Even to the most casual observer, the development of any art or science always involves some form of conflict or contest. If we could scratch beneath the story lines of a writer's or scientist's life, we would find there inevitable collisions of thought, commitments, and passion. Understandably, many of us--if not all of us--judge collisions as unfortunate occasions to be avoided. Yet there is another way to think about these contests. Like the striking of flint, the collisions that occur in art and science are what strike the sparks of ingenuity. Sometimes it is from those sparks that rooms are lit, lives are warmed, and the human imagination is caught up in the flames of things that are new.
In this calendar year of 2011, a type of collision is present. On the one hand, we celebrate this year the 100th anniversary of Marie Curie's 2nd Nobel Prize--the prize for chemistry for her discovery of radium and polonium. In an age of discrimination against women and an age that still often held science suspect, Madame Curie catapulted outside of human limitation and stretched our understanding of the world around us with all that is possible.
Yet in this same calendar year, and with a sobriety to match our Curie-esque celebration, we remember somberly how madmen horrifically misused science, knowledge and technical skill to shatter human lives and hopes in New York City, in Washington, DC and in a Pennsylvania field.
Madame Curie changed our lives for the good. Mad terrorists used scientific discoveries to invade our lives with fear.
Two historical realities.
How do we respond?
There are those perhaps that most unthoughtfully might look to the horrors of 9/11 and want to shut down or obstruct the human imagination. Perhaps there are others who might not see the tragedy of 9/11 as a call to careful reflection, only reaction. Most of all, the harsh collision of these anniversaries calls us to remember that in all of the professions there is a need for social responsibility and the protection of human dignity as fundamental to all the arts and sciences. Such a call requires the service of learned and prudent women and men who can remind us of our common commitment to a Greater Good. Such a Good promotes the very best of all we can know and experience. Such a Good also reminds us of the dangers of egotism, of self-indulgence, of territoriality, of the addiction to power.
In the world of research, the evolving nature of research...