So Why Do We Keep Doing Science?

Science is a curious beast. On the one hand, it’s easy to love in a world that’s very wrapped up in STEM education and has seen firsthand the benefits of science’s practical applications, like smart phones, airplanes, and advanced medicine. However, it’s also sometimes difficult to justify scientific moonshots to the broader community when these moonshots involve the spending of taxpayer dollars, as a great many do. As the current administration, one notably less willing to embrace scientific endeavor than the previous, settles into the Whitehouse, its more important than ever that we answer the question of why we should pursue wildly optimistic scientific endeavors convincingly. At the end of the day, though, the answer is simple: it’s in our own best interests.

For one, the answering of unanswered questions leads to the invention of uninvented technologies. The space race alone provided us with Satellite TV, Laptops, and smoke detectors. The microwave was invented by a man studying radars, and the pacemaker was created during an attempt to create a listening device. When we strive for something that we must push our limits to discover, those limits will be pushed, and we end up with technology that has much broader applications than its initial use. Those practical applications of science we love are so often the direct results of wildly ambitious endeavors, and even the most tangential and unrealistic scientific pursuits can have profound impacts on our daily lives.

Even if there are no accidental benefits of the exploration, though, we ought to explore. Even if the only thing we obtained from the race to the moon was a detailed knowledge of the composition of moon dust, we should have raced there. Even if the only thing we gain from studying the depths of our own genetic code is a deep understand the pattern of proteins that gives us life, we should study it. Even if the only thing we gain from exploring the seas is an appreciation for the myriad beasts that call it home, we should explore them. Knowledge is valuable not just because it can benefit us but for its own sake as well, and we should treat it as such.

Perhaps more than for any other reason though, we ought to pursue the moonshot, wild-goose-chase, how-the-hell-do-we-do-this goals to prove that we can. We ought to push the limits of what we can accomplish because pushing those limits is something worth doing. We ought to see just what we can do because knowing what we can do is import in and of itself. We ought to chase the impossible to see just how much is possible. We should pursue the wildly ambitious and great becasue it brings out the great in us, and what could be more worth doing than that?

With excitement and optimism,

Alex