This is another archival repost, written for the old blog in June 2009.
This week Gordon Brown gave his cabinet a shuffle, after a bunch of his friends walked out on him. He managed to upset scientists twice. First he merged the department of universities and whatsits into the department of business and other stuff, only two years after giving universities and science their own independent department. Then he gave the minister for science, Lord Drayson, an additional job in charge of military research, prompting a sitting of Lord Drayson’s question time from concerned scientists on twitter.
You already know why we are wary of science being put in the hands of those whose primary interests are business and war. There are enough reasons already, but I will add one more.
In Broca’s Brain, the great humanist Carl Sagan dreams about what he could do with the $111 bn (adj $686 bn) that were thrown away, alongside 6 million lives, in the Vietnam War. He dreams of independent orbital cities, constructed from lunar andasteroidal material. It is the dream that we, the restless species, have had from the start. The dream of adventure and discovery. The technology developed in Sagan’s dream would change the world, and provide abundant cheap solar electricity generation. But more importantly, we would have crossed the frontier. Our self-propagating city planetoids would host great discoveries, great progress, and, perhaps, the only chance for our species to survive itself.
History judges governments and civilisations by their priorities and achievements, their missed opportunities, and their downfall.