Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Other One Percent of One Percent

BBC News was probably right to call the results reported this morning of the direct detection of gravity waves "without doubt one of the most remarkable breakthroughs of our time." However, before we pop too many champagne corks, we may wish to consider the broader social context of the story. In many respects this is about another "one percent of one percent" that receives almost no attention, since that epithet is generally applied to the super-rich. However, today's results required considerable expense involving not only the hardware required to run the experiment but also the human resources without whom the experiment could not have been run. There is an old story about a janitor in the NASA Building in Houston. Asked what he did, he replied "I'm helping to put a man on the moon." Beyond that joke, however, we have to realize that this was the work of one of the most elite crews of experts in the world, working with a budget that may well have made a strong impression on the likes of Donald Trump. Thus, before we celebrate, let us take some time to think of all of those not-so-elite researchers in both the social and "hard" sciences, who can no longer do their research because they no longer have adequate funding (or, perhaps, a regular salary providing a living wage).

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