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Education Government The Almighty Buck Science

The Crisis of Government-Funded Science 194

Posted by samzenpus
from the not-without-a-million-dollars dept.
eldavojohn writes "The New York Review of Books has an article penned by Steven Weinberg lamenting the future of physics, cosmology and this era of 'big science' in which we find ourselves. A quote from Goldhaber sums up the problem nicely, 'The first to disintegrate a nucleus was Rutherford, and there is a picture of him holding the apparatus in his lap. I then always remember the later picture when one of the famous cyclotrons was built at Berkeley, and all of the people were sitting in the lap of the cyclotron.' The article is lengthy with a history of big physics projects (most painfully perhaps the SSC) but Weinberg's message ultimately comes across as pessimism laced with fatalism — easily understandable given his experiences with government funding. Unfortunately he notes, 'Big science has the special problem that it can't easily be scaled down. It does no good to build an accelerator tunnel that only goes halfway around the circle.' Apparently this article mirrors his talk given in January at the American Astronomical Society. If not our government, will anyone fund these immense projects or will physics slowly grind to a halt due to fiscal constraints?"
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The Crisis of Government-Funded Science

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  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Monday April 23, 2012 @08:33AM (#39770133)

    If not our government, will anyone fund these immense projects or will physics slowly grind to a halt due to fiscal constraints?"

    I presume by "our government" he means the U.S. government. Why is it that that so many of those who lament science funding only talk about U.S. funding, as if the U.S. is supposed to fund everything by itself? He cites the SSH as a bad example of the U.S. cutting funding, but to me that's actually one of the better examples of other countries picking up the ball. Would CERN still have funded the LHC in 1995 if the U.S. hadn't cancelled the SHH in 1993? Maybe, but I tend to doubt it. And to me CERN is an excellent model of countries pooling their resources, rather than relying on one actor to foot the entire bill.

    I'm not saying that the U.S. shouldn't be funding science at adequate levels, but way too many of these sorts of articles talk about science as if it's the exclusive purview of the U.S. Instead of asking if the U.S. can continue funding the big physics projects, maybe the question he should be asking is why more countries aren't POOLING their money to build these projects. After all, as long as the science is open and shared, why shouldn't it be in everyone's interest to fund these projects (including, but not *exclusively* including, the U.S.)?

    • In case anyone thought I was referring to the Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale.

    • I think the history of US sole funding projects and so having sole control over them might make us less willing to chip in with others because we would lose that total control. It might make no sense given limitations in governmental science funding but for politicians big science is about the pursuit of glory, economic advantage or political leverage not about the pursuit of knowledge. They also don't seem to share well or work together much these days.

      • Given our (US) history of working with others...who'd want to partner with us? We don't keep long-term commitments, we want to full control over everything

        Congress says NASA should partner with someone for space exploration, then turns around and asks "why are you giving away the store?" - either way funding gets cut.

        I fear the days of great scientific (or any other) advances coming out of the US are over. NO NONE - gov't or business, R or D, looks at the long term anymore.

        • LHC is the last collider, the benefit grows in low in size while costs grow linearly. The other problem with their complaints is that LHC cost billions of dollars while we know that particles hit the earth with about 10J/particle at about 1/(s m^2), while LHC is a wimpy uJ/particle. So the universe is giving away a 10 million times stronger source term that physicists could use. Could be build one this large? Not even using the entire mass of the planet. So why pay for more accelerators? Astronomy is the fu

          • You don't get the brightness you need for the statistics. You would need to wait millions of years to detect the highs particle for example. Not all that practical.
    • From the second page of the article:

      We saw recently how a project to build a laboratory for the development of controlled thermonuclear power, ITER, was nearly killed by the competition between France and Japan to be the laboratory’s site.

      Also, put another way in the article:

      What does motivate legislators is the immediate economic interests of their constituents. Big laboratories bring jobs and money into their neighborhood, so they attract the active support of legislators from that state, and apathy or hostility from many other members of Congress. Before the Texas site was chosen, a senator told me that at that time there were a hundred senators in favor of the SSC, but that once the site was chosen the number would drop to two. He wasn’t far wrong. We saw several members of Congress change their stand on the SSC after their states were eliminated as possible sites.

