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RE: A tough question...or is it?

"The LHC .. a manned trip to Mars .. feeding the poor .. yes .. great
endeavors. But seriously .. wouldn't it be just a little bit better if
they were more profitable ??"

Making feed the poor profitable? How could turning a buck make feeding the poor 
'better' than the act itself of relieving the suffering of fellow human beings?

Tom Holtz nailed it. We study palaeontology because we have an evolved, innate 
curiosity that motivates us to attempt to find the fundamental truth of the 
nature of things. Art does the same, albeit via a myriad of different 
methodologies themselves as varied as the one we use for our research. This in 
itself has value, although I understand it's not immediately obvious to many 
non-scientists (and artists) and may not be immediately profitable; why should 
everything have a monetary value anyway? Of course the research many 
palaeontologists do is applicable to commercial concerns in some way or another 
even is very obliquely, and the development of cross-discipline partnerships 
opens new uses for established technologies as well as developing new ones and 
these too can often have commercial applications. 

Monetising any endeavour will compromise it at some level as it introduces it's 
own set of controls designed to lock down or restrain certain variables; these 
vary according to circumstance of course. The moment you introduce the need to 
generate return (in research for example) you will alter the way you frame 
research questions, and possibly bias your research in a manner that means it 
might not be as focussed or directed as it might be were you given free reign 
to pursue your own research interests. You will introduce even more third 
parties into the admin pool, and many of them will not give a tinker's cuss 
about anything other than the bottom line. This is fine if you're researching 
targeted drug therapies, but it's not applicable for many aspects of science 
and in the case of palaeontology especially those that don't service industries 
such as hydrocarbon extraction.

So trying to turn all science into a business rather than valuing it as an 
activity that is intrinsic to our societies will eventually lead to 
non-scientists controlling the direction research takes, rather than allowing 
us to choose our own paths of study. If business needs to get involved (and 
there's no reason why it shouldn't) it should be to sponsor research without 
influencing it's direction, unless it is commissioning research of course. 
Donate for the greater good of the human race (I realise this sound quite 
pretentious, but there you go).

Why study dinosaurs? Why study anything? We want to know.

Stu Pond

Research Associate, University of Southampton, UK. 

Stu Pond
Paleo Illustrata
t: 01260 253929  |  m: 07940 855378
stu@stupond.com  |  www.stupond.com