“One day, Sir, you may tax it.”
Dr. Rolf Heuer, the director-general of CERN and particle physicist, chose that headline to begin his talk at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos. His topic: the value of basic science in creating future prosperity.
The headline was a quote from 1850. It was Michael Faraday’s response to William Gladstone, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when asked why the British government should fund research on electricity. After all, Gladstone thought candles and gas lighting were pretty good.
Dr. Heur’s presentation at Davos was in PowerPoint and has some cheesy transitions, but his headline got the attention of the economists and policy wonks attending.
Dr. Heuer gave modern examples of basic science—research motivated by curiosity—that led to applied science—research performed to answer specific questions. Examples that Heuer mentioned included the World Wide Web, PET (Positron Emission Tomography) and MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), all of which came out of basic science conducted at CERN.
Everything Dr. Heuer said to sell the importance of basic research resonated with his headline. Exactly the way it should be if you’re selling basic research or the products that come out of it. And no matter what media, traditional or non-traditional, you’re using.