Part of frustration of cold fusion advocates is due to various bureaucracies or rather, the reaction of various bureaucracies to the claims of cold fusion. Therefore, I think it would interesting to note what a bureaucracy is, so that people can understand how bureaucracies work (or don’t work), and thereby how to engage with them more successfully.
A bureaucracy is a means of determining how resources, particularly economic and personnel, are delegated for non-economic values. This is in contrast to a free market economy, which determines according to the market, how resources are distributed. Most of what we have is a mixed economy, utilizing to some extent the free market, but also through regulation and other forms of government intervention, introducing non-economic values as well.
Probably the best known example of a bureaucracy that everyone knows a little about is a police department. A police department is part of bureaucracy that determines justice in a practical manner. A police department enforces the law (as opposed to the whims of a monarch or tyrant), but it does so with restrictions. These restrictions not only apply to the manner in which the police department goes about its investigations, both in terms of focus and method, but also they apply to the limits to which the police department is willing (resource-wise) to go in their efforts solving a crime.
Forensic evidence specialists are not employed for simple burgleries. The department may go into overdrive to catch a child abductor, but not a pick pocket. We may think of justice as absolute, but in practice, there are relative levels of justice. Resources are rationed and used according to legal and humanitarian priorities. Anyone who has faced a simple break-in, is made aware that while there is much the police department could do (forensics), there is little that the police department will do, and given their limitations, that really is how it should be. The motto is “to serve and protect,” but that is the attitude towards society as a whole, not necessarily toward the individual.
The police department is restricted in its focus to enforcement of the law as written up in statutes and through precedent, it also is restricted in the manner it does so through Miranda laws, search and seizure laws and other codes of police conduct, and on a more abstract level it is restricted by codes of ethics and a long tradition. Most bureaucracies have that layering of rules that deal with others (external), with themselves (internal) and have a implicit or explicit code of ethics and a tradition. The proper leader for a bureaucracy is not someone who is brilliant and innovative (although they may be brilliant in a fashion), but is someone who is steeped in that long tradition and therefore, can make incremental changes in it, changing it, but keeping the organization in line with tradition. For a bureaucracy, change in itself is not a virtue, but rather is a normal process which is is only adopted when necessity calls for it. Necessity is dictated by the internal rules of the organization, not by public need, although that in time can come to influence the organization as well.
The proper role of the police department, and indeed, in any bureaucracy, is not in promoting innovation, but rather in providing a stable steady state coherent with the values in which people can get on with their lives. The burden of proof for new ideas is on whether the bureaucracy’s criteria for introduction into its system, has been met. For familiar situations, the rank and file can make a decision, for unfamiliar situations, if a decision is problematic, then it needs to go up the ladder, perhaps all the way to the top of the bureaucracy, or to an oversight commission.
The head of bureaucracy is naturally a very conservative individual. By that I do not mean politically conservative, but rather they are an individual who has grown up through that bureaucracy, been steeped in its values, and shaped by its evolution. A union representative is an example of someone who is probably more politically on the left, but quite conservative by virtue of the tradition and values of their organization. The goal of a bureaucratic leader is to make changes where change is necessary, keeping in mind the philosophy of ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,’ and ‘if you do not understand why something is there, then leave it alone,’ as opposed to the radical reformer who believes that ‘if you do not understand why something is there, then get rid of it, trim it away.’ This conservative attitude of leaving it alone avoids cutting away at the structure of the bureaucracy too freely and having unintended consequences come up and bite one on the back side.
All throughout bureaucracies, there is a cost/benefit analysis that occurs. In a specific case, whether an expenditure is warranted as a means to achieve organizational goals depends on a cost/benefit analysis. Again, this analysis is not so much in terms of what society wants, needs or deserves, but in terms of the societal values made concrete in the organization. This is necessary in order inhibit undue influence on the process. The criminal should not determine the law, even though he does have the most active interest in it. Nor does the student determine the educational system, nor for their respective fields the employer, nor miner, nor the welfare recipient. The scientist may be the greatest scientist alive in his field, but he still has to convince professional organizations, publications and the general public of that fact. That is how a bureaucratic system works, ideally.
Realistically, the bureaucratic system not only says who is in, it also says who is out. Bureaucrats are gatekeepers as well, they have opinions about the worthiness or the worthlessness of people at their gate. It should be that they view anyone who has not gained entry in a neutral fashion. Those inside are, by virtue of having gotten inside, a “plus,” and those outside should be a “zero,” neither plus nor minus.
Truth be told though, some people are able to get in through the backdoor, a student of an esteemed professor (especially one reviewing for a publication) is able to get in more easily. Some individuals are favored because they have good credentials in something entirely unrelated. The Sokal affair illustrates this nicely, where a physicist got something accepted in a postmodern journal, and then after it was published, denounced his own work as physics/postmodern technobabble crap. He showed by his actions that he should not have been let in (and that was his goal achieved by showing that his former submission was crap).
On the flip side, there are some people that just don’t look right. They don’t met pre-conceived notions about what science or a scientist is, they don’t know or care to play the bureaucrat’s game, and frankly, the bureaucrat is not interested in playing their game either. The bureaucrat knows that if he gives someone the benefit of the doubt, it can come back and bite him when things go wrong. On the other hand, if he excludes a good idea or article, or whatnot, it won’t cost him and it will come back eventually in some other form. After isn’t that what progress says? For a commercial entity, there is a profit motive to spur them on. On the other hand, it is in the bureaucrat’s best interests to be a stern gate keeper. At worst maintaining the status quo becomes its own reward. The bureaucrat becomes set in maintaining his own niche which if we look at the thing from an “environmental” perspective, maintaining one’s niche is not necessarily all that bad.
Much of this essay is influenced by the thought of Ludwig Von Mises, ‘On Bureaucracy’ Von Mises was an Austrian economist who (unlike Keynes) foresaw the great depression.