Field of Science

On gravitational waves and the virtue of patience

From MIT physicist and science writer Alan Lightman - author of the wonderful "Einstein's Dreams". He is describing how the scientists whose work led to the groundbreaking discovery of gravitational waves this month knew they were in for the long haul when they proposed the pie-in-the-sky project LIGO in the 70s. It also seems to be a message the country needs to embrace in the Era of Quarterly Expectations. (Hat tip: Tom Levenson)
"The world at large, and the United States in particular, has developed an unfortunate need for instant gratification. We live not only in the age of information. We live in the Age of the Now. We grow impatient with printers that cannot churn out 10 pages per minute, or with computer screens that take 30 seconds to boot up. We avoid investing in companies that do not promise payoffs within a few years. Federal research and development, as a fraction of gross domestic product, has been going down and down. Perhaps even our foreign policy has been plagued by a hurried view of the world, seeking immediate results. 
In science, as in many other precincts of the Age of the Now, too often we celebrate the instant discovery, the sudden breakthrough, the quick and glamorous result. Drever, Thorne and Weiss, and the many scientists and institutions that supported their dream, did not seek instant gratification. They had a vision, and they wandered the desert with that vision for 40 years."

1 comment:

  1. Who is to tell them that at this rate by 2050, there will be no new technology; and they will have to cope with the huge challenges that the climate change and altered demography will throw up. The politicians and decision makers are all above 50 years of age and so they don't care what the world will be like in 2050.


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