This question isn't just on COVID. Isn't self-centered, self-serving or inconsiderate to study subjects LESS applicable and useful? I know difficult to predict what useful and applicable, and not, but I can talk PROBABILITIES, not absolutes. Isn't more humane and humanitarian to solve world issues like hunger illness or poverty FIRST, before doing your LESS applicable useful subjects? What if world's best ABSTRACT PURE mathematicians all focus on world issues, and we solve them more quickly?

I don't want target subjects, but ABSTRACT PURE math (not applied!!!) or art come to mind. I know What are the most esoteric yet useless fields of mathematics? - Quora

G. F. Hardy thought Number Theory, his speciality, to be completely useless. He wrote a book A Mathematician’s Apology to try to explain why he bothered with it.

Some of his proofs are now in widespread daily use - for example in securing network communications. If you are reading this on an https: page you are using his work!

There are many other examples of esoteric ‘useless’ mathematics finding real-life relevance, but Hardy is surely the best example.

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    It is fine. One can not assign even probabilities on usefulness beyond a very short time horizon. And "let's solve hunger and poverty first" is based on faulty reasoning, the fallacy of relative privation. One can walk and chew gum, as they say, one does not stop the other. One would need to produce a causal link between not doing pure mathematics and solving hunger to make this type of argument work, it is doubtful that it exists. Indeed, it might be just the opposite, novel math and/or science may help solve it one day. – Conifold May 14 at 5:27
  • According to Wolff, it is an ethical duty to perfect oneself ( both physically, intellectually and morally). If a given study allows one to perfect his mind and to cultivate his mental abilities, tthis study is not ethically reprehensible. – user37859 May 14 at 11:02
  • Who gets to decide what the world's problems are? You? Me? A baby's analysis of the world is whether it will get it cookies or candies - now. A baby's world analysis cannot see beyond it's immediate gratification. – Swami Vishwananda May 15 at 4:14

“Apparently useless” does not necessarily mean something isn’t beneficial, broadly; mathematicians sometimes call what they are doing useless, but this is an almost technical sense. Certainly all mathematics, however abstract, has some utility as such; but conversely bare utility is not necessarily excellence (roughly, socially-beneficent).

Anyway, this is a very broad question. But generally speaking most firms in any given economy are not producing something inherently positive for society; rather the output of most “productive” machinery is neutral to harmful to society, alienating from species-life, damaging the biosphere, however you want to characterize it and emphasize the issue with the current value form.

Very abstract technical knowledge may not seem very generally useful — precisely because it is specialized: it is part of a jargon for domain experts, to help quickly model different scenarios, to simulate together what could be expressed more “directly” but at the loss of brevity, clarity, etc.

Finally a somewhat perverse outcome is that apparently “useless” mathematical discoveries end up finding an excellent usage in some practical domain. This happens so frequently that it is worth discounting, to some degree, the raw utility of a novel abstraction, since it is new and still needs to find its application. At worst, an abstract theory is only potentially useless...

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  • I'd bet almost everything that currently is useful once was not thought to be. Except air and water. – curiousdannii May 14 at 6:30

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