      I think the counter argument to your idea of 'pooling' resources is that this isn't really necessary. We have the resources to do this as the United States or as the EU or probably even as China itself. I don't care what country/countries/bordered region does it, I just care that it gets done. It is, however, very easy to point out that the country that Weinberg is residing in has the resources to do it yet fails to do it. Even when bills are passed to fund it, it fails.

      Even as the SSC's cost ballooned up from $4 billion it only hit $12 billion in 1993 or about $19 billion in today's money. US defense budget for 1993 was ~$350 billion but it appears that we can't rely on the military to progress particle physics any further.

      • by Nadaka (224565)

        The military will advance particle physics when they can shrink the accelerator small enough to mount it in a turret.

        • This would such a useless weapon compared to just about anything else. About the only thing it could do is kill everyone on the ship/whatever with cancer in a single shot.
      • ...

        I think the counter argument to your idea of 'pooling' resources is that this isn't really necessary. We have the resources to do this as the United States or as the EU or probably even as China itself. I don't care what country/countries/bordered region does it, I just care that it gets done.

        And the counter to that is that there is a limit on how large share of its resources that any nation is willing to devote to a given class of science projects. The combined subjective limits of multiple nations will always be larger than the limits of any of the individual ones.

        Exploring new regions of science (in physics and astronomy/space exploration at least) inevitably drives up costs with time, and it is inevitable that it will hit a point that only the combined science budgets of all major nations

    • by dlenmn (145080) on Monday April 23, 2012 @09:02AM (#39770449) Homepage

      Many of the big experiments (LHC, ITER, etc.) are already funded by many countries. Steven Weinberg is a US Citizen, so he deals with his government. Other scientists complain about their governments. It wouldn't make sense to do it the other way around. No one thinks the US should be solely funding all the experiments.

    • by orasio (188021) on Monday April 23, 2012 @09:29AM (#39770699) Homepage

      The country that builds the large labs is the country that willl get the super smart scientists to tinker with it.
      The world doesn't need the US to fund big science. China will do it, eventually. The thing is that it would give them a competitive advantadge over you, meaning better scientists, better universities and stuff. I wouldn't want to lose my edge if I was the US.

      • by roman_mir (125474)

        It's not true actually, that 'the world does not need the US to fund big science', the world could use more of the science that people call 'big', however no nation that does not have manufacturing and production can fund big science, because no nation that has manufacturing and production needs big science. When I say 'needs', I am talking about the market of-course. On /. we can say whatever we like, we can say that US 'needs' big science, but this means absolutely nothing. The only question is: does th

    • by DesScorp (410532) <DesScorp&Gmail,com> on Monday April 23, 2012 @09:40AM (#39770799) Homepage Journal

      I presume by "our government" he means the U.S. government. Why is it that that so many of those who lament science funding only talk about U.S. funding, as if the U.S. is supposed to fund everything by itself?

      BTW, for those that weren't around when the SSC was being built, and then canceled, you should know that the firestorm over the SSC was not from anti-science budget cutters, but from other scientists... chemists, biologists, etc... that were angry that physics was getting so much of the budget pie. These other scientists went on TV shows and to the press complaining that the SSC was a boondoggle, and that it should be canceled and the funds spread out to other fields "equitably". One of their prime arguments was that, just like defense spending, post Cold War "big physics" should shrink as it was viewed as nothing more than a race with the Soviets for prestige. With the big military drawdown in the early 90's, that argument sold. And SSC died.

      Rather than a desire to kill science, the SSC died in part at the hands of jealousy from other scientists.

