We are honored for research which is today referred to as the "Two Neutrino Experiment". How does one make this research comprehensible to ordinary people? In fact "The Two Neutrinos" sounds like an Italian dance team. How can we have our colleagues in chemistry, medicine, and especially in literature share with us, not the cleverness of our research, but the beauty of the intellectual edifice, of which our experiment is but one brick? This is a dilemma and an anguish for all scientists because the public understanding of science is no longer a luxury of cultural engagement, but it is an essential requirement for survival in our increasingly technological age: In this context, I believe this Nobel Ceremony with its awesome tradition and pomp has as one of its most important benefits; the public attention it draws to science and its practitioners.
Are we making more mistakes now? I don't think so. Science is a high-risk activity. And when you do science—this is very important incidentally for the general public, and for policy makers—if you are not wasting some of your money, you are not doing good science. It's a funny way to say this. You've got to back high-risk opportunities. And high-risk opportunities means some fraction of them are going to fail. And I think in any science funding scenario, you've got to say, 10, 20, maybe even 30% of your funds are going to be invested in failures.
Comments on need for failure in scientific research.
I went into physics to hang around with the bright kids. I wasn't doing anything else and I didn't want to look dumb, so I thought I'd pretend to be a physicist, just like the others. It was five or ten years after my Ph.D. before I realized I was pretty good.
That's the eureka moment, when suddenly you know something. Your hands sweat, you get into all kinds of symptoms of tremendous excitement. First of all, it's fear. Is it right? And it's incredible humor. 'How could it be any other way? It had to be that way! How could we have been so stupid, not to see this?'
June 27, 1992 Las Vegas, Nevada interview with Lederman.