss. I suspect most taxpayers would agree. He’s entitled to his opinion, of course.

  • science Duck

    I seem to recollect that the UO neuroscience center is funded in part by the Department of Defense. I don’t know if the experiment in this article is DOD funded, but it’s easy to see why the military (and other agencies like the National Institutes of Health as well) would be interested in this kind of work. Reading people’s minds, literally. Think terror suspects, not 19-year old girls (easier to do silly-sounding experiments on the latter). Think developed technology, not something in its infancy, as this undoubtedly is at present. Robots on the battlefield that do what I “think” them to do?

    The left-wing radicals at UO have been trying to shut down military-funded work at UO for years. It would really be ironic if they got support from the right-wingers, if this website is representative of the latter breed.

    • eagle eye

      Duck — don’t you know the U.S. military is just another socialist left-wing utopian outfit that exists for the sole purpose of defrauding the taxpayers? Just like every other government agency. Why, if only they’d get out of the way and let the citizens’ posse take over, we’d even be winning in Iraq by now. None of this esoteric research. No far-out weapons. The military started to go downhill back with that Professor Galileo and his silly projectile trajectories and rolling the balls down inclined planes. It’s time for us to take back our technology from those pointy heads once and for all.

  • Jerry

    The “professor” is a real duck alright – quack, quack, quack! What a complete moron. What a total loser. What a pathetic sad sack.

    • Ted Kennedy’s Liver

      Jerry, I suspect the professor has far more going on in his life than you do. Calling him a moron, loser and sad sack is way out of line. If the only argument you can offer up is juvenile name calling, go post on Blue Oregon; except for the conservative thing, you’ll fit right in. Attacking the science may be valid, but attacking the professor persnally is the type of tactic used by the fascist left to stifle speech and should be rejected by conservatives.

      • Steve Plunk

        Thank you TKL. We must set an example of civility not stoop to the level of what you call the facist left. Name calling is simply not acceptable.

  • eagle eye

    Fascinating to read through these posts again. I can only reiterate that the original article seems nasty and anti-science; some of the comments are just as bad. I can’t imagine that if there are any science students coming to this website, that they wouldn’t be turned off by what they read here. If I were a science student, and the choice was between getting something in Science magazine or getting the approval of Oregon Catalyst, the period of reflection would be very short. Not a very good advertisement for conservative or libertarian or Republican ideas. I wonder why the website even bothers. If the goal is to turn people off who are not already true believers, it’s succeeding very well.