comment: the value of fascination

If I’m ever going to wade into the comment section and respond to a potentially ill-informed or inflammatory comment, I hope I have the class and patience of Robert McNees.

On an NPR story transcribing an interview with astrophysicist Katie Mack about NASA discovering an Earth-like planet, someone made the following comment.

How does one calculate cost/benefit ratio of ‘fascination.’ Just because we can doesn’t necessarily mean that we should. If society and mankind truly see value in it, let the private sector fund it. It’s a waste of tax dollars.

McNees, an associate professor in the Department of Physics at Loyola University Chicago, responded.

You posted your comment using technology that exists only because of a chain of discoveries and insights that began with fascination-driven research in the late 19th century.

If Balmer hadn’t studied spectral lines, Planck may not have proposed the quantum. Then Bohr may not have conceived his model of the atom, which means Heisenberg and Schrödinger wouldn’t have developed their formulations of quantum mechanics. That would have left Bloch without the tools he needed to understand the nature of conduction in metals, and then how would Schottky have figured out semiconductors? It’s hard to imagine, then, how Bardeen, Brattain, and Schockley would have developed transistors. And without transistors, Noyce and Kilbey (sic) couldn’t have produced integrated circuits.

Almost every major technological advance of the 20th and 21st centuries originated with basic research that presented no obvious or immediate economic benefit. That means no profit motive, and hence no reason for the private sector to adequately fund it. Basic research isn’t a waste of tax dollars; it’s a more reliable long-term investment than anything else in the Federal government’s portfolio.

*mic drop*

TGIF and I hope everyone has a great weekend! :mrgreen:

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3 Responses

  1. dakrólak says:

    Wow. *mic drop* for real!

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