Thursday, August 24, 2006

East Coast Trip part three

So, we had finished two interviews in one day. As strange as it may sound, one interview per day is standard. Two is a workout. First of all, there's the preparation time, spending an hour or two writing up a list of questions, trying to put the interview (and the person) in the larger context of the film. This is important because we've experienced the sensation of getting back and thinking "oh, we should have asked *this!*" It wasn't likely that we'd get back to the East coast, so we had to be comprehensive with our lists. Then there's driving to the interview, spending an extremely rushed hour of setting up equipment, the interview itself (which involves what seems like mental overdrive, cramming two hours' worth of thinking into one hour), another rushed half-hour of tearing down equipment, and finally hitting the road to go home. Doing all that twice in one day is a real brain teaser.

The next day, however, we were back to one interview: with Kei Koizumi (see more about him in previous posts). We set up in a conference room in the AAAS building, and spent about 20 minutes fiddling with the camera angle. Finally Kei came down and we talked for about an hour. He was also great --- like Ms. Angier, he said some things we'd been hearing around the edges but found difficult to pin down on camera. For example, he indicated squarely that this administration hadn't expressed much interest in what he called "curiosity-driven" science research: exactly the category of the search for the Higgs. Things that don't have military, pharmaceutical, or industrial applications; things that don't generate sales, patents, or products. That was the first time I had heard anyone frame it in that way: "curiosity-driven" science. We'd heard the term "pure research," or "for the sake of knowledge" or similar phrases, but never that one. Somehow it seemed incredibly succinct, and very telling. An administration (and a culture?) that abandoned "curiosity-driven" science seemed... well, unfortunate, and even depressing. The Bush administration is not alone in this, of course, and there always has been (and always will be) a struggle between those who have money (the politicians) and those who want to spend it (the list is long, but in this blog we're talking about scientists). Koizumi refered to a famous exchange in 1969 between physicist Robert Wilson (who essentially built Fermilab) and the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy. When asked what Fermilab's accelerator would do to aid in national defense, he answered, "It has nothing to do directly with defending our country, except to make it worth defending." These are big words and big thoughts, that still have resonance today. Or, at least, they should.

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