Science has always been divided between basic science, which may or may not have application to the world we live in and applied science, which directly feeds us useful products and services. But with the scientific spirit of discovery tempered by the past half-century's practicality, we've increasingly had to justify expenditures on basic science, whether by the need for national defense or other "useful" scientific endeavors.
If you told the inventors of the laser that the chief reason they should do that was to make CDs for music, it never would've happened.
The great pure mathematician G. H. Hardy said proudly, "I have never done anything 'useful.'. . . Judged by all practical standards, the value of my mathematical life is nil . . ." Turns out, Hardy was wrong; pure math has come to have many real-world applications, cryptology and security among them.
But Hardy didn't do math for the benefit of mankind, just as solid-state physicists didn't have as their goal developing attack and defense lasers, nor molecular biologists the discovery of biowarfare antidotes.
While supporting basic science research is indeed essential for protecting national security, can that be our sole primary motivation for pursuing knowledge of the natural world? When asked by Congress whether Fermilab, the expensive atomic accelerator, would contribute to the national defense, its founding director replied that the contribution would be "… not to the defense of the nation, but rather to what made the nation worth defending."
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Doc Dougherty Ph.D.
Doc Dougherty discusses public knowledge of science, and the role of security today.