August 25th, 2010


It Is Wonderful life

Science columnist Lee Hotz describes a remarkable project at WAIS Divide, Antarctica, where a hardy team are drilling into ten-thousand-year-old ice to extract vital data on our changing climate.

Robert Lee Hotz is the science columnist for the Wall Street Journal, where he explores the world of new research and its impact on society. In his column, he ranges broadly across the research horizon, from climate change, cosmology and molecular medicine, to evolution, neuroeconomics and new insights into the human brain.


TR: The Gates Foundation has invested in solutions to big problems like infectious diseases in poor countries. Providing clean energy for the nine billion people the planet will hold in 2050 is a problem that's civilizational in scale. What can philanthropy contribute to energy research?

Bill Gates: Well, basically not much. The energy market is an absolutely gigantic market, big enough that if you can come up with cheap ways of making electricity, then that should be done with typical big-firm risk taking, small-firm risk taking. On the other hand, the way capitalism works is that it systemically underfunds innovation, because the innovators can't capture the full benefits [of their innovations]. But there's a net benefit to society being more R&D-oriented. And that's why in health research, governments do fund R&D

TR: You are a member of the American Energy Innovation Council, which calls for a national energy policy that would increase U.S. investment in energy research every year from $5 billion to $16 billion. I was stunned that the U.S. government invests so little.

BG: I was stunned myself. The National Institutes of Health invest a bit more than $30 billion.