In the late sixties and seventies I lived in DuPage county, Illinois. This was/is a county remarkable for the concentration of scientific and physical research conducted there. In addition to Argonne National Laboratories and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, there was the largest of Bell Laboratories many facilities, the one in Naperville/Lisle, Illinois that employed about 11,000 people. That period of time was the zenith of Bell Labs legendary status. In the seventies its employees received two of the six Nobel Prizes for Physics that have been awarded to Bell Lab’s researchers.
It was with sadness and some sense of foreboding that I learned via Instapundit this morning that Bell Labs is abandoning basic research and instead “focusing on more immediately marketable areas”. I say “foreboding” for the likelihood that Alcatel-Lucent will join the chorus (if it hasn’t already) of companies demanding that tax-payers assume the sole cost of basic research ‘for the common good’. I also say it because I believe it is the inevitable consequence of a long trend of companies being taken over by accounting priorities and run for short term profits. At least as recently as the late nineties, four Bell Labs researchers were awarded two Nobel Prizes for physics, one received his for cooling and trapping atoms with laser light and, three shared one ” for the discovery and explanation of the fractional quantum Hall effect “. No, I have no clue. If you must know, look it up. Bell Labs has been my number one example that it is possible to do pure research without being part and parcel of the state.
I encourage you to read in the Wikipedia entry some of the history of Bell Labs. Perhaps some commenters can cheer me up with information about other profit motivated corporations (or individuals) engaging in pure, no application yet visible, research.