“The popular stereotype of the researcher is that of a skeptic and a pessimist. Nothing could be further from the truth! Scientists must be optimists at heart, in order to block out the incessant chorus of those who say ‘It cannot be done.'”
— Academician Prokhor Zakharov, University Commencement
In the game, the Skunkworks can be built when a faction has the Advanced Subatomic Theory technology. It’s a base facility that primarily allows for prototyping with zero additional cost. It also eliminates the mineral cost to switch production lines with a substantial amount of minerals invested in the item at the front of the build queue. These are nice benefits, but they’re of rather limited utility. Unlike the ubiquitous Recycling Tanks, a player will generally find himself building a very limited number of these at bases that specialize in the creation of prototype weaponry.
The Skunkworks is obviously intended to model the real-life Skunk Works, a division of Lockheed, which generated a lot of famous combat airplane designs quickly and cheaply during World War II and the early Cold War. A division by this name still exists in the successor company, but they’re certainly not delivering the rapid, low-cost innovation nowadays that this base facility is intending to model.
The quote, therefore, is pretty inspired in this context. The Skunkworks is the place where theory meets practice; where what was once impossible becomes real. Plus, the perception Zakharov is combating here is one that an attentive reader has probably already gathered from his previous quotes. So the fact that he refutes it in a rather stirring fashion gives us some insight into his character and the faction. Also, given the fact that the University is clearly intended to be the embodiment of the ivory tower, it is interesting to see him lionizing practical results yielded in the messy world outside the laboratory.
But it is interesting that he does so in a way that easily feeds into the darker interpretations of the University. It does not take much imagination to see a young Dr. Frankenstein or Dr. Moreau among the recent graduates at the commencement ceremony, cheering madly at Zakharov’s pronouncement. The core of mad science, in its real and fictional depictions, is the desperate drive to do what others thought was impossible. To show the doubters what can truly be accomplished by the real man of vision.
It’s worth mentioning that at this stage, the experience of SMAC is beginning to transition into the middle game. The player is no longer following the struggles of a faction barely eking out a living on an alien Planet. Human society has grown and flourished, both technically and economically. By virtually everyone’s standards, life is better than it was when the pods fell to the surface.
And with their bonuses, the University has almost certainly led the way into the glorious future. We can infer this both from the canon and from the typical experience of the early game. Which means that, at this point, you have to be a pretty hard-core skeptic like Sister Miriam to be distrustful of the promise the future the University is building holds.