We must not forget that when radium was discovered no one knew that it would prove useful in hospitals. The work was one of pure science. And this is a proof that scientific work must not be considered from the point of view of the direct usefulness of it. It must be done for itself, for the beauty of science, and then there is always the chance that a scientific discovery may become like the radium a benefit for humanity.
“The Discovery of Radium,” lecture, Vassar College (1921-05-14)
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PASTORE: Is there anything connected in the hopes of this accelerator that in any way involves the security of this country?
WILSON: No sir; I do not believe so.
PASTORE: Nothing at all?
WILSON: Nothing at all.
PASTORE: It has no value in that respect?
WILSON: It only has to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. It has to do with those things. It has nothing to do with the military, I am sorry.
PASTORE: Don’t be sorry for it.
WILSON: I am not, but I cannot in honesty say it has any such application.
PASTORE: Is there anything here that projects us in a position of being competitive with the Russians, with regard to this race?
WILSON: Only from a long-range point of view, of a developing technology. Otherwise, it has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things that we really venerate and honor in our country and are patriotic about. In that sense, this new knowledge has all to do with honor and country but it has nothing to do directly with defending our country, except to make it worth defending.
Testimony, Joint Committee on Atomic Energy (17 Apr 1969)
Dialog between Senator John Pastore (D-RI) and Wilson regarding the funding for FY 1970 of Fermilab's first particle accelerator. Pastore was actually a proponent of Fermilab, but was seeking arguments to use with some of his colleagues.
The exchange is frequently portrayed as more hostile, and Wilson's answer is often paraphrased / elided as: "It has only to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. It has to do with are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about. It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to make it worth defending."
See here for more background.
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