Theodore Roosevelt, in his famous speech “Citizenship In A Republic” starts by saying “it is not the critic who counts;” What makes the speech poignant is that all too often it is the critic who counts because we see time and time again the media pointing out “how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.”
Too often we only hear about failures and waste in government, yet the contributions and success of government-funded science and technology are ubiquitous and often under-reported.
Wouldn’t it be nice if your name were a unique identifier and nobody else had the same name as you? Unfortunately, most of us share our names with a number of other people, most of whom we have never met and never will. But we have all probably experienced the challenge and frustration of trying to find a specific person from a list of people with the same name. Remember when we used phone books? Trying to pick out the person you needed from a listing of multiple names? Actually, searching the internet doesn’t make this process any easier.
At the legendary 1987 American Physical Society conference, sometimes called the “Woodstock of physics”, thousands of physicists descended upon a New York Hilton ballroom to hear about the discovery of high-temperature superconductivity (HTS) in ceramic materials.
The Randolph-Sheppard Act was signed into law by President Roosevelt in 1936. The act established a priority for blind vendors on Federal property. Nearly 77 years later, walking toward the snack stand operated by a blind vendor, the irony always occurs to me as I read an unusual brass plaque on the hallway that commemorates the origin of the Human Genome Project and its champion, Dr. Charles DeLisi. The irony is that Rick, the blind vendor who could one day benefit from that project, cannot see the plaque.
It takes individuals with an almost futuristic vision, able to counter criticism by those with less foresight, to take leaps of faith to establish such a far-reaching effort such as the Human Genome Project. Dr. DeLisi was apparently such a person.
Dr. DeLisi, then Director of the Office of Health and Environmental Research at the Department of Energy, recognized the available technology and came up with the idea to sequence the human genome in 1985.
While I have not taken a formal survey, my experience over many years as a Department of Energy (DOE) employee suggest to me that most people have no idea what DOE does. Let me amend that. Many people know exactly what we do. DOE controls the price of gas at the pump; it manages natural gas drilling, builds pipe lines and regulates refineries. As it turns out, people know a great deal about DOE, it’s just that most of it is dead wrong.
Look it up and you’ll find that “[t]he mission of the Energy Department is to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.” Hmm. Nothing about gas prices there.
Once you get a bead on the DOE mission you are ready to mine its extraordinary set of resources.