Monday, December 8, 2008

Case for Science

Folks who know me, know I am a scientist, more specifically, a physicist. Physics is my vocation, as well as my avocation (i.e. not just a job but an adventure). It is one of the things that defines who I am. In fact, truth be told, I have known exactly what I wanted to do for as far back as I can remember. In my line of work, I am constantly asked to describe what I do to non-experts in the field (i.e. soccer moms and non-maverick types). This has always proven very difficult and awkward for me. My research is quite intricate and complex, and when I try to describe it, my own words make my ears bleed. My blather seems so esoteric that I fear I am doing my field an injustice. As your typical scientist is a nerd, with either bad acne or white poofy hair and a mustache, we are not known as being the most personable, outgoing folks on the planet. So we try to leave justifying our work to paid professionals. Those who lobby on our behalf in Washington D.C. (and yes there are many of these folks skittering around in the congressional shadows), lay out arguments like: Physics matters because it stands where wonder at the workings of the world meets our practical demands ... Physics matters because issues of understanding and practicality rarely stay apart for long. However, congress members are not blind to our manipulative ways. I found a quote a couple of years ago from former senator Sherwood Boehlert who stated "The argument that science funding is a long-term national investment does nothing to set scientists apart (from other special interests). All that sets you apart is that scientists are the only group that thinks it's making a unique argument."

What do you think about our government supporting basic science? Do you feel that this support is in our best national interest? Is important for mankind? Is a total waste and there are much better ways that we could allocate these funds? Weigh in if you have an opinion.