August 28, 2008
2:30 PM -- As a followup to the sale of Bell Labs 's old HQ, we now have parent company Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) shuttering fundamental physics research.
Nature broke the story, and Wired put up some details yesterday. It's an understandable decision, particularly for a struggling company in a difficult economy.
It's also no surprise. Basic research isn't part of the corporate charter any more, not for public companies. Quarterly earnings and the needs of hedge-fund traders come first.
Even a decade ago, before Lucent's collapse, it was clear Bell Labs couldn't go on forever as a beacon of scientific research. Same for Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) , which had clearly passed its glory days.
All along, we've been asking where basic research will come from, and the answer is still evasive. I'm not convinced "the market" will adequately cover it. That leaves universities and the government, but with their dwindling funds, they're being called upon to behave more like businesses.
This goes beyond national interest; as a civilization, we should be worried about these things. But there may not be an answer that fits with today's economic fashion.
— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading
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