Money and self-esteem

Alan a-schmi at uiuc.edu
Fri Sep 19 00:53:25 EST 1997


In article <Judy-1809970932210001 at solace.zoo.duke.edu>,
Judy at amida.zoo.duke.edu (Judy Stone) wrote:


> 
> This talk about "society" valuing science makes me uncomfortable.  What I
> do does not directly benefit humans, and I feel blessed to be able to do
> it at all.  I think we, as academic researchers, are responsible for
> demonstrating how we benefit society.  Is my salary really more valuable
> than food supplements for poor children, medicare, or Amtrack?
> 
> 
> Only my second time posting to a newsgroup.  Hope my technique/etiquette
is ok.
> 
> Judy


Dear Judy and Group--

     This is the second time I have written this note---my newswatcher software
is screwing up---so it may seem disjointed.

      My feeling is that none of us ever knows whether or not anything we
are working on will have any benefit for "humans".  For society.  The
people who worked on restriction enzymes in the 50's had no idea where it
was all going to lead.  I am sure no one had even an inkling.  So the
quesiton is not whether or not what we individually work on is of value to
society---the question is, "Is scientific research AS A WHOLE of any
benefit to society?" and of course the answer is overwhelmingly "yes!'.  

      The thing is, I respect Judy's sense of self-examination and wanting
to be accountable for society's dollars being spent on science, but the
thing is far
fewer of those societal dollars go towards poor children or medicare or
amtrack than they do towards defense spending.  There are huge
corporations in our country who are sucking down 20% of the federal budget
to make weapons that we no longer use.  That we will, with any luck, never
have any need for.  Companies like GE and Westinghouse---companies that
have public images as being all-American manufacturers, "bringing the good
things to life", while in reality making untold millions (far more than
they make selling refrigerators!)  in the defense industry.  Those CEOs
and board members also make obscene amounts of money.  The top 100 CEOs
are listed every year in every financial magazine.  They all earn well
over 2 or 3 million dollars PLUS stock options!  The middle managers at
those companies get paid four or five times what the typical university
reseracher gets paid.  I just don't think that is right.  And really, the
only reason it continues is that it would cost those companies money to
change. And they don't want to lose money, ever.  

      I agree that accountability is important, but that, in my opinion,
should be a two-way street.  Society (via its governing bodies) has to be
accountable for how it allocates ALL of its money---not just the dollars
spent on scientific research.  It is true that we enjoy our work, we enjoy
the challenges and the intellectual engagement, but life is full of
challenging work that engages the intellect and other people, doing that
other work, earn alot of money.  Independent of whether or not what they
do benefits humans.  I simply believe that scientists ought to be accorded
that same courtesy.  

            Anyway, those are my admittedly liberal opinions....


                              alice



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