amount to wasted time, talent, and other resources. History is laden with unusual claims by
scholars and researchers that turned out stunningly significant--that the sun lies at the center
of our universe, that time and space are relative concepts, that matter consists of discrete
particles, that humans evolved from other life forms, to name a few. One current area of
unusual research is terraforming---creating biological life and a habitable atmosphere where
none existed before. This unusual research area does not immediately address society's
pressing social problems. Yet in the longer term it might be necessary to colonize other planets
in order to ensure the survival of the human race; and after all, what could be a more
significant contribution to society than preventing its extinction?
Those who would oppose the speaker's assertion might point out that public universities
should not allow their faculty to indulge their personal intellectual fantasies at taxpayer
expense. Yet as long as our universities maintain strict procedures for peer review, pure
quackery cannot persist for very long. Other detractors might argue that in certain academic
areas, particularly the arts and humanities, research and intellectually inquiry amount to little
more than a personal quest for happiness or pleasure. This specious argument overlooks the
societal benefits afforded by appreciating and cultivating the arts. And, earnest study in the
humanities affords us wisdom to know what is best for society, and helps us understand and
approach societal problems more critically, creatively, and effectively. Thus despite the lack of
a tangible nexus between certain areas of intellectual inquiry and societal benefit, the nexus is
In sum, I agree that we should allow academic scholars nearly unfettered freedom of
intellectual inquiry and research within reasonable limits as determined by peer review.
Engaging one's individual talents in one's particular area of fascination is most likely to yield
advances, discoveries, and innovations that serve to make the world a better and more
interesting place in which to live.