Well-being and excellence in the Earth sciences



In the symposium on Earth Sciences and Society at the Spring AGU Meeting May 29–June 1, Baltimore, Md.), I was assigned to speak on the maintenance of excellence and national well-being in the Earth sciences. I developed serious writer's block every time I approached the topic until I remembered a paragraph at the beginning of Doug Adams' great text, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe [Adams, 1982]. It tells how [A race of highly intelligent pan-dimensional beings once built themselves a gigantic supercomputer called Deep Thought to calculate once and for all the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, Universe and Everything. For seven and a half million years, Deep Thought computed and calculated, and in the end announced that the answer was in fact Forty-two—and so another, even bigger, computer had to be built to find out what the actual question was. And this computer, which was called the Earth, was so large that it was frequently mistaken for a planet-especially by the strange apelike beings who roamed its surface, totally unaware that they were simply part of a gigantic computer program. And this is very odd, because without that fairly simple and obvious piece of knowledge, nothing that ever happened on the Earth could possibly make the slightest bit of sense.]