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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.
Research Associate, University of Southampton, UK.
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