I’m working through my podcast backlog between films and finally got to the Science Talk episode Science and America’s Future. Robert Posner, the director of Argonne National Laboratory, talks about the value of basic research and the negative impact of the three-years-running cuts in Federal funding to basic science. This is a must listen (or read).
He talks about how our increasingly short-sighted society is bankrupting our scientific future because they don’t get that it takes decades for basic research to mature into game-changing technologies. Companies only worried about their next quarter aren’t going to spend money on ideas that seem like science fiction now but will dominate the economy of the next generation. The Long Now Society has been sounding that alarm for a decade. Is anybody listening yet?
That’s why government funding of basic science is even more important now. But suppose our current (rapidly declining) economic and scientific world dominance rests on the laurels of research started in the sixties and seventies. The “Reagan Revolution” of the 1980s kicked off America’s anti-science attitude. Republicans pandering to their religious fundamentalist base curtailed new vistas in science like stem cell research, but Bush’s broader defunding of basic science may relegate the country to scientific irrelevance in 20-30 years. Given how science begets economy begets political power in the post-WWII world, it’s not just scientific irrelevance we need to worry about.
The Clock of the Long Now (book)