      • I'm not enough of a sociologist to say how much, as a matter of particular historical fact, was purely jealousy/grant competition; but there is a reasonably compelling strand of argument to be made in favor of the anti-physicist's view:

        Namely, that the need to build very large apparatus suggested that physics had exhausted(whether by superior study or by a quirk of the laws of nature) the low-hanging fruits earlier than some other subjects, which put it further up the unpleasant slope of diminishing retu
      • by gtall (79522)

        Yes, other sciences were against the SSC mainly because they only needed smaller dollops of public funds per project. However, what really irked Congress was Phil Gramm. When it was clear that Fermi Lab outside of Chicago made the most sense because the equipment there could be utilized for the SSC, Brother Phil ramrodded the language to choose Texas instead. As soon as that happened, other Congress Critters decided that they'd had enough and killed it.

        Not putting a hefty blob of research funding in one bas

        • by DesScorp (410532)

          This was made worse by the Republican Conservative Right who seem to think research is a conspiracy to overturn the truths they see in the Bible.

          This simply isn't true. First, it was killed in 1993, when Democrats controlled both chambers in Congress. Second, the vote didn't break down by partisan lines, but by chamber lines. The Senate supported it, and a majority of both parties in the House opposed it. In the Senate, the support for the project was overwhelmingly on the Republican side.

          The House of Representatives voted three times in 1992 and 1993 to kill the SSC; the final pivotal vote was 159-264 (139 Cong. Rec. H8124 (daily ed. Oct. 19, 1993)). The Senate voted to rescue it each time; their last vote in favor was 57-42 (139 Cong. Rec. S12,760 (daily ed. Sept. 30, 1993)).

          In 1993, the two houses met in a conference committee twice; the first time the Senate negotiators won and the SSC was left in the bill. The second time the House won. In the end the conference report was adopted by both houses with large majorities: 332-81 in the House, 139 Cong Rec H8435 (daily ed. Oct. 26, 1993), and 89-11 in the Senate, 139 Cong Rec S14483 (daily ed. Oct. 27, 1993).

          From Lexis-Nexis, here is the roll call for the 57-42 Senate vote, which worked out to 26-29 among Democrats (voting to preserve the collider) and 31-13 among Republicans: http://web.mit.edu/keithw/Public [mit.edu]...

          Here's the roll call for the 159-264 vote in the House, which was 98-153 among Democrats and 61-111 among Republicans: http://web.mit.edu/keithw/Public [mit.edu]...

          Without an agreement, funding died. The leading voice for the death of the SSC was in fact a Democrat [google.com].

          Unless you can find evidence to the contrary, I cannot recall

    • According to libertarians, the tech companies of the world should spontaneousely fund it. Lol. I think we know how impossible that little fantasy plays out in modern society..... wait for the comical reply about how some free market would spur billion dollar physics projects.... yea right.

    • He cites the SSH as a bad example of the U.S. cutting funding, but to me that's actually one of the better examples of other countries picking up the ball. Would CERN still have funded the LHC in 1995 if the U.S. hadn't cancelled the SHH in 1993? Maybe, but I tend to doubt it. And to me CERN is an excellent model of countries pooling their resources, rather than relying on one actor to foot the entire bill.

      In the early 1980s the US began plans for the Superconducting Super Collider, or SSC, which would accelerate protons to 20 TeV, three times the maximum energy that will be available at the CERN Large Hadron Collider. ... Even so, the SSC met all technical challenges, and could have been completed for about what has been spent on the LHC, and completed a decade earlier.

      LHC cost the same to build, and will need to run 30% longer to get the same results, assuming that LHC even gets up to speed.

    • I agree with you. The US is busy enough nation-building, liberating people from oppressive regimes, and showing those North Koreans what's for. And the liberal media whines that we're not funding science too? The only science we need to fund in the US is the kind they show on CSI--that show is awesome. God bless 'Merica.
  • by arisvega (1414195) on Monday April 23, 2012 @08:42AM (#39770217)
    Cosmologists in particular should not complain at all for at least the next 20 years: look just how many cosmology missions get to fly. I think that point in the summary is kind of moot, since cosmology is a very fine example of how much money gets pumped into a field of science with presently zero practical applications; consider how many missions don't get to fly, for every cosmology one that does.
  • by jellomizer (103300) on Monday April 23, 2012 @08:50AM (#39770307)

    The problem is the schism between Businesses and Government.

