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TOPIC: The Truth of Basic Science

The Truth of Basic Science 25 Oct 2015 23:16 #8242

  • Sebastian.V
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This week I was bothered by an article entitled "The Myth of Basic Science" in the Wall Street Journal which put forward the idea that "heretical as it may sound, 'basic science' isn’t nearly as productive of new inventions as we tend to think." Heretical indeed! The article points out that some inventions or ideas would have been hit upon by someone else eventually. That may be true, but it is not at all the point. Given an infinite time span, yes, we'll come up with every idea eventually. Unfortunately, that's not very helpful. Basic science lays the foundations that allow humanity to move forward. Funnily, the article notes that "technological advances are driven by practical men who tinkered until they had better machines" but then goes on to state that "abstract scientific rumination is the last thing they do", completely neglecting the fact that basic science makes whole new classes of machines available. When scientists were doing the "basic science" of exploring quantum mechanics they discovered the processes which would allow them to build the Field Effect Transistor that is the foundation of all modern computers. Similarly, when the basic science of the quantum properties of light were being investigated, scientists came upon the ideas that would make lasers possible. Certainly basic science gave tinkers some nice new machines to work on. So basic science is not that productive at all, unless you count computers (and all that they entail like the internet) and lasers and countless other things.
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