Field of Science

Useless research done here!

TPP must make a confession: in his long scientific career he has never studied a damned thing that was “useful” meaning studies that had immediately useful results for human problems. TPP's research was never designed to be useful or answer useful questions from the perspective of a politician, and the scientific funding that does exist already has a hugely human bio-medical bias. Mostly TPP wanted to figure out how flowers worked, and indeed, some of his work should be very useful to nutmeg growers if only they would pay attention to botanical research, but even then, would this be of value to citizens of our state or country?  Also, please understand that a very, very  small number of research studies yield immediately useful results.  You can't just say "I'm going to cure cancer" because so many other biological questions have to be answered first.  According to some members of Congress grant funds for "useless research" wastes taxpayer money.  So they have proposed the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST)  bill that requires written justification for proposed grants.  This is nothing new of course. TPP is old enough to remember Proxmire’s Golden Fleece awards where he’d present a grant proposal’s title out of context and then declare it a funding boondoggle.  A Lincolnland legislator was visiting our campus and wanted to visit our greenhouse, a plant fancier of sorts, and upon finding out that TPP was a tropical botanist, they asked, “What good does studying rainforest do for the people of LIncolnland?”  This is the same type of question really, the idea being that that portion of my job that requires scholarship is being wasted by studying something in the tropics.  My initial response was to ask in return, “What relevance is the arbitrary political boundary of this state to the world's biology?”  TPP studies the flowering and reproduction of tropical trees because it’s very interesting, and science doesn’t know or understand how most tropical organisms operate and interact to produce something as complex as a rain forest, something that may be very important to know on a warming planet. No one study will tell you how a rainforest operates or sequesters carbon dioxide, so many parts must be studied to assemble an understanding.  TPP does scholarship firstly because he likes doing science and secondly because one of my primary jobs is to apprentice students in the process of science.  Most politicians simply think we teach about the knowledge accumulated by science.  So in one sense it doesn’t matter what TPP studies so long as it asks biologically interesting and valid questions because all such studies allow him to interact with students who want to learn how do science (active learning), a pretty useful skill that. TPP has "wasted" very little grant money in his career, meaning mostly that his science was done on the cheap, without many grants, but that’s a shame because it also means fewer students have been involved than could have been involved if TPP could have kept them fed. The idea that all science must be immediately “useful” is a very ignorant perspective of limited value. It's an attitude born of the idea that unfettered science tells us things we don't like so let's rein in those liberal elitists who tell us things we don't want to hear. The history of science is littered with useless research that proved very useful either unexpectedly or at a later point in time.  Political dumb asses will certainly not be able to guess what will or will not be useful. But even still, there is a cultural value to asking, “Why does that happen?” or “How does it do that?” or “Huh?”  Often in the course of doing useful research you find unexpected results that are more interesting than the question you sought to answer. Cultivating a healthy scientific curiosity about the world would seem to be a perfectly useful thing to do, but if dumbos like Rep. Bucshon and Rep. Smith (does TPP have to say they’re GnOPe?) have their way, there will be no public funding for just plain innovating and interesting research for the sake of learning.  Science will be one more area where the USA used to be a leader and now its stature will be diminish all because of political ignorance and bad attitudes about science, a pretty un-American course of action.  TPP feels very sorry for his younger colleagues.   

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