    The Democrats go. We want to Keep Businesses out of Government, as businesses with their big money will corrupt government.
    The Republicans go. We want to Keep Government out of Businesses, as government with their big money will cripple businesses.

    For companies to have a True R&D department they need steady funding, During the cold war, the government gave businesses a ton of money to do R&D. The government prospered because they got new technology that can help expand our countries influenced, the business prospered because they got new technology which they have rights too.

    Then as the Cold War cooled down and ended. Government started to separate themselves from Business, and Business from government. So those corporate grants have became less reliable. The companies now need to make sure their R&D is profitable, so less spending on just straight R&D and more focus on making sometime that brings profit. Other companies just dropped their R&D all together.

    Business key motive is to make money (It isn't a noble motive but simple). The Government has many motives (many of which are noble, some not so, and it is very complicated), Business influence in Government makes sure the government stays efficient. Government influence on business, make sure the businesses do go too far.

    I am disenfranchised with both parties. As they are on different sides of the wrong issue.

    • by pscottdv (676889)

      I wish I had some mod points for you.

    • by SuperKendall (25149) on Monday April 23, 2012 @09:01AM (#39770435)

      The Democrats go. We want to Keep Businesses out of Government, as businesses with their big money will corrupt government.

      You claim that when the Democrats have:

      1) Had the government purchase a whole car company.
      2) Wrote a health care law to funnel money from consumers to the insurance industry.
      3) Given hundreds of millions in loans to green companies who donated sufficiently to the Democrats.
      4) Basically dictated to banks they WERE going to take a huge sum of bail-out money, like it or not.

      Never before have LARGE business and government been so twisted together, and that happened on the Democrats watch, mostly while it had total control.

      The Republicans go. We want to Keep Government out of Businesses, as government with their big money will cripple businesses.

      But not all Republicans. There are also Republicans willing to interfere in business or to prop up large companies at the expense of the smaller.

      Also I have never heard a single person say you should keep government out of business because the government money "cripples" the business. It's more than companies that are over-regualted cannot function.

      To label the two sides like that is absurd because you can find counter-examples in each party. You SHOULD NOT mention party when complaining about this kind of issue, instead you should point out both sides have flaws in this regard and it's up to the people voting to look and see what each candidate stands for when they are voting.

      Basically you have I think way too simplistic a view of how the world is currently for what is really going on.

      • You missed the subtle differences.
        The Democrats don't want business to interfere with government but they want more government to interfere with business. "We are from the Government and we are Here to help"

        The Republicans don't want government to interfere with they business, however they want business to interfere with government. "Don't tax me, and don't tell me what to do, as it effects my bottom line, however if you can change this law that gives me an advantage then all the better"

        The issue is that Go

      • "1) Had the government purchase a whole car company."

        It was free.

        "2) Wrote a health care law to funnel money from consumers to the insurance industry."

        Most of the text is actually about reducing fraud and closing loopholes. Very little money is actually involved in the individual mandate because age is permissible as a method of adjusting your premium and that is the main indicator of health and likelihood to buy health insurance in the first place.

        "4) Basically dictated to banks they WERE going to take a h

      • by thoth (7907)

        The Democrats go. We want to Keep Businesses out of Government, as businesses with their big money will corrupt government.

        You claim that when the Democrats have:

        1) Had the government purchase a whole car company.
        2) Wrote a health care law to funnel money from consumers to the insurance industry.
        3) Given hundreds of millions in loans to green companies who donated sufficiently to the Democrats.
        4) Basically dictated to banks they WERE going to take a huge sum of bail-out money, like it or not.

        Never before have LARGE business and government been so twisted together, and that happened on the Democrats watch, mostly while it had total control.

        1. That bailout was a loan that has been paid back.
        2. The biggest health care giveaway in the history of the country was the Medicare prescription drugs law, and that happened under the Republicans.
        3. Oh I gotcha... Halliburton and other "no bid" contracts are NEVER issued to companies formerly run by Republicans. And you can spin this several ways, how about this one: Obama invested in the the future of the country; Halliburton contracts were flat out corruption.
        4. Also happened under Bush.

