A three part audio series from the CBC Ideas program on Canada's new focus on applied research at the expense of curiosity-driven fundamental work. It includes a bit of the history of science. The US is moving in a similar path and serious damage has already been done,
Over the next two decades, Villepreux-Power studied the island’s wildlife, corresponding with top naturalists of the time and eventually writing two guides to Sicily. “Way ahead of her time,” Scales writes, “she came up with the idea of restocking overfished rivers with fish and crayfish.” And she documented tool use in Octopus vulgaris, describing how the animal could use stones to wedge open Pinna nobilis shells.
Her most significant cephalopod work was on Argonauta argo, the paper nautilus. Some scientists thought that this species must steal its shells from other animals, but Villepreux-Power showed through a series of experiments that the paper nautilus actually secretes its own shell material. That lets the creature add onto its shell as it grows and repair the shell if it breaks (or a scientist comes along and breaks off a piece). And to do these studies, Villepreux-Power first had to invent the modern aquarium.
Dr Susie Mitchell hears the story of the 19th Century Scottish scientist James Clerk Maxwell. Maxwell's lifelong curiosity about the world and his gift for solving complicated puzzles led him to a string of discoveries. He was the first person to demonstrate a way of taking colour photographs, and he used mathematics to work out what the rings of Saturn were made of before any telescope or spacecraft was able to observe them close up. His most important achievement however was the discovery of electromagnetism, as neatly described by four now famous lines of equations. His prediction of electromagnetic waves led on to a huge range of today’s technology, from mobile phones and wi-fi equipment to radio, X-rays and microwave ovens. Albert Einstein considered him a genius, and another scientist Heinrich Hertz described him as ‘Maestro Maxwell’.
Sadly, like many stories of scientific discovery, that commonly recounted tale, repeated in her biology textbook, is not true.
The popular history of science is full of such falsehoods. In the case of evolution, Darwin was a much better geologist than ornithologist, at least in his early years. And while he did notice differences among the birds (and tortoises) on the different islands, he didn’t think them important enough to make a careful analysis. His ideas on evolution did not come from the mythical Galápagos epiphany, but evolved through many years of hard work, long after he had returned from the voyage. (To get an idea of the effort involved in developing his theory, consider this: One byproduct of his research was a 684-page monograph on barnacles.)
The myth of the finches obscures the qualities that were really responsible for Darwin’s success: the grit to formulate his theory and gather evidence for it; the creativity to seek signs of evolution in existing animals, rather than, as others did, in the fossil record; and the open-mindedness to drop his belief in creationism when the evidence against it piled up.
In 1943 Niels Bohr and his son Aage managed to escape Nazi occupied Denmark making it to the UK where they were taken in by the British part of the Manhattan Project. Shortly they went to Los Alamos for more formal work on the atomic bomb. They were important enough that federal agents constantly tracked them (this wasn't uncommon for the central players). Niels was given the code name Nicholas Baker.
A report from the head of security surfaced. It seems they were absent-minded physicists and consistent with everything I've heard about Niels.