Life Science Blog

When ‘Oops!’ Becomes ‘Eureka!’

November 26, 2008

There are two kinds of people: those who think that physics’ biggest experiment, the Large Hadron Collider, is a waste of money, and those who don’t.

OK, that might be an exaggeration. But it’s true that the public and politicians like former vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin often deem research efforts in only certain fields, such as HIV and cancer research, beneficial to society. The lack of interest in many other types of research is evident in the budget cuts in these areas, such as last year’s $94 million cut to one of the U.S. government’s largest physics research programs.

Yet it’s important to remember that some of the most important discoveries in science have been the accidental results of what some may deem frivolous science. After all, if Mendel hadn’t been an obsessive pea planter, we might never have developed a basic understanding of genetics. Scientists also stumbled upon X-rays, penicillin and the anti-malarial drug quinine by accident.

The list of accidental breakthroughs seems endless, from a potential treatment for memory disorders to that ever-popular little blue pill.

History has taught us that the most important discoveries often are serendipitous, and that it’s hard to predict what scientific knowledge will come in handy, and when. The best way to keep moving forward is to give talented and motivated scientists a chance to explore and experiment. We’ll reap the benefits later.

Also on Scienceline:

More on the Large Hadron Collider.

Malaria and monogomy: The quest for a malaria vaccine.

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Discussion

1 Comment

JTankers says:

There is a third group of people that thinks we should spend the money on science but proceed slowly and cautiously to reduce the risk of Oops becoming “Oh S@$#!!”.

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