November 04, 2008

Countdown till the Deflowering

With the first polls closing less than two hours from now, & the likelihood we'll have a pretty good idea what's going down before 5pm Western Time, I don't want to get prematurely cocky.

As a regular champagne man, I want to pop something special, so I gots myself a bottle of pop-cork Brewery Ommegang's Three Philosophers Belgian-Style Blend (9.8% alcohol) from Cooperstown, New York - - - in honor of all the hard work New Yorkers have put
down in Pennsylvania.

The three philosophers we are celebrating today are
1) Bisho
p George Berkeley,
2) Barack Obama
, &
3) Anyone who has ever looked at the stars.

Brewery Ommegang advertises on its bottle that it is 3,264 miles from Brussels, exactly where we want it to stay; & hopefully America will stay as distant from Belgium as possible.

Here are two more images from last week's wedding, truly the marriage of Neces
sity & Chance:

And I almost forgot! Our lost Ice Climbing & Science Correspondent, Mr Southworth People, usually silent on political & other issues, usually with an ice-pick in one hand & a huge rutabaga in the other, submitted some paragraphs to be included in our collaborative & definitive endorsement of Barack Obama for United States President, in the nick of time too late! In case there are any remaining undecided voters in the last hour who could be swayed by a scientific argument, well, then, ahem, Q.E.D.!

from"D. R. Southworth People"
dateFri, Oct 24, 2008 at 12:29 PM

Dear Santa,

There should be a time-equivalent phrase for "not having two pennies to rub together." As it happens, I've been playing hard, leaving myself a sadly overwhelming work load for the times between. I haven't gotten to the essay.

However, here are my two cents! Focus: science. The overwhelming preponderance of science funding is federal, from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense (aka DARPA), National Institute of Health, and so forth. Private funding is minimal. This is because the overwhelming preponderance of science increases understanding of the physical world a lot more than it makes people rich. From a Wall Street perspective, a shaky investment. Moreover, "basic research," the investigations into the fundamentals, is by definition NOT focused on getting a product onto the shelves. Basic research develops the principles, some of which are applied to create a device that does something cool, and in rare cases, such a device is commercialized, and perhaps someone gets rich. But it all comes out of basic research. It is not day trading.

John McCain and Barack Obama answered a number of questions regarding scientific issues. ( From that source and others, the following is clear. John McCain will decrease funding for federal research grants. He will invest in quick-to-market "innovations." Let me tell you what this means from where I sit in the basement of the Cornell Physics department. My choice when I see an unexpected effect in an experiment is to continue the line of research I was on when I saw it, or to investigate. Investigating means diverting time, money, etc to understanding something that may or may not be relevant to anyone. But then, it's in the anomalies that the big breakthroughs are found (this is sometimes called high rise, high reward, or whatever). But if my continued funding depends not on producing new science (aka publications) but rather on developing a market-worthy product, I will never investigate the anomaly. This "consumerism" direction means the death of science. It is already happening (Bell Labs was a science Mecca). That mindset has already infiltrated a number of agencies (notably DARPA), and I tell you first-hand, it is a pain in the ass, and exceedingly distracting.

If science funding has to come from the private sector, research at state institutions will all but cease. A few private universities (ie Harvard with its $30B endowment, etc) will be okay, but the rest will hang. But funding is already tight, and competition fierce, and basic science is expensive (not, of course, compared to war). If the federal budget tightens (damned likely!), money will have to be reallotted to the priorities. So the question is, who has basic research higher on the list of priorities? The answer is Obama.

According to what I've read and heard, Obama is the candidate who more clearly understands the role of science, how basic research functions, and the importance of funding it.

By the way, there is NO scientific merit to putting people into space. It does not produce new science. Everyone in the science world knows this (including the politically beholden NASA director). People in space is pure public relations. We could send up 100 (ONE HUNDRED!!!) robotic missions to Mars for the cost of ONE human mission. So whenever we see the "space race" reemerge, just remember that its the satellite observatories, the rovers and orbiters that can increase our understanding of the cosmos. Not astronauts in space capsules. Just so everyone knows.

Okay, gotta go!


1 comment:

ß. Andrigon said...

Chris Matthews just called Pennsylvania "fools gold for Republicans!"