“To make it worth defending”

Jennifer Ouellette recounts physicist Robert Rathburn Wilson’s testimony before Congress in 1969, on whether the government should support the multimillion-dollar particle accelerator that eventually became Fermilab:

During the testimony of physicist Robert Rathburn Wilson — a veteran of the Manhattan Project — then-senator John Pastore bluntly asked, “Is there anything connected with the hopes of this accelerator that in any way involves the security of the country?”

Wilson, to his credit, answered just as bluntly: “No sir, I don’t believe so.”

“Nothing at all?” Pastore asked.

“Nothing at all.”

Pastore pressed further: “It has no value in that respect?”

And then Wilson knocked it out of the park. “It has only to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of man, our love of culture. It has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about. It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to make it worth defending.” […]

Science isn’t just about winning wars, treating cancer, or devising revolutionary new technologies to boost economic markets — although it can and does accomplish all of those things. It’s also about the sheer joy of discovery, of pushing the boundaries of human knowledge, as essential a component of the human spirit as the greatest works of art, of music, of literature. And as such, it is worth defending.

Yes. And what makes the country worth defending is surely worth the support of its taxpayers and the protection of a wise and democratic government — another reason why government matters.

Read the rest here.

(via io9; photo by Reidar Hahn)

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