Brainy Quote of the Day

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Science: In the world, and very much OF it...

This blog exists because I am uploading to a server that is maintained by Google, an arguably very successful company. For me, an enthusiast of science and scientific research, this is free.

I looked at a print copy of an issue of National Geographic dated January 26, 2009 titled: "The Once and Future Frontier: Space. Foreword by Ray Bradbury (author of the Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451, channeled in its modern political context by Michael Moore).

"Slipping the Bonds," by Joel Achenbach (a title derived from the poem "High Flight" by John Gillespie) in the section "humans in space" made this poignant observation in the sixth paragraph:

"At the time, space enthusiasts viewed the moon landing as the first of many bold forays beyond Earth. But predictions of the future are reliably wrong. It turned out that the moon landing wasn't the beginning of an inexorable, progressive conquest of space. Or at least it didn't ignite a Buck Rogers future. If anything, it signaled the end of an era. Americans were thrilled by Apollo 11 and strangely bored by Apollo 12. The drama of Apollo 13 -- the glorious failure that may have been NASA's finest moment of all -- helped remind the public that going to the moon wasn't as easy as throwing a Frisbee. But even as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, Project Apollo was being trimmed. NASA, under pressure from congressional bean counters, canceled several planned moon missions. We came, we saw, we conquered, and then we cut the budget."

Sadly, economies affect science: quite well in the good times (depending upon the current focus), and adversely in the right now.

It's easy to have a myopic viewpoint, and only concentrate on our problems in the US. The problem affects departments everywhere. Professors might possibly loose staff and thereby have to shoulder research loads with limited teams. Limited teams -- like in any sport -- limits your opportunity to succeed, or in this case, advance the collective knowledge in your field. The workload increase on teaching will make it, not research, the prime commodity at universities, a disservice to students and professors alike.

Part of a professor's excitement about the sciences is in the area of conducting research. Like children with science lab kits, they enthusiastically share what they've learned in the laboratory and give "real world" examples to their students. In the book "Graduate Research: A Guide for Students in the Sciences," by Robert V. Smith (3rd Edition), he writes on page 14:

"The talented biographer Evelyn Fox Keller noted, Throughout history, artists and poets, lovers and mystics, have known and written about the 'knowing' that comes from the loss of self -- from the state of subjective fusion with the object of knowledge. Scientists have known it too. Einstein once wrote: 'The state of feeling which makes one capable of such achievements is akin to that of the religious worshiper or one who is in love.'"

Any research however, requires equipment that needs to be purchased with money. Grants get scarce in a recessed economy and philanthropic organizations/benefactors ask bottom-line questions.

A commentary in the UK:

"The Royal Institution is scaling down its popular Christmas lecture series for the first time in nearly 200 years to save on costs, leading scientists have said.

"The series usually runs over five days the week before Christmas, but this year will span only three days.

"The prospect of cuts to the lectures, launched by Michael Faraday in 1825, has angered some members of the institution who believe they are motivated by precarious finances."

See: Cash-strapped Royal Institution scales back Christmas lectures, by Ian Sample, Science Correspondent, Guardian UK


And, here:

"There’s no way around it — the 10-percent state-directed budget cut poses a threat to the quality of education that UT can provide and may result in the loss of 600 filled or vacant positions, UT President William Powers Jr. said Thursday.

"Research revenue from the University’s intellectual property totaled about $11.5 million in the 2008 fiscal year, less than half of what other large public-research universities made, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education."

See: Budget cuts diminish UT’s edge, by Collin Eaton, Daily Texan Staff

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