Some of the most important scientists you've ever heard of, you've heard of because of their contributions to public policy.
- Leo Szilard got Einstein to talk to Roosevelt, jump started the Manhattan Project and had a Red Phone installed in the White House to talk to the Kremlin. He was also responsible for conceptualizing the chain reaction and held, with Enrico Fermi, the first patent for a nuclear reactor.
- Vannevar Bush invented the analog computer while he was busy starting up a little company called Raytheon while not busy teaching at MIT. Then WWII happened and he took some time off to head the office of strategic research and development, managing all miitary invention and therefore being indirectly responsible for radar, plastics, and atomic weaponry. He pretty much conceived of computers and the Internet in 1945 while busy heading what would become NASA.
- Steven Chu has a nobel prize in physics for trapping atoms with lasers and also was the guy who got Obama to invest in solar power.
"Doing science" means "getting science into the hands of society" and while some scientists suck at doing stuff with people, some rawk at it. My best friend's dad taught theoretical physics at Columbia. Was a big-time investigator. Then he got pissed off at environmental stuff back in the '70s and organized a protest against a coal plant. Then he discovered he had a knack for organization and making technical issues less technical. He was one of the top 3 guys at the SSC, the top guy at LIGO and is currently the top guy at the Thirty Meter Telescope.
Let's say you want to study gravity waves. You need to convince someone to spend $620m to let you do so. First of all, you're not doing it alone. Second of all, there's gonna be someone between you and the politicians.
We're now in a place where the politicians are actively anti-science. Might as well supplant their asses.