The New York Times has a very long story about the nation of Qatar’s quest for soccer excellent. Reading the story was depressing. Is this what humanity has come to? There’s a lot of bellyaching about science in the Muslim world, but look no further than the priorities of the oil rich Gulf states. Qatar is going to spend $200 billion over a 10 year period on amenities for soccer because it is hosting the World Cup in 2022. Yes, the World Cup is a very big deal. But did you know that NASA’s budget for 2012 was less than 20 billion dollars. In other words Qatar could create its own rival to NASA if it wanted. But why would they?
This isn’t a plea for space science. But, it is an argument that human outcomes are contingent on human values. In the 19th century men of leisure such as Charles Darwin were scientists, because they could be. Today we have some men of wealth, such as Elon Musk, attempting to do great things (and likely failing, because bold ventures generally do fail). But by and large the priorities of plutocrats are more pedestrian. Posterity shall be the judge.