Government support for scientific research is going to be the subject of another march on Washington, D.C. very soon. And support for both basic and applied scientific research is clearly important: it’s led to important discoveries that impact our health and well-being on a daily basis. Basic research provides the building blocks for applied research:
Major innovation is rarely possible without prior generation of new knowledge founded on basic research. Strong scientific disciplines and strong collaboration between them are necessary both for the generation of new knowledge and its application. Retard basic research and inevitably innovation and application will be stifled.
For example, studying systems biology has led to a new understanding about how medications can interact in the body, and how they’ll interact with the food we eat. Practical outcome: if you’re taking iron supplements, taking a stomach medication like Pepcid will reduce the amount of iron that your body will actually absorb, and eating foods high in vitamin C will increase the amount.
But the federal government doesn’t only fund science! It also funds the humanities: history, art, philosophy, literature, and languages — all the aspects of human cultural constructs. The National Endowment for the Humanities funds a tremendous amount of work by local governments, universities, public libraries, and independent scholars engaged in the production, dissemination, and preservation of culture.
A small sample from the list of NEH grant recipients in New York’s 1st congressional district (the east end of Long Island) in the past ten years can illustrate this more clearly:
- a public library needing to purchase storage furniture to rehouse and preserve collections of books, maps, photographs, diaries, and whaling logs used in research and exhibitions on the history and culture of Sag Harbor, New York, from the eighteenth century to the present.
- a musicologist requesting assistance in preparation for publication of volumes 4, 8, 13, 19, and 21 of the complete online digital edition of the secular music of Luca Marenzio.
- a town needing training in disaster preparedness to preserve the town’s historical records from 1640 on, comprising over 6,500 cubic feet of manuscripts, maps, bound volumes, photographs, newspapers, and other published and unpublished materials.
- support for four Iraqi professional archaeologists to attend an intensive training program in Remote Sensing and GIS and to survey archaeological sites in the key Nippur, Uruk and Eridu survey areas for evidence of site damage from looting and development, recording new sites, ancient landscape features and intra-site details.
- a professor writing a book on how people with cognitive disabilities have been and should be dealt with in philosophy both with respect to what is due them and with respect to what is conducive to their good.
NEH funding made a re-creation of John Donne’s “Gunpowder Speech” possible, a project that made a virtual reality St. Paul’s Cathedral: the featured image is St. Paul’s Churchyard, looking east, from the west; from the Visual Model constructed by Joshua Stephens and rendered by Jordan Gray. Important because the five hundred-year old cathedral burned down in London’s Great Fire of 1666. The project allows us to experience what it was like for someone in 1622 (minus the smells, of course) — very different from the present-day cathedral! And if you’re thinking “that’s nice, but I don’t see the connection to real life” think about how useful this technique would be for solving crimes, or diagnosing illness long distance, and so on!
Does an organization in your community have a project that needs funding? Involving your students in the grant application process could be a real learning experience, demonstrating the importance of federal government funding for the humanities.
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