It’s not often that one has an opportunity to ask a question of nine Nobel Laureates (which I did, yesterday, at a fun and unexpectedly lively event at the Embassy of Sweden, coverage here and here). But what’s considerably more interesting than my question is the numerous—and divergent—responses from the 2013 American Nobelists in chemistry, economics, and medicine.
I asked for their thoughts on the effect of the sequester and the recent government shutdown on American science (we have our own opinions), and more generally the importance of a functioning democracy to a thriving scientific enterprise. What followed was a fascinating exchange that touched on scientists leaving the United States, taxes, public education funding in Europe, differing economic theories, and whether the sequester’s impact on other government functions is more profound than its impact on science. In twelve minutes.
For one scientist, the sequester is an “unmitigated disaster,” while for another, it is simply a “noise problem” that is part of a greater trend devaluing basic research. Others questioned whether they would have been able to conduct the research that led to their discoveries in the current environment.
I sat down last night to pull out some of the more choice quotes, but after re-watching the video a couple of times, I didn’t think that they work very well out of the context of the conversation. Although the audio cuts out a few times, listen for the off-mic comment from Dr. James E. Rothman after Dr. Eugene Fama calls research dead in Europe: “I have never heard a more ill-conceived remark than that.”
Start at 1:12:15 (video loads slowly):
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