Dumb It Down A Little, Son. A Case Of Scholarly Overkill

One of the top five buzzwords of the past few years is “innovation.” Countries all over the world claim to need it, support it, look forward to having it. Everyone wants high-tech and the related rise in GDP and income.

The rhetoric is easy, the policy is much more difficult. Developing countries have no real clue how to get there, and even modern economies struggle with maintaining a technological edge.

A recent Huffington Post editorial by Harvard freshman Julian Baird Gewirtz (why do these guys all use their middle names?) takes a fresh look at the issue, but in my mind sort of misses the forest for the very obvious trees right in front of him.

One quick note on the editorial itself. It is extremely well researched and written, and Gewirtz should be congratulated. I doubt that I could have put out a similar piece when I was in my freshman year, provided I could have found time during one of my intermittent bouts with sobriety and lucidity. To the extent that I now engage in a bit of criticism has little to do with Gewirtz’s factual assertions but rather with “big picture” economic assumptions that are really all we need to know when discussing innovation policy.

Moving onward, here is Gewirtz’s thesis paragraph:

Much time is spent trying to figure out what will be the consequences of China’s rapid movement towards becoming a great economic and world power. Much less time, though, has gone to explaining how this change happened and how it will be sustained, if it is sustained.

Aside from one sentence later on about the use of foreign technology, the editorial spends most of its time creeping up on the issue of domestic innovation and its connection to continued economic growth. This is all rather behind the scenes, though, as Gewirtz mainly draws on “China Studies” scholarship as opposed to economics. Nothing wrong with that, particularly since (I suspect) Gewirtz is probably a China Studies student. Gotta play to your strengths, and all that.

I would point out, however, that a huge amount of scholarship about “how this change happened” is out there, and written by folks from a wide array of disciplines. Just as an example from my own time in school, I attended an entire semester course on China’s post-1978 financial sector reforms, which was an in-depth look at how modernization came about. (A quick shout out is in order to Professor Pieter Bottelier, who taught that course to perfection. Easily one of the best profs I had in graduate school and a true gentleman.)

Just to let you know where all this is going, here is Gewirtz’s last paragraph, which contains a summing up of his argument:

We tend to look at the Scientific Revolution in terms of its effects: a far-reaching remaking of the Western world. But we shouldn’t forget that for Europe to enter its Scientific Revolution, its political, social, and economic situation had to shift radically toward permitting free inquiry and innovation. The Chinese government looks at the prospect of a “technological revolution” as effecting its move to “the forefront of the world.” But are there things that need to change in China before it can have a sustainable scientific revolution?

I described Gewirtz’s style as “creeping up” on his main point, and I think that’s clear in his very last sentence, which finally tells us where he is going with all this. To put his thesis in starker terms, China needs political and social reform (in addition to other changes) before it can get to the next level with respect to innovation. A great many China watchers agree with that assertion, and in that sense, Gewirtz is certainly not treading on virgin territory here. That being the case, however, I wonder why he felt it necessary to dance around his thesis instead of just coming out with it and directly calling for political reform in China?

Gewirtz’s energies are rather directed towards pulling together several historical threads. This is impressive: he takes some recent comments on innovation by Wen Jiabao on the anniversary of the May Fourth Movement and discusses connections with current technology policy. He also suggests that not only is new technology being emphasized, but that the spirit of a “scientific revolution” is also at play here, a reaction in part to China’s desire to reclaim the mantle it once held as one of the world’s leading scientific superpowers.

This scientific divergence that occurred — so significant that Chinese writers, including Feng Youlan, were moved to say that “China has no science” — has taken on a large place in the Chinese imagination. It connects to the “Century of Humiliation” (百年国耻, or bainian guochi), which refers to China’s period of political and economic subjugation following its loss of the First Opium War. Scientific development, then, matters not only for Chinese education but also for Chinese patriotism.