        If you are going to pass yourself off as the "voice of reason" amidst various issues, it would help if you had a fucking clue and an actual semblance of neutral comparisons.

      • 4) Basically dictated to banks they WERE going to take a huge sum of bail-out money, like it or not.

        Never before have LARGE business and government been so twisted together, and that happened on the Democrats watch, mostly while it had total control.

        4) would be TARP, proposed by Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson during the global financial crisis in September 2008, and signed into law by U.S. President George W. Bush on October 3, 2008.

        But, hey when was the last time a right-winger let facts get in the way of a rant?

    • by Goldsmith (561202)

      You're close, but not quite there.

      During the Cold War, the government required business to set aside a certain percentage (I think 15%) of funding from defense contracts and spend that money on internal research. They could do anything they wanted, as long as it was R&D.

      After the Cold War, we removed that requirement. It cut 15% off the cost of defense contracts, but also removed the incentive for big companies to spend on high risk R&D.

      The "official" government funding for R&D has been pretty

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by radtea (464814)

      The problem is the schism between Businesses and Government.

      No, the problem is that everyone thinks they can solve the problem with some simplistic ideological prescription.

      Weinberg's suggestion--raise taxes--is pragmatic and sensible, which is why it will never be done: American politics is about ideology, not reality. It doesn't matter if policies have the effect their ideological promoters say they ought. It matters only that they conform to the dictates of their ideology. Thus, Obama bailing out home-owners or Bush invading Iraq aren't judged on their actual

    • by roman_mir (125474)

      During the cold war, the government gave businesses a ton of money to do R&D. The government prospered because they got new technology that can help expand our countries influenced, the business prospered because they got new technology which they have rights too.

      - so the government prospered because it STOLE money from LEGITIMATE market needs and instead funnelled it into what it perceived to be the priority: standing armies, weapons programs, social programs, all this requires massive amount of executive power, new departments, programs, all this requires huge amounts of people as well.

      So all of this money, that could have been spent by the market itself on products that market voted for.

      All of these people, who could have been employed by the market not to devel

  • by concealment (2447304) on Monday April 23, 2012 @08:53AM (#39770333) Homepage Journal

    The point of central authority is that we all pay in a certain amount of our wealth, and it concentrates that wealth and does great things with it. Whether that's Roman emperors building temples, or NASA, it's the same principle.

    It doesn't need to be government. In fact, any tax-deductible cause will do. We need a big science lobby with a big science 501(c)(3) non-profit to collect money and administer it to these projects. Because it's tax-deductible, it's roughly the same thing as paying it in taxes, so no net loss to the citizen.

    • It doesn't need to be government. In fact, any tax-deductible cause will do. We need a big science lobby with a big science 501(c)(3) non-profit to collect money and administer it to these projects. Because it's tax-deductible, it's roughly the same thing as paying it in taxes, so no net loss to the citizen.

      Naw, what we need is a huge Kickstarter for various things like the SSC. There could be various levels of donation where you get your name written on the collider, tours of the building once completed, special VIP tour if donations are high enough, mentioned in the paper written with data collected, bits of old electronics as the device is upgraded, science lessons by the scientists working there, etc. I could really go for a "I'm an SSC Backer, ...and you're an anti-science numnut." t-shirt after the thing

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 23, 2012 @08:59AM (#39770419)

    The reality is that "government" itself really isn't anything other than wealth collected by force. For some reason people have come to think of it as a problem solver, when all it can really do is collect and spend money... usually inefficiently and recklessly. It has very little interest in spending money wisely as the political winds blow different directions every day. Government exists to protect the rational from the irrational.
    I see a need for a separation of science and government. Get it out of setting policies regarding stem cells, cancer treatments, etc. Those that argue it is needed to advance science have forgotten the lessons of the past. The repression of science and new ideas from kings, popes, and populist insanity. Sure it is nice to get a phat grant from the endless US coffers, but at what *real* cost? Government has no place amongst the rational.

    • by lessthan (977374)

      amongst the rational.

      When have you been among the rational? Is there a Rational-land? Can you give me directions? Human beings are NOT rational.

