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Reminding Ourselves of the Importance of Basic Scientific Research

Posted on the 05 November 2013 by Stephendeangelis @EnterraCEO

In a post entitled Fostering Genius, I discussed a number of research and academic organizations in and around the Princeton, NJ, area. The organization to which I devoted most of the post was The Institute for Advanced Study, a research center most famous for once having counted Albert Einstein among its members. He isn't the only genius that has called the Institute home. Over the years some 33 Nobel laureates have worked there and, since 1936, its members have claimed the majority of math's top prize — the Fields Medal. One of the things that distinguishes the Institute is that its focus is basic research rather than applied research. Its members are trying to understand the fundamental principles that make the universe tick. The Institute's current Director, Dutch mathematical physicist Robbert Dijkgraaf, told reporter Eliza told Gray that seeking to expand the boundaries of science "may be a luxury that America can no longer afford — or at least appreciate the importance of." ["The Original Genius Bar," Time, 22 July 2013]

As evidence that scientific research no longer holds a cherished place in contemporary America, Gray notes that the Institute's "influence in Washington has fallen, as has Washington's interest in science." She goes on to report:

Basic Science"Over the past 25 years, the U.S. government's spending on physical-science research has dropped by half. Sequestration — the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts in the discretionary and defense budgets over the next decade — has accelerated that, slicing budgets for agencies that support science research, like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health."

Even without sequestration, Congress' interest in science was waning. Gideon Rachman traces the growing lack of interest in science back to Ronald Reagan. He explains:

"Traditional conservatives disdain populism and respect knowledge. They believe in balancing the government's books. And they are pragmatists who are suspicious of ideology. Reagan debased all these ideas – and modern American conservatism is still suffering the consequences. The most damaging idea propagated by the Reagan myth is the cult of the idiot-savant (the wise fool)." ["How Reagan ruined conservatism," Financial Times, 1 March 2010]

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