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基础科学的归途

发自斯坦福——英国记者马特·里德利(Matt Ridley)一直是位在哲学和科​​学实践方面相当有见地的评论家。但他对基础研究和科技创新之间关系的评价——所谓“‘基础科学’是并未像我们想象的那样创造出那么多新发明”——则有失偏颇了。

在雷德利看来:“大多数科技突破都来自于善于修补完善的技术专家,而不是那些研究科学假设的科研人员”。为支持这一论据,他提供了几个有关发明的“平行实例”:总共有六位发明者各自独立研发了温度计,皮下注射针有三人,疫苗接种有四人,电报有五人等等。然而雷利没有认识到的是,这些发明的理论基础可能源自于某些个早期基础研究,而这些研究其实并未设定特别的实际应用目的;当人们进行这些研究时其实并不知道原来会有那么重大的意义。

我当年就读麻省理工学院时的微生物学教授萨尔瓦多·卢里亚(Salvador Luria)在1969年获得诺贝尔生理学或医学奖后曾开玩笑说其实认识到自己研究成果的意义是件挺难的事情。卢里亚像所有祝贺他获奖的人都回赠了一幅漫画:一对老夫妇在吃早餐,正在看报纸的丈夫突然惊呼:“我的天啊!我竟然得了诺贝尔奖,理由好像是我在1934年时不记得是说过、做过,还是想过的一个什么东西!“

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