OT - I don't _hate_ McMansions

Justin Findlay justin at jfindlay.us
Thu Jun 26 23:55:49 MDT 2008

On AD 2008 June 26 Thursday 10:47:43 PM -0600, Andy Bradford wrote:
> So,   you  truly   believe  that   communication  mechanisms   like  the
> ``Internet''  would  have  never  come  about  without  the  omniscient,
> omnipotent government?  Imagine how much innovation  and discovery could
> be made  by people, people with  incentive to meet the  needs of others,
> had we  not wasted billions,  if not  trillions of dollars  on countless
> governmental programs,  military spending,  empire building,  etc... Its
> not surprising that  government comes up with things,  they drain people
> of the very thing that allows entrepreneurs and businessmen to innovate:
> savings and money. I'm sure if I had billions extorted from the people I
> could do many good things with it too.

I've been reading this thread more with amusement than interest, but
this is an incredibly closed minded, narrow characterization, almost to
the point of ignorance.

I am a scientist.  I have been in the past, will be beginning this fall,
and will likely live off from the rest of my life (at least in part)
money from the National Science Foundation and other similar government
foundations from this and other countries.

The intarwebs might have gotten themselves invented without the DoD
pouring in dollars and academics pouring in ideas and research, neither
motivated by the potential for monetization.  Somehow I doubt private
corporations would have been altruistic enough to let the thing become
what it has without their trying to justify it quarter by quarter by
crafting up ways to draw money out of it for their shareholders.

The intarwebs might have had a chance at that.  Do you really think
there are corporations out there that are visionary enough to pour the
billions and billions of dollars each year into basic scientific
research that doesn't have potential to turn a technological profit for
decades, perhaps even centuries, to say nothing of financial?  Why do
you think we have organizations like the NSF?  Is there purpose to fund
research that will turn into dollars within a sufficiently short period
to satisfy the taxpayers?  Is it immoral for someone pursue a course of
work for which there is no financial motivation whatsoever?  I submit
that not only is it moral but it is crucial to the progress of society.

Now let me tell you something.  In the 1800s the mathematicians Abel,
Jacobi, Galois, Gauss, Kronecker and others worked out foundations of
what is now often known as abstract algebra.  There was not even any
scientific motivation for the establishment of this kind of mathematics.
In the early 1900s Max Planck, Louis de Broglie, Werner Heisenberg,
Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrödinger, Max Born, John von
Neumann, Paul Dirac, Wolfgang Pauli and others using many of the
abstract, theoretical mathematical objects from abstract algebra worked
out what became known as quantum mechanics.  Quantum mechanics is the
solid scientific foundation for electronic and optical technology,
materials science, chemical engineering, and several other fields.  How
much of the GDP do you think all of this technology accounts for?  And
it was all made possible because people researched the stuff they had
passion for.  If they got any money out of it (some of them didn't,
Galois for example) it came from their university.

I seriously doubt privatized research would have the patience of decades
to wait for technologies like fusion to yield (it hasn't), to say
nothing of the pursuit of more esoteric research, like the Higgs boson,
or quantum gravity.  There is a 27 kilometer long circle underground
Geneva Switzerland fitted with the worlds most powerful multi-Tesla
liquid helium cooled superconducting electromagnets.  The Pierre Auger
cosmic ray observatory in Argentina--the size of Rhode Island, dozens of
other observatories worldwide, in orbit and speeding out of the solar
system, all of them the province of astronomers and astrophysicists, yet
you don't see any corporations rush in even so much as to get their
brand names on them.


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