why squirrels on unicycles (might) matter

Usually I clip excerpts from an articles I liked and allow interested readers to investigate the url…but the whole of this article [“Does Scientific Research Need a Purpose”] was all too quotable, and I had quite a time choosing which fragments I liked best. But, to give you an idea of what this is about, here’s a excerpt from the article’s introduction:

“We’re accused of wasting money, wasting time. Spending 15 years on compounds that no human will ever likely inject or ingest. Studying the dusty corners of the universe but neglecting the bigger picture. Bear DNA. Shrimp on treadmills. The mating habits of screwworms. Writing our obscure little papers in our obscure little journals, blind to the fact that our research will only elucidate the trivial, or, even worse, the obvious.”

Now that the question has been asked, I see this attitude everywhere. Comedians say things like: “This week, scientists at Johns Hopkins University published a study proving that straight men enjoy looking at breasts. Do we really need a study for that?” Or Jay Leno’s snarky reply to research he deems unimportant: “Scientists at UCLA announced they have developed a unicycle for squirrels. Hey guys—how’s that cure for AIDS coming?”

And that’s where I feel conflicted. Because a part of me acknowledges, sensibly, that a squirrel unicycle is a waste of time and money (though probably darn cute). But another part gets mad, wanting to yell at the TV, ‘We’re not all working on cures for AIDS'”

Then the first part asks the second part, ‘Um … why aren’t you?'”

Guaranteed to crack smile. Here it is, an article by Adam Ruben:

http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/articles/2012_11_23/caredit.a1200129

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