Cicerone: "Stay Interested, Ask Questions"

Cicerone: "Stay Interested, Ask Questions"

Ralph Cicerone, President of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the National Research Council (NRC), sat down for an interview by Jim Lehrer, retired anchor of PBS NewsHour, on science and society at the Chatauqua Institution on July 5, 2012.  The conversation covered a broad range of issues from climate change to the Higgs boson to dark matter to the space program.

The discussion took place a day after the announcement that the Higgs boson might have been discovered, news that featured prominently in Lehrer’s questions.  Cicerone charmingly explained the importance of the discovery, but more broadly talked about the importance of “the process of asking questions and sticking with it until you get the answer” in scientific research.   He stressed the point later in response to a question posed by moderator Sherra Babcock about what Chatauqua can do to bolster science.  “Stay interested, ask questions, and don’t be content just because somebody in an authority position says something,” he replied.  

He also reminded the audience that even in times of stress, the country needs to remain focused on the future.   Citing the federal government’s creation of public universities and of the National Academy of Sciences at the height of the Civil War, he exhorted everyone to remember that “even in tough times you have to be thinking ahead.  Show some ambition and get on with it.”  He conceded that he does not see many signs of that happening right now, however.

Cicerone demurred in response to another question about the future direction of the space program because, he explained, the NRC currently has two related studies underway and the information gathering phase is not complete.  However, he pointed to the difficulty of engaging in programs that take decades to complete and thus the need to set national goals:  “So that’s kind of my bottom-line answer.  We have to agree on goals.” 

The video of the interview is on YouTube.  The space program discussion begins at 52:45.

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