Again, great scholarship. But what’s the point here? Gewirtz spends a great deal of time talking about the commitment of the Chinese government to innovation and some of the reasons why it, and the Chinese people, are supporting such policies. His discussion of nationalism and the 100 Years of Humiliation are spot on, but a bit beside the point. The overriding necessity behind China’s innovation policy is to fuel economic growth, and specifically a rise in per capita income.

All of these historical antecedents are interesting, yet they pale in importance to simple economic growth theory. We don’t really need to look beyond that to understand very well why China (and every other nation in the world) is pursuing these kinds of policies.

Gewirtz then segues into an assertion that, just as historical factors can explain why China is now embracing innovation policy, we can look to non-economic factors to explain why China did not experience a scientific revolution in years past.

Historians of Chinese science like Needham and Nathan Sivin have stressed that contextual factors–not only economic context, but also political and social structures like China’s civil examination system and its bureaucratic feudalism–were responsible for China’s non-development of “modern science” like the West. So in thinking about how changing Chinese science might change China, political and social changes cannot remain unexamined.

This sets up his concluding paragraph. Political and social factors hindered China’s scientific progress in the past, and therefore they may need to be changed for innovation policy to be successful in the future. OK, let’s take a look at that assertion.

First, I think all of that could have been said in about one paragraph without discussing the May Fourth Movement or nationalism. That was a very enjoyable excursion, but it was extraneous.

Second, the 800-pound gorilla in the room, the big issue that everyone who approaches this subject talks about, can be encapsulated in this simple question: “Does China need democracy to foster innovation?” Gewirtz doesn’t go there for some reason, but it is the inevitable destination of this scholarly journey.

For what it’s worth, current government policy assumes that China’s version of capitalism (or socialism with Chinese characteristics, if you are so inclined) can succeed without drastic political reform. Many in the West, and some here in China, disagree, but that is a much larger discussion.

Galileo - not so pleased with Medieval Church's innovation policy

Third, and as a direct response to Gewirtz, I think the connection between political/social reform and innovation has been overblown. For example, some commentators who believe that authoritarianism stifles innovation bring up Europe’s Dark Ages, when the Catholic Church stifled a great deal of scientific discovery in the name of orthodoxy and social stability.1

The comparison is ludicrous of course. Beijing is actively encouraging innovation and scientific discovery, and in many ways acting as the polar opposite of the Medieval Church. To be sure, authoritarianism has many pernicious effects, and to the extent that it instills a chilling effect on reticent scholars and researchers, it can certainly have a negative effect on the mindset that is arguably necessary for creative thought, and therefore innovation.

But a lot of this is conjecture. Economists don’t really know what fuels innovation. If governments knew all the answers, the world would be a very different place than it is now. The general consensus is that money should be spent on education and research, a spirit of creativity should be fostered in educational institutions as well as the private sector, capital should flow to startups, and intellectual property must be protected. Sounds easy, but these are really only general policies, and quite expensive at that.

It’s fairly easy to come up with a short list of political and social changes that might foster innovation (e.g. no more plagiarism), but all of that would be simply fiddling about at the margins. Overhauling and properly funding education, continuing to strengthen IP, setting up a world-class VC/PE financial system – this is where the rubber meets the road.

I enjoyed Gewirtz’s article, and I look forward to more of the same. At the same time, however, I think he put in a great deal of energy and effort into historical research on the political and social front when a much more simple economic explanation would have sufficed.

  1. Galileo aside, historians have recently poked a lot of holes in the conventional wisdom of a dearth in scientific progress during the Medieval period. []


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  1. Sam


    However, i doubt the paper would get much attention Or even get published if it basically says “we don’t know” or “there’s no silver bullet”.

  2. Fransisco

    good criticism….but maybe you should dumb it down a bit as well. Perhaps put a sexy picture in there….we all need to learn from chinasmack.

    • King Tubby

      Francisco. Total rubbish. The best op piece since I signed up and one that takes time to consider before responding with something serious.

    • Jones

      No, this site should keep its distance from ChinaSMACK.

