Monday, September 10, 2012

No Such Thing As Fringe Research

A recent bugaboo of mine is blinkered vision offered by the major parties and their candidates for the future of America.  Rather than challenge us as a people to achieve something difficult, we are told by both Gov. Romney and Pres. Obama the best we can look forward to over the next four years is a better economy.  Without, of course, talking about anything more specific than taxes and Medicare.  That Gov. Romney thought to make a laugh line of Pres. Obama's 2008 speech in which he offered the thought that we Americans might find a way to work together to curb the worst effects of global warming demonstrates to me there are far too many Americans who just don't believe it possible to do anything great or good beyond fight wars without end and, at best, have a basic, functioning national economy.

It was nice, then, to read this morning that at least one member of Congress is trying to point out how publicly funded scientific research benefits all Americans.  Especially, perhaps, when it sounds really silly.
It is human nature to chuckle at a study titled “Acoustic Trauma in the Guinea Pig,” yet this research led to a treatment for hearing loss in infants. Similar examples abound. Transformative technologies such as the Internet, fiber optics, the Global Positioning System, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computer touch-screens and lithium-ion batteries were all products of federally funded research.
Yes, “the sex life of the screwworm” sounds funny. But a $250,000 study of this pest, which is lethal to livestock, has, over time, saved the U.S. cattle industry more than $20 billion. Remember: The United States itself is the product of serendipity: Columbus’s voyage was government-funded. Remember, too, that basic science, the seed corn of innovation, is primarily supported by the federal government — not industry, which is typically more interested in applied research and development.
I wrote a year ago about the occasional nonsense politicians who know nothing about anything get up to when it comes to publicly-funded research.  It's nice to see that we are moving beyond Proxmire in an effort to celebrate some of the things that make America a great and good land, including funding basic scientific research.

Oh, and if you write a comment on this post using your Google Account, please don't bash federal funding for basic research.  If you are using a computer, don't bash federal funding for basic research.  If you use or used to use a calculator, particularly a Texas Instruments calculator, don't bash federal funding for basic research.  If you have all your immunization shots up to date, are eating a well-rounded healthy diet, don't bash federal funding for basic research.

Basically, if you are alive and reading this, and want to bash federal funding for basic scientific research, you've already lost your own argument.

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