Ladies and gentleman, society’s message to scientists is clear: simple curiosity is insufficient justification for our research. Scientists are great at thumping our chests and getting on our soap boxes about the importance of fundamental research. And, we are right. The problem is that nobody is listening.
The average taxpayer has no idea what we do and the long-term benefits of basic science. Arguably, the public is more interested in the air pressure of a football than the atmospheric pressure on Mars. Moving forward, in addition to making the most of precious public funding and occasional philanthropy, perhaps we should follow Mr. Musk’s lead and turn to the private sector to help fund our own missions to Mars.Obligatory wisecrack: I feel like I'm listening to David Drumlin in "Contact."
Two problems that I see: first, I don't think there's that much private funding to be had. Second, do we really want the US private sector driving US academic R&D research priorities? I believe in the ideals of the free market just as much as the next kid who grew up in suburbia in the US, but given the choice between research priorities being set by Presidential appointees and Congressional funding approval versus Wall Street, I just might choose the government.