      • King Tubby

        Holy Cow. Jones. New avator: serious dude, and I like it. I agree: less who is the best: Chinese v Japanese pussy.
        No, if this site is yet to reach its possibilities, the more distance the better.

        And Stans last piece is setting the bar. Pity, I had net provider problems, but shall deal with the subject soon.

        Still want to know about your new headware?

        Meanwhile, for your musical edification, at the mo, it is Led Zeps BBC 60s recordings, purchased in Korea.

        • I swear I saw a new avatar for Jones when I first logged in but didn’t see it after. I’m guessing he’s fiddling with Gravatar. I think the new one looks better, Jones. Less skinny Dwarven bomber of you.

          • Jones

            It didn’t show up on mine first either. I had to go back in and delete the old one. Then it still showed up for a refresh or two. Finally it’s here.

            That picture is actually from way back in 2003 or so. I think I was jokingly prepared for the usual springtime tornado onslaught out here in Tornado Alley.

        • Jones

          I replied to you on ChinaSMACK. Anyway, yeah, it’s me pop’s from Vietnam. Yeah, I like this one too. I had uploaded it to the Gravatar site months ago, but it never would let me select it. No matter how many times I selected and accepted, deleted and retried, it’d always go to that other one by default. I finally gave up, then remembered, then deleted the other and it finally worked.

          • LoL, There’s a certain innocent puppy-dog look about you in it this new avatar of your’s that would — I shamelessly admit — make me think twice about laying into you on the intarwebs. It must be the helmet.

            Seriously though, I like the picture. Not only is it clear as opposed to somewhat blurry/grainy, there’s a certain artistic flair to be read into it.

            I’ll dive back into chinaSMACK later. I’ve done a good job lately of avoiding commenting except in batches. Can’t let the new kids get away with not having an object to focus their hate on, you know.

          • Jones

            I believe it was the mighty Sun Tzu that said we should appear weak when we’re strong. It’s all part of my master plan for Interwebz domination.

    • I thought that was a pretty sexy picture. A little blurry but that gives it a voyeuristic feel.

      chinaSMACK is all about what the Chinese netizen masses find interesting. We here at china/divide are a bit more arrogantly intellectual/philosophical. I’m quite proud of getting Stan and Custer into the habit of finding pretty pictures to go with their posts!

      • King Tubby

        Kai. Gotta say. The punters on the end of Stan’s, Kai’s, Custer’s and Danjam’s op pieces/rants are well served. Lots of Western Renaissance art and Chinese slogan posters. Semi-intellectual eye candy, but better than nothing.

        I look forward to a piece which includes a Durer woodcut. Then we would see the evil heart of the CPC vis a vis the rural masses.

        • Woodcuts? Why the hell did I buy a gorgeous widescreen LCD monitor?

          Respectfully suggest a nice Hogarth or two for the peasant/village life angle. Much more entertaining than dour old Albrecht anyway.

          • Jones

            Bob Ross is where it’s at.

          • King Tubby

            Stan. Serious question to you. Have a passing understanding that Chinese art is now bringing stratospheric prices in the global market, *but why are most artists/installationists working in an ironical kitch mode*.

            Sort of gone from slogan posters which I really enjoy to kitchism, and missing the other moments (abstractionism, etc) experienced by western art in the 20th century.

            I have a favourite photo of …all things …a monster statue of a kangaroo taken in a Fujian park. Done in the Soviet constructivist style…all bulked out with muscles and sharpened edges, staring into the utopian future. Total gem.

            BTW. The visuals on this site are brilliant. Just love the vaccination image on the latest piece…
            Are there any sites dealing with slogan posters that can be recommended?

        • King Tubby

          Stan. Be honest. Hogarth, I dont think so. Everybody knows that you have been investing in really severe big bucks kitch: jeff koons, hirst and emins. Your friends are really concerned about it all.

          • Interesting. If I was a student, I’d be tempted to look into some of these art trends and the bigger notion of “kitsch” and “cute” stuff out there, particularly between Asia and the West.

            Why is it that Hello Kitty apparel can be worn by a 40-year-old woman in Asia? That person would be locked up as a mental case in many parts of the West.

