Don't Underestimate The Usefulness Of 'Useless' Knowledge

Since World War II, scientific research in the United States has been sustained and driven largely by a vigorous System of public funding. This system has worked well in general and has brought the U.S. to its present position of scientific leadership. The majority of international prizes and awards consistently goes to scientists in the U.S., and by all accepted measures, U.S. science disproportionately produces important and innovative scientific papers. But American leadership is beset by a

Paul Griffiths
Aug 16, 1992

Since World War II, scientific research in the United States has been sustained and driven largely by a vigorous System of public funding. This system has worked well in general and has brought the U.S. to its present position of scientific leadership. The majority of international prizes and awards consistently goes to scientists in the U.S., and by all accepted measures, U.S. science disproportionately produces important and innovative scientific papers.

But American leadership is beset by a host of problems. The nation's universities, which generate the bulk of leading-edge research, are severely hampered by financial problems and divisive debates over priorities. A series of humiliating events-such as the claims about cold fusion, the Challenger disaster, and numerous incidents of fraud and poor judgment-have tarnished the reputation of science. At the same time that the nation has diminished confidence in the work of American science, federal and private grants have been...