Who said this?

Someone was asked something along these lines by a member of some legislative body:

How will your research help protect this country?

That someone replied with something like this:

It won’t, but it will keep this country worth protecting.

The exact wording in those quotes probably differ from what was actually said.

This isn’t a rhetorical question, nor is it an exercise in trivia. I don’t know who said it, what the exact context of the quote was, or whether this was actually said by anyone, anytime, anywhere. So, if you know of the exact quote, who said it, and where it was said, please leave a note in the comments. Thanks!


  1. #1 CP
    April 21, 2008

    Very similar sentiments were expressed in the “West Wing” season 3 episode called “Dead Irish Writers.” A physics professor (played by Hector Elizondo) is in DC, trying to save the Superconducting Supercollider, and he mounts a spirited defense of pure science for pure science’s sake. The second line sounds like exactly the sort of point he would have made.

  2. #2 RPM
    April 21, 2008

    Perhaps the west wing episode was based on a true story. Or, maybe the fiction has turned into reality into my mind.

  3. #3 DrA
    April 21, 2008

    I was describing my research on the beetle pollination of tropical trees as a means of explaining what I was doing in Costa Rica, and one of our unversity trustees asked me, “What good is that for the tax-payers of Illinois?”
    I responded that my job was to teach students how to learn to learn, and that an intellectually sound and interesting research program was how I did that. Basic science appeals to students’ curiosity and allows them to say, “I learned something nobody else knew.” I also pointed out that Illinois wasn’t biologically isolated from the rest of the world and that our political boundaries were a quite arbitrary human artifact, and therefore, biologically of no interest. Seems they were good answers.

  4. #4 RBH
    April 21, 2008

    It’s attributed to Robert Wilson, first director of Fermilab, in a former CERN Director-General’s remarks here:

    Our lives are enriched, and our outlook changed, by (e.g.) knowledge of the heliocentric system, the genetic code, how the sun works, why the sky is blue, and the expansion of Universe. The point was elegantly, if arrogantly, made by Bob Wilson (first Director of Fermilab, a large particle physics/accelerator laboratory near Chicago) who, when asked by a Congressional Committee “What will your lab contribute to the defence of the US?”, replied “Nothing, but it will make it worth defending”.

  5. #5 RPM
    April 21, 2008

    RBH, You rock! Thanks so much.

  6. #6 Uschi Symmons
    April 22, 2008

    Loose association? One of my favorite quotes is by Heathcote William Gerard, who when asked why he had refused to fight in the first world war answered: “Madam, I am the civilization they are fighting to defend”.

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