            Is the West that much more cynical and jaded? Is this why Lionel Ritchie and Michael Bolston are still so popular in China? Why hasn’t the tragedy of modern Chinese history, which has led to deep cynicism in society, also moved artists (and local taste) away from this crappy Romantic stuff, not to mention kitsch?

            I’m not sure if I’m even framing this correctly, but your points are well taken.

            On old slogan posters and such, there are some great archives on the web. Google will probably uncover others, but this one is my current favorite:


          • Jones

            Speaking of great old-school poster art, we shouldn’t forget Alberto Vargas and the famous “Vargas Girls”. The ones who graced the old WWII propaganda posters and whatnot. Excellent artist.


  3. Sam

    Each time I see arguments like the one presented by Gewirtz I can’t help recalling those boring lines I managed to memorize from my middle school politics class. They somehow turn more lively and vivid as years go by.

    For anyone interested, check out Karl Marx’s dialectical analysis on the forces and the relations of production as well as the economic base and superstructure.

    Although a massive oversimplification, an easy and practical sign is to see if the productivity is growing at a healthy pace. If it is and the growth potential seems abundant, then worries on political reforms are far-fetching. Otherwise something in the “superstructure” needs to be adjusted. The need is ultimately driven by the productivity. It doesn’t matter if CCP wants to change or not.

    • King Tubby

      All I fucking need. Some twat quoting Marx on MOP, base/superstructure via wiki.

      Do it in your own words, clot.

      This idiot draws our attention to the word *dialectical* and thinks he has made a point. Go read Harry Potter pal, you are an idiot.

      • bai ren

        Dialectics as used by Marx were mostly developed by Hegel. This was based on the primary structure: Thesis causing Antithesis and resulting in a Synthesis. Dialectic reasoning was described by Hegel as being the rational mechanism through which we develop consciousness and through that knowledge. He expanded this process to the social nature of humanity as a species as well. Hegelian history was developed into material history by Marx and Engels who then used this base to describe their own view of human social development.

        Dont knock a guy for using ‘dialectic’ but yea call for a personal explanation if it is used as a key part of the argument… and Sam showed this in his summery of the role that these marxist theories have on an analysis of where China might happen to stand in relation to material history.

        Nuts to harry potter, go read bourdieu and Foucault.

        • King Tubby

          Ah Bai Ren> Not unaware. My creds




          To capture a ton of my academic references (three chapters, plus preface), buy a copy.


          Happy reading.

          And F is still a twat, out of his depth in the swimming pool of serious thought.

          Then I returned to drugs, music and really bad girls.

          • Sam

            Very impressed, indeed!

            And I truly hope everyone who come across your above comments would pull out their wallets and pay to read your academic work, which for sure will tell us more than what YOU need to know and how stupid everyone else is.

          • King Tubby

            Thanks for taking the bother.

            I sort of have regrets about that post.

            Give you some pre-history. Previously, bai ren mentioned Foucault to me, and he did not pick up on my even earlier use of the term *bio-politics*. I was addressing him, and not the rest of the community.

            Then again, the op ed writers parade their academic credentials, so why not the commenters.

            The blogosphere is an equal opportunity arena.

            If you nail up your Certificate in Colour Coordination issued by Butte Community College, Montana, be assured, I shall take the time and peruse the link.

            Cheers. KT.

          • Praise the King,
            Tubby it is great to see a fellow making money living out his lifestyle.
            I however an a poor grad student, can you get it published on google books so I can have a read ;)
            Did you know you are referenced in “The constitution of poverty: toward a genealogy of liberal governance‎” This is a book I gotta read!

            and I will probably miss most subtle references, I am new to the social sciences, fresh from philosophy.

        • Sam

          Since one must qualify to join the league, here’s mine: PhD in Chinese Literature, Claydon University, Boston, MA. Not exactly the best academic background to talk about Marx or Foucault but should be marginally relevant to Chinese innovation driving policies.

