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Thank a Scientist



The letter by GT Buckley titled "Science. Pfft." (Nov. 14) complaining about the expenses of space exploration and particle physics deserves a response. Approximately 2 percent of the federal budget is allocated for science and medical research. In comparison, about 20 percent is consumed by defense.

Scientific research has provided society with an abundance of benefits including TVs, laser-read DVDs, LEDs, MRIs, CCD cameras, electronic memories, cell phones and improved weather forecasting. Military spending has provided us with Vietnam and Iraq.

GT Buckley and I may agree, however, that humans in space are not cost effective relative to robotic missions.

Don Garlick, Fieldbrook


You science bashers are so funny! Even so, it's disturbing how science is increasingly being called a costly "luxury." What would you have us do? Move back to a flat Earth? Give up medicines? Televisions? Without the science of fertilizers in the "Green Revolution," hundreds of millions of us would never have been born! Would you have us give up our pursuit of understanding and advancement of knowledge? Many of us consider these intrinsically valuable pursuits in their own right.

Another overlooked factor amongst the anti-science crowd is the economic benefit of science. Flying robots to Mars (but one example) stimulates a vast industrial base employing thousands of people. For each dollar NASA spends, $10 are made from the resulting economic stimulation. Not a bad return. Where do you think NASA dollars go? They don't just load money on rockets and fling it into space. Those dollars are spent on earth!

NASA's 2014 budget is $16.6 billion. That's for everything: spacecraft development, probes orbiting Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and spacecraft now on their way to asteroids, comets, Jupiter and Pluto. Polls show people believe NASA's budget is 24 percent of the federal budget. True figure: 0.58 percent. That's chump change compared to military spending. Every hour we are spending nearly $11 million in Afghanistan. NASA spends about one-tenth that and we get something from it that goes beyond economics. We get a society enriched by knowledge and wonder. Do you want to live in a society that doesn't value wonder?

And where does this fantasy of scientists having huge pay checks come from? Have you ever compared a scientist's pay to other professions? Few scientists are rich. It's advancement of our understanding that motivates most scientists' careers.

Mark Bailey, Kneeland


A letter in last week's issue disparages scientists as con artists bilking taxpayers to study things of no importance. The author thought it a waste of money to study the subatomic particle that gives mass to our universe. Like many of your readers, I am alive today because of researchers who sacrificed countless hours studying and experimenting to improve medicine. These and other scientists, who mostly are not at all "handsomely rewarded," deserve a response.

I think the value of science and research go far beyond the technologies created, the lives saved and the fortunes made. The real treasure that science has given humanity is to free us of the superstition and fear that crippled people for most of human history. We now know that our diseases are not caused by evil spirits and that our problems with weather or crops or earthquakes will not be solved by sacrifices to supernatural beings. Paleontology and genetics tell us more about our origins than oral histories ever did and fields like subatomic physics reveal worlds that our ancestors never imagined and never could imagine. Instead of making up stories about the lights in the sky, we send probes and cameras through the galaxy and walk on the moon.

The author of the letter claims this comes at a price too dear. The budget of the National Science Foundation, which funds most of the United States' basic, non-medical research in biology, geology, computer science, engineering, math and social and behavioral sciences, is $5.5 billion this year; about $18 per citizen. Science is a bargain; the value of being introduced to new worlds and freed from demons is priceless.

Mark S. Wilson, Eureka

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