Reflective Writing on Eric’s Miracle Machine by@jirashayanon

Reflective Writing on Eric’s Miracle Machine

In 2015, Dr. Eric Lander, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was invited to the first National Math Festival to give a speech. He claimed that the criteria with which the projects for the country's economy and defense would be justified for funding was not applicable to the basic research. People usually had a wrong perception of how basic research would pay off in the long run. We can ask ourselves - who would want to invest money in research that had a longer-than 2000 year payback than scientific research.
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In 2015, Dr. Eric Lander, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) [1]-[2], was invited to the first National Math Festival to give a speech [3].


At the talk, Eric convinced the public how important fundamental research was, how wrong funding organizations were to overlook the value of those fundamental researches, and what they could finally earn from those researches.


Eric realized that the U.S. government or any private sector would be careful on financial spending; since the beginning of the 2000s, the United States of America had been in a state of declining economic growth [4].


Even in Europe, some countries aimed to cut off their research funding and tended to relocate to some other social investments with a more obvious short-term payback than scientific research. Professor Dr. Eric Lander claimed that the criteria with which the projects for the country's economy and defense would be justified for funding was not applicable to the basic research.


People usually had a wrong perception of how basic research would pay off in the long run. Apart from the initially intended number of financial returns, all unintended scientific discoveries have proved uncountable benefits throughout human history. He had given some examples of math, physics, and biology discoveries during the research and the high values in their today applications.


In my opinion, after finishing Dr. Eric's transcription for the festival, I agree with him on the value of research and especially on the countless value of the discoveries along the way of the research. One research would lead to one discovery, and one discovery would lead to another research; and this cycle will continue, as Dr. Eric called it the Miracle Machine, the title of the talk on his Math Festival night.


It is probably obscure that we cannot predict what we would find out while conducting research; however, in the end, we will definitely and eventually uncover some new concepts or ideas, according to Dr. Eric's context.


Eric called for attention when either the government or any private business evaluates research for capital funding. Unlike other typical investments, ROI does not work for approving a budget for research.


Back in the year 300 B.C., Euclid proved that there were an infinite set of prime numbers [5]. RSA cryptography was granted a U.S. patent in 1977 [6], and it has been globally used in cryptography for present-day banking, e-commerce, and secure communications [7]. We can ask ourselves - who would want to invest money in research that had a longer-than 2000 year payback. It did not even pay off in one's life.


People may overlook or ignore if they do not understand what the research was for. I would suggest the government or a company isolates the budget for basic research from the capital pool if never done before. This would guarantee the funding for research. We do not let basic research share the ROI policy with the national strategic projects. Congress may set up board committees from academic institutions, university professors, or patent reviewers to make a list of potential research topics and make justification not based on short-term ROI reasoning.


In short, I positively support Dr. Eric's observations. I appreciate all math and scientific researches and discoveries done in the past; and their applications. I also see that not all researches are good fundamental researches. ROI and some other financial tools may not be able to tell much about the research value. A Board of academic experts probably can give a reliable justification for the research; however again, we would not know what we would find out not until the research started.

Sources:

Eric Lander: The Miracle Machine

https://www.msri.org/system/cms/files/132/files/original/Lander-Case_for_Research.pdf



References:

[1] Faculty - MIT Department of Biology. (2019). MIT Department of Biology [Online]. Available: https://biology.mit.edu/profile/eric-s-lander/


[2] Eric S. Lander - MIT Department of Biology. (2019). MIT Department of Biology [Online]. Available: https://biology.mit.edu/about/faculty-directory/


[3] "National Math Festival: Supporting the Math of Today and Tomorrow," Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), The Institute Letter Summer 2015, 2015. [Online]. Available: https://www.ias.edu/ideas/2015/national-math-festival


[4] "Economists call it recession," CNN Money, Nov 26, 2001. [Online]. Available: https://money.cnn.com/2001/11/26/economy/recession/


[5] C. Caldwell, "Euclid's Proof of the Infinitude of Primes," The Prime Pages. The University of Tennessee at Martin [Online]. Available https://primes.utm.edu/notes/proofs/infinite/euclids.html


[6] R. L. Rivest, A. Shamir, L. M. Adleman, "Cryptographic communications system and method," U.S. Patent 4,405,829, Dec 14, 1977.


[7] D. Boneh, "Twenty years of attacks on the RSA cryptosystem," Notices of the American Mathematical Society (AMS), Vol. 46, No. 2, pp. 203-213, 1999. Available: http://www.ams.org/notices/199902/boneh.pdf

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