          Then here’s the irony: most of the academic writings on this topic produced by my colleagues across the Charles River or other ivies or oxbridges do not touch on the single most important talking point, Deng Xiaoping’s single self-promoted theoretical contribution to Marxism-Leninism-Mao thoughts, that “科学技术是第一生产力” or “Science and technology constitute a primary productive force”. Any why is that important, because that fits in the framework set by Marx, cursorily explained by those wiki links. And that’s the basis for many of the current day Chinese innovation driving policies, from 863 to 973. One of Deng’s daughters even for years headed the National Commission of Science and Technology and still heads the Chinese Association of Science and Technology. For years she picked the top projects to fund and major prizes to award.

          It seems that nobody needs to peruse the links and everyone know it already, but does it? If so why on earth it’s always one-sided touting that democracy drives innovation? And why the world’s largest democracy, India, isn’t the best innovator in the world?

          Now I’ll go back to Hogwarts.

          • Glad to hear that the China/Divide comment brigade is well represented in Boston (I will be back this Saturday for an extended visit – perhaps I need to worry about being greeted at the airport by commenters armed with rotten tomatoes).

            Changing the subject, I hope that academic elitism does not become institutionalized on China/Divide. I, for one, could give a shit who has what degree as long as their writing is coherent and they have something reasonably intelligent to say.

            This bothers me because I’ve seen similar things:

            1. Expats in China are deigned to know nothing unless they are fluent in Chinese. (It sure helps, but there are also plenty of expat Chinese speakers who are idiots.)

            2. China bloggers who do not live here are treated like second-class citizens. (It helps to live here, but news/info is globally accessible. Geographic elitism is inane.)

            Suggestion: let’s rip each other apart based on what we say, not on our academic or professional background, which is meaningless for an online discussion.

          • Sam

            If you don’t show respect to Claydon University you surely should be expecting rot­ten tomatoes.

          • League? Its not about merit qualifications, but a willingness to pay the 50 cent toll.
            You did this with a history on current era regime having ideological connections to marxism. It appears to be a magnet for allocating financial resources. Would totally love to hear more. send some names I can Jstore?
            Hows that for an elitism of netizen classes? Access to the Internet is claimed to be a human right. And I am expressing how access is restricted. Might productive forces have something to do with the dignity of humans?
            Ke da fu 什么时侯?

          • Comrade Stan,

            你说了, “Brigade” now that is one bad ass word,

            does it cost 五毛 to affliate?

            白人 什么时候?


          • Jones

            “And why the world’s largest democ racy, India, isn’t the best inno va tor in the world?”

            India is corrupt as hell, which probably explains it, but there are some brilliant people coming out of there.

          • Sam

            Well I heard democracy drives out corruptions too. Try add some more ingredients to your explanation?

  4. On the ChinaSMACK content/style issue, I think mixing it up is the way to go. I am no purist when it comes to content.

    If you go to China Hearsay now, you will see that the latest post I wrote is about the Beijing cops busting a bunch of hookers (photo included). Hardly highbrow stuff, although at least I try to shy away from stories about the latest Boy Band or what actress showed off which body part on the Riviera.

    • bai ren

      In civil society all lifestyle groups need their place. Its good for ppl who like this to push a little defiantly against other stuff, its goo not to creat too much difference as both sites are rather knitted together by interested parties

    • I really don’t think we’re similar to chinaSMACK. The only thing I want us to be similar on is a certain basic accessibility to mainstream audiences. Okay, I lie, for us, I want an educated mainstream audience.

      A lot of smart people read chinaSMACK and for good reason. I’m not just suggesting I’m one of them (though I am), I’m hoping china/divide can have some good conversation without every third comment being some arrogant borderline racist prick thinking the post at hand validates every generalization he’s ever heard or had about China and the Chinese people.

      • Fransisco

        hmmm…it seems like my comment has hit a sensitive nerve here. I guess the pics and writing styles are quite an ongoing concern for bloggers. I actually like chinadivide’s style and its more “arrogantly intellectual” content. You guys should have more confidence in what you are doing it…its working well so far!

