Often the problems that are least worked on are the problems that have the characteristic that they’re important, but they don’t seem to be something which is the biggest or fastest or most profitable. And if it’s really important but it’s none of the above, then who does it?
But the idea of having people who are taking money being able to explain why they’re doing what they’re doing is not a bad idea. The idea that publically funded science should have some measure of “I’m doing it because, and this is where it might end up being useful,” strikes me as being perfectly reasonable. I think it’ll actually make for better science, too, because it’s very easy in academic science to end up working on projects that are just little extensions of previously known stuff, and that’s sort of a waste of time.
– Harvard chemist George Whitesides ruminates on the problem of solving problems. I especially like what he says about being open about why you’re doing what you do. In marketing you see so many silly campaigns, things that make no sense whatsoever – and this is one way of putting a stop to that kind of landfill marketing. For example, why, Kingsmill, did you bother building a site that asks people to divulge secrets about their sandwich habits? (There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write!).