Randy Schekman just won a Nobel Prize in physiology for being part of a team that revealed the basic cellular machinery that regulates the transport and secretion of proteins in our cells. Obviously Schekman, who's a professor of molecular and cell biology at the UC Berkeley, is a smart man. In fact, he's smart enough to know that his success didn't bloom in a vacuum—he's the product of a good brain and a great, affordable education—and he's using his new Nobel clout to draw attention to that fact:
...Schekman explains that his dad, a middle-class father of five, "never had to pay virtually anything to educate his kids. That simply isn't possible now, and it's just tragic that this happened." The numbers are staggering, particularly within Schekman's own state of California.
... The Nobel Committee's recognition of [Schekman's] research takes on a much larger symbolic meaning today than it might have had in prior years: The government shutdown and the sequester have hit science labs hard across the country, halting research and stagnating progress. More generally, without obvious applications like developing vaccines or curing diseases, basic biological research has often taken a back seat in funding and attention. Yet clearly, the Nobel Prize committee begs to differ. All three science prizes announced this week have gone to researchers whose contributions are on quite fundamental science topics: cell signaling and transport, the elusive Higgs boson, and computer models of chemical reactions.
"The virtue of the Nobel is that more often than not, it celebrates basic science," says Schekman.
On [his podcast] Inquiring Minds, then, Schekman in effect is making two closely related arguments: We need to restore public support for our universities, to help keep college affordable—and we need public support of very basic research, because it generates the baseline knowledge that, in turn, engenders new innovations and cures in private industry. Yet instead, we're watching college students grow indebted, and scientists scramble as their funding becomes tightly constricted.