When you think about mining you think about there being this stuff of value in, generally, a hard to reach spot and it costs you money to go get it. These days, things of value are of a less tangible sort but their value is self-evident. What is the value of mobile phone technology? What is the value of thermonuclear warheads? Or a vaccine against AIDS? Or an iPod?
These things have value and we can go get it, all we want, by supporting research. These things are the fruits of research. While you do see T-Mobile or Medtronic leveraging the latest technology, you don’t see the thousands of labs on colleges and universities around the world where students and faculty invented it. This is where the rubber truly meets the road. iPods and AIDS drugs are built directly on the backs of graduate students and faculty at universities.
I point this out because there are major economic and public safety reasons why it is in our best interest to create an academic environment which promotes research. The US government has been very good about funding science but that support is faltering. I fear we will make the mistake of micromanaging research funding, where bureaucrats are overly concerned with the practicality of research. Researching the atom did not seem practical 100 years ago. It turns out to be pretty practical. We need to fund the higher education system, fund scientific research and allow these students and professors to literally invent our future.
(We also need young people to choose to be one of them, too!)