Fundamental Science – Why?

I ran into a guy on the internet who, after looking at a map of the known universe with galaxies showing their relative motion, exclaimed

What a great waste of money.  Although they call it a map, it’s not like any human is going to be able to use it, ever.  I can’t imagine why scientists get approval for this sort of useless stuff.

To which, I replied

Really?  Are you aware that Wifi and cellular technology are direct results of a couple of scientists trying to do radio astronomy on black holes cheaply?  No?  I’m not surprised.  Feel free to look it up.

Fundamental science research is just that, fundamental.  Without basic research that may not have any practical application now, we won’t know what is even possible, much less the next set of questions to ask to develop new technologies.

And, you are wrong, many humans use maps like this.  They are called cosmologists and they are studying the very makeup of our universe in order to understand the physical laws that govern it.  Once we understand physical laws, human have this unique ability to start manipulating them.  Electricity, magnetism, radiation, you know, all the things that allowed you to logon to a server computer using Wifi and move some electrons around on a hard disk that results in everyone else being able to read your ill-informed post.

Science.  It works.  Perhaps if more money was spent on science and STEM education, then we wouldn’t have many of the issues we have today.  Like a great variety of ill-informed people posting stuff on the internet that makes no sense.

So after a few seconds of diligent searching on the internet, I came across a list of spin-off technologies that are the direct results of fundamental research into various sciences.

  • Electricity
  • Magnetism (also used to generate electricity)

This study suggests that in 1985, the economy of industrial nations would be at least 5% less than it was.  Keep in mind that this was effectively BC (before computers).  Now, I suspect that number would be closer to 35%.  (Science Policy and Public Spending, J.A. Kay & C.H. Llewellyn Smith, Fiscal Studies, Vol. 6, No. 3, p. 14, 1985.)

While we’re on the subject, let’s remind everyone that the World Wide Web was invented at CERN which was (and is) a pure, fundamental science facility in high energy physics.  It’s estimated that upwards of 200 billion dollars worth of business will be conducted online in 2011.

Too, much of the technology that goes into WiFi is a direct result of research to hunt for black holes.

And there are more spin-off technologies from particle accelerators (like CERN).

  • semiconductors
  • sterilization
  • cancer therapy
  • medical imaging

Even Einstein’s General Relativity has produced a spin-off technology.  You’ve probably heard of it.  It’s the Global Positioning System.

So, as I said, we need fundamental research that produces no immediate benefits, just to know what to ask and what’s possible.

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3 Responses to Fundamental Science – Why?

  1. Pingback: Fundamental Science – Why? (via Cassandra’s Tears) « Psilomelane

  2. Eric T. says:

    Although I respect your opinion, I sometimes have to disagree with this. Name me one time scientists observed one species evolving into another entirely different one. (not micro-evolution).
    I respect the fact that you put a lot of work into this blog though.

  3. OgreMkV says:

    Define “entirely different one”. If it’s as I think, like a cat evolving into a dog, then why do you require that? No biologist, evolutionary scientist or any scientist for that matter would require that to be seen. Why do you?

    Also, this blog is not being updated. I have a couple of posts at my new blog that might help you with this.

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