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Truth or Profit Profit Truth Science



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In a movie, an stock broker tells Thomas Edison he would have paid one hundred thousand dollars for Edison's ticker tape machine. The inventor, who had just pocketed fifty thousand said, "I would have taken two."

A scientist will probably tell you that he does research for pure reasons. That he wants to really find out why some materials conduct electricity better than others. To find out why a butterfly's wings are iridescent.

But rest assured, that there is a motive that he may not even be aware of. He wants something from that research.

Research is expensive. Still most industrial nations spend prodigious amounts of money on Research and Development. The Army recently paid fifty-thousand dollars to someone who developed a vehicle that could drive around the desert by itself. Trust me, that inventor expects to make a whole lot more than fifty-thousand dollars. General Electric is constantly advertising it's research department. Every company that sells something advertises their NEW and IMPROVED product. Even if they just put it in a different package. A lot of money and research goes into finding out that more little kids will eat Granny's Gloppy Oatmeal, if they change the name to Atomic Energy Oatmeal! It's reallioactive!

Research takes education. Edison had three months of formal schooling, and was home-schooled by his mother. Nearly all of his inventions were an attempt to improve life for people, like the phonograph (wonder what he'd think of digital recordings!), the light bulb, electric power. He started out as a telegrapher. But today, a lot of the research takes place in big laboratories and employs people who have degrees from MIT and other prestigious schools.

Research is exciting. No matter how much you know about a subject, there are questions about it. When Cassini photographed the rings of Saturn, the pictures revealed a spiral ring. Physics doesn't have an answer to that one yet. Probably a dozen theories. Every discovery leads to more questions, which lead to more discoveries. So research is usually very highly organized along lines that will produce answers that can be used in every day life the most. Still, in spite of all the organization, and education, as Isaac Asimov once said, "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' (I have found it!) but 'That's funny...." Penicillin was an accident. Really.

Research has rewards that aren't always tied to profits. Edison was an inventor. Not a "research scientist." His inventions were practical items that made him a very well-to-do man. He intended to make money, but scientists often want the recognition that a new discovery brings them more than any monetary reward that might not come for years. But most research scientists, whether they are looking for the nebulous reward of their name on an invention or scientific principle, or they are hoping to make tons of money for more research and a more comfortable life style, are after something more than "pure research."

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