Category Archives: Follies of the Human Condition

National Academy to Congress: For economic benefits, support basic research

It’s a sobering exercise to go through your day and identify those common, essential things that exist only thanks to fundamental scientific discoveries made in the last 100 years. Of course some of our technology was developed in the Edisonian style, invented without any recourse to a understanding of the underlying science. But so much of the technology of modern life would not be possible without major basic science discoveries made during the 20th century. How we eat, communicate, travel, work and care for our health are all closely tied up with fundamental discoveries made in the past century. In other words, basic science has made a huge contribution to society’s economic growth and well-being.

That basic science generates huge material benefits has been the major justification for federally-funded research since Vannevar Bush’s 1945 manifesto. Unlike, say, the National Endowment for the Arts, which exists mainly to support a vibrant culture, federal science funding is specifically intended to generate tangible economic benefits for society — not simply to support science for its own sake. Continue reading

The Mobiest of Dicks

I know that title doesn’t sound right…or does it.

Thanks to a tweet by Jimmy Stamp that was retweeted by Alexis Madrigal, I found this delightful post by Robin Sloan entitled “The Moby Dick Variations” that speculates about what it means to be a novel as a unique work of art. In the post, Sloan investigates how a novel can vary and still maintain its identity. The post instantly connected to two divergent thoughts in my brain. Continue reading

On the underrepresentation of cheese in literature…

GK Chesterton expounds on the poetic nature of cheese and condemns its notable absence from poetry. The essay is well worth reading, and I a particularly endorse this line with the proviso that it is applicable to man, woman, or child*:

…nor can I imagine why a man should want more than bread and cheese, if he can get enough of it.
-GK Chesterton

*My four and five-year olds are extremely fond of Stilton, which is how we know they are mine.

Hat tip to Steve Silberman.

Bang for Our Buck in Research

In his weekly column at Pacific Standard, our Mike White discusses the importance of basic science for productive science:

…Congress wants to know: Are we getting the most out of our research dollars?…the National Academy of Sciences…came back with its answer…If you care about the economic returns of research, don’t focus too much on the economic returns of research. Focus instead on cultivating a world-class basic research community, and the economic returns will come.
-Mike White

Do Better

From Andrew David Thaler, you should read this:

These things are related.

Do better.