Scientist: They Do it for the Lulz

I got to work later than I wanted to this morning. I was a half an hour behind my schedule because I got sucked into the rabbit hole that is YouTube. No, I wasn’t catching up on cat videos, but it is still remarkable how it all started. I’m reading a comic book called Echo, by someone named Terry Moore. It’s a surprisingly dorky comic. At first it seems like a standard superhero comic, but at the point I’m at it suddenly starts delving into some higher level physics. While it’s all very fantastical it got me wondering about this Terry Moore person, which of course sent me to the googles last night. There I found a TED talk on YouTube by one Terry Moore, not the same Terry Moore, but I didn’t know that till later. The TED Talk itself wasn’t even that interesting, (It was about how we’re tying our shoes wrong if you really want to know), but it was short and I watched it. At the end as with all YouTube clips they showed images of “related content.” This is the true black hole of YouTube. If you have anything to do in your day and someone sends you a link to something on YouTube you can watch the clip just fine but I implore you stop it a second before the very end because that related content at the end of the clip will eat up the rest of your day. Anyway from the TED talk I started watching a clip from the stand up master George Carlin, which led me to Lewis Black, which led me to the reason I was late to work this morning, Neil deGrasse Tyson..
From what I can tell Tyson is a great scientist, but also and in many ways more importantly he is a magnificent communicator. This is important because as great as it is having people exploring the mysteries of the universe it is equally important to have people telling engaging stories of those scientific adventurers to inspire and inform us and the next generation of explorers. After watching these clips Tyson has cemented his place at the table of the people I most want to have in at a dinner of important people. The first video I watched was a talk he gave on how theories like intelligent design retard scientific discovery. What is most remarkable about this talk is the passion and enthusiasm he expresses during his speech. This is a man on fire with ideas.

The second was a long interview on a variety of topics, but what I wanted to point out, the reason I’ve taken to posting, and posting in this stream of conscious way takes place about 30 minutes into this interview. They are talking about the motivations of scientist and Tyson again begins to speak passionately on the purpose of science and why we study it. More importantly he speaks to why it is important to understand that the purpose of scientific study is not to solve life’s problems. The purpose of scientific study is to understand the nature of the universe, to understand science. It is another group of individuals, engineers, whose job it is to use that scientific understanding to solve problems. He gives the example of the MRI the science of which was discovered by an astrophysicist, someone who had no understanding of the biological implications of his discoveries because he was trying to understand some phenomenon in the cosmos.

Tyson correctly points out that governmental spending in science is not a direct quid pro quo relationship. When we went to the moon there was little governmental benefit to the enterprise. Yes there are military advantages to having the ability to propel something into the cosmos, but the advances achieved from the space race far exceeded the short sighted goal of being able to bomb your enemy from across the globe. The questions you have answer to get the moon, which itself was practically speaking pointless, gave us the foundation of the modern world we live in today. Our understanding of wireless communication, food storage, fuel consumption, almost any and everything you can think of was advanced because we went to the moon. It cost unheard of amounts of money to do it, but again it created unimaginable industries, from GPS driven farming, to the very internet. Government investments in science cannot be done with the expectation of tangible practical results. The very notion of scientific exploration is a journey into the unknown. The only thing you can expect is to know more than when you started and hopefully someone will be able to use that information to the benefit of mankind.    

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