Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why? How?

As the rhetoric about budget cutting heats up we are sure to hear outrage over what seem to some to be irrelevant research topics.  Those writing about grant funding excoriate undertakings the value of which is not immediately apparent.  My response - think carefully before you condemn.  Einstein said:  “If we knew what it was we were doing it wouldn't be called research, would it?”

In the Himalayas, the bar-headed goose migrates over Mount Everest (29,028 feet elevation) to move from winter feeding grounds in the lowlands of India to her nesting grounds on the high, barren plains of Tibet.  It does not seem possible. This is a five pound bird with no assist from Sherpa, oxygen tank or modern instrumentation.  She and her mate will lead their young on the return trip gauging and correcting for drift in heavy crosswinds, navigating their course so that 100+ mile per hour tailwinds add to their own 50 mph power to catapult them across 1,000 miles in a single day.  Why?  How?  Do we need to know?  We have the portable monitoring equipment.   Research could be planned.  Funding for such studies has not been available.

Happily, human curiosity is undimmed by poor prospects for funding.  Visit the website of the Institute of Unnecessary Research.  Settle in for a good read - and a wide smile.

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