        • King Tubby

          Francisco. Don’t over-rate yourself. You have never advanced an argument on this site to my knowledge. Confidence???? All I see is you surfing on other people’s waves. There is the A Team, B and C, then there is you…. a small pimple.

          Ah Sunday. Grudge matches and pay back.

      • Dave

        I think bigoted is a better choice of word here rather than racist.

    • Fransisco

      umm…as I said earlier and later…I was being sarcastic and flippant…actually PLEASE dont be similar to chinasmack….PLEASE!

  5. baijiansi

    Love the Galileo picture. Reminds me of The Economist. Congratulations everyone this is a great website.

  6. bai ren

    I am concerned that I am reading too much into a particular point in your criticism
    “Economists don’t really know what fuels innova­tion. If governments knew all the answers, the world would be a very different place than it is now.”
    Are economists social scientists then? and if so does their primary success- as demonstrated through the effect successful economies have on lifestyle persuits- put them at the forefront of being able to explain if political changes will cause scientific discovery???

    If you I think you overrate economists.

    Great article though

    • I’m not really sure how to get into the whole economics-as-science debate with respect to this issue. So I’ll stick to my original point.

      Basically, innovation can be a key factor to economic growth, and as such plays a role in such notions as TFP (total factor productivity). Everyone, particularly in the developing world, wants to know how to grow, and how to do so quickly. Innovation is put forward as one way to do that.

      So we have growth theory calling for innovation-friendly policies. There is therefore an economic basis to the discussion.

      But then governments need to implement that pro-innovation agenda. What to do? Economics kind of fails at this point in fleshing out how to get from Point A to Point B.

      That was essentially my point. I have found it amusing over the years to read policy discussions where everyone just sort of assumes what a pro-innovation policy looks like without stopping to realize that these are just guesses. Very different from something like tax policy, where outcomes are a lot easier to predict.

      • The use of economics in current policy making you might say is part of the hegemonic discourse… what my Australian proff calls ‘common scene’.

        economic arguments have almost a normative like force in current ‘development’ etc policy ideologies. This is symptomatic of neoliberalism, which uses materialism and capitalism to justify a ‘good’ for human kind.

        Three cheers for critical thought

        • I think that’s quite an overstatement and a holdover from when the “Washington Consensus” was a shorthand for “economic thought.” The generalization doesn’t hold today, and economic growth theory, in particular, is all over the place in relation to political thought and different normative ideas.

          Take a look at some of the endogenous growth models (a response to neoliberalism), theories that take into account issues like environmental costs and innovation policy, etc. and you’ll see what I mean.

          Good economics is relatively neutral. How it is interpreted from a policy making standpoint is usually where normative principles come in.

          • Stan, profit is good.

            Cost benefit analysis are part in parcel with this concept. Sure lots of projects are done at a net loss.

            Take Vancouver winter Olympics. They like most Olympic hosts lost money on their investment but argued the whole time for this ‘patriotic raising event’ would generate profits for the city and country. This will be profitable so we should do it.

            Economists who go beyond simple cost benefit analysis and move to the level of the likes of wang xiao dong and his western counter-parts mystify the details of the process.

            Economist like Public Relation corporations are shamans of our era, our experts

      • Sam

        A case study I picked up in my school years:

        Gu Chujun dug his first bucket of gold in early 90s when he claimed he had invented a super-high-efficiency air conditioner using mixed Freons then promptly got the official endorsement from the then National Commission of Science and Technology. Anyone who has taken the 2nd year undergraduate thermodynamics class know the experimental results have been more than massaged to almost impossible. Many university professors demanded explanations but Mr. Gu simply dodged the requests. It was said that even his own dissertation adviser didn’t believe him, but… I guess someone high in the office wanted to show, hey, we Chinese have hi-tech too, and see how much more electricity it would have cost us if we don’t use this …

        With the gold Mr. Gu soon turned himself into an “entrepreneur”, a master buyer and seller of company assets and finally landed himself in jail only 20 years later.

        Now I jump to something else. I suspect, this is what an official innovation stimulation policy works in the real world: turning science research into funding application writing contests. And this is not limited to China: after 911 those NSF funding applications suddenly all had a national security component, just like now they all suddenly have healthcare or green energy components. Cute!

  7. C.

    I didn’t read the original, but it sounds like a great piece for a freshman – probably no coincidence that he is in Harvard.
    Yet, I kind of second your doubts about this often repeated but rarely substantiated assumption. Just a quick shot from the hip. How did Japan and Germany manage to be highly innovative before 1945/1919 when they adopted a democratic political order for the first time?

    • Wartime economies are great examples of innovation under authoritarian regimes. Not only the Nazis and their ilk, though. Remember the US and Soviet Space Races, etc. Many more examples if one goes further back, of course.

      Nationalism can be an important motivating factor here, although I loathe admitting anything even remotely positive about nationalism.

  8. zball

    I somehow agree that political and social reform is the key stone to flourish innovation. What was missed is what kinds of reforms had already been done in China to either stimulate investment in education or cultivate spirit of creativity. Do those reforms meet the call for fostering an innovation encouraging society? If they don’t, how come?

    As far as I know, tremendous amount of money has been putting into education institutions for the last decade in China. And, there is no stop sign on this road in the foreseeable future. The question is whether the efficiency of the investment would be up to or below the par set by its western counterpart. Either way, it must associate with different social and political realities between west and east. Those differences and their impacts on sprouting innovation might be worth of digging a little bit deeper.

  9. FYI, the king of empty scholarship is George Will. Breathtakingly ridiculous on a regular basis.

    His latest Op/Ed is chock full of allusions, quotes of famous people (but never famous quotes!), and stats. At the end of the column, I am left, as I always am, with the question: “What the hell was his point?” (In this case, apparently the point was ‘The EU is bad.’)


  10. I think that the author (Julian Baird Gewirtz ) is erroneously trying to relate scientific development with factors like political and social freedom and democracy. In fact, those conditions have hardly any relation to scientific progress and innovative thinking, at least in a majority of research areas.

    The USSR sent the first satellite and the first man in space, despite their being no political or social freedom there.

    China was the world’s most advanced civilization until about 1700 CE, outstripping the rest of the world in the arts and sciences. The inventions which have taken place in China are so important that life without them today is unthinkable – paper, gunpowder, printing, compass, clock, newspapers, paper money, civil service examinations, negative numbers – just to name a few. And all these inventions took place despite China’s “political and social” structure.
    The concept of zero was invented in India despite, according to many scholars, the widespread existence of a caste system.
    Current India, on the other hand, despite being the world’s largest democracy and despite having ‘political and social freedom’, is still ages behind the rest of the world, including China, in scientific innovation.

    (Some historians have also argued that the influence of India and China played a larger part in Europe’s industrial revolution than was initially assumed.)

    It is true that after about 1700 CE, China’s scientific progress declined drastically. However, around that time – MOST factors about China were on the decline – military power, economic power etc – factors in which China was way ahead of Europe for most of known history prior to 1700 CE. The decline in scientific prowess was NOT an isolated incident, but was simply a cogwheel, just one area which also declined along with China’s decline from Great Power Status.
    China declined, hence China’s scientific prowess also declined accordingly – it was simply part of a general event.

    Another myth that people have about China’s scientific rise is that it is a result of ONLY the copying and theft of western technologies. China published the second largest number of research papers in various reputed journals in the world as of 2009.
    It filed the third largest number of patents in the world in 2007.

    Also, the author seems to suggest that China, ‘pragmatically’, is concentrating on ‘measurable
    applications rather than pure science’. However, as the above link shows, China’s rank in the number of research papers published in the world in Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics is 2nd ,3rd and 4th respectively.

    Hence, the idea that the reason for scientific development (and even, it can be argued, scientific ‘revolution’) is political and social freedom, is not only misplaced, but also dangerous.