      Who would build your roads? Who would care for the orphans? Who would insure that the burger you eat isn't half rat? Who would arrest the wicked? A lage enough percentage of people are shit-heels without a basic notion of decency, that we (humanity as a whole) require an outside ordering influence. We need government.

  • by KDEnut (1673932) on Monday April 23, 2012 @09:00AM (#39770425)
    Asmov went on a small rant on this very subject years ago in a short novelette called The Dead Past.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dead_Past [wikipedia.org]
  • There was a silver lining to the cancellation of the SSC. There has been an explosion of quantum, solid state, and low temperature physics in the last 2 decades that might not have happened if all those great minds had been dedicated to just a single project.

    Physicists have been forced to throw huge amounts of creativity at science. In a sense, they have probably done more with less. I'm not advocating cutting spending further, just seeing the silver lining of the cancellation of one project.

    • by bware (148533)

      There was a silver lining to the cancellation of the SSC. There has been an explosion of quantum, solid state, and low temperature physics in the last 2 decades that might not have happened if all those great minds had been dedicated to just a single project.

      And a great number of them went off to become quants on Wall Street, developing models for CDOs and derivatives ("the whole Harvard physics class of 94" one fellow who would know recently told me - I'm sure he exaggerated a bit, but that was my experien

  • by fermion (181285) on Monday April 23, 2012 @09:07AM (#39770479) Homepage Journal
    Galileo just sat in church watching chandeliers swing. One of my professors when I was in school got a paper out of watching the pool while he was vacationing in Mexico. My high school sent a getaway special a couple years after I graduated. Sometimes Physics is just mathematical models, sometimes it is big expensive experiments. I tWe are in a time of big experiments at the moment because the years 1900-1950 or so were spent rewriting the classical laws of physics into Quantum Mechanics and Special Relativity, then after that time continuing to figure out why they do not mesh.

    What we are seeing now is a few decades of really big science to test the models and discover which are correct, which are not, and which need to be rewritten. This is not going to be a forever process. At some point our experiments will result in data and we will have another direction to go in. Cyclotrons are not going to get arbitrarily big. Spacecraft will eventually need to be sent out and we are simply going to have to wait. We may see a time when the theoretical physicists have to work for a few decades to understand what we need to build next.

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Monday April 23, 2012 @09:08AM (#39770499) Journal

    While I sympathize with the point of TFA's author, I'm not sure if it's that simple.

    More government funding, which is the source of big dollars, isn't an unalloyed good.

    From Eisenhower's famous speech about the (dangers of) military-industrial complex:

    Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.

    In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

    Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

    The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

    Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientifictechnological elite.

    The more that funding is a result of the POLITICAL process, all the more will science be politicized. For scientists to expect money "no strings attached" would be staggeringly naive.

    Pure science is absolutely critical to the continued advancement of our society.

    Considering the diminishing returns and extraordinary numbers required to push out the boundaries of human knowledge, I don't know where the dollars could come from WITHOUT government, but funding from government is invariably a tarbaby that makes everyone sticky and dirty.

  • Not just in US (Score:4, Informative)

    by PiMuNu (865592) on Monday April 23, 2012 @09:17AM (#39770581)

    I recently gave a similar talk to the UK Institute of Physics conference on High Energy Physics. The fact is that particle physics costs too much. The problem, in my view, is generated by particle physicists. We have underinvested in the basic technology of accelerator-driven HEP, namely superconducting magnets and to a lesser extent high gradient RF cavities. This underinvestment has lasted for several decades.

    For example, there are a bunch of folks working on HTS (High Temperature Superconductors) in the US with the potential to increase magnet field strengths by an order of magnitude - and hence particle accelerator fields by an order of magnitude. But the program is poorly funded if at all. In Europe, there are similar programs but they are disjoint (as so many things in Europe) between different countries.

    Sadly, the SSC and LHC were both disastrous in this respect. They basically bankrupted the HEP community. Now the US is more-or-less withdrawing from HEP and European accelerator driven HEP seems to have nowhere to go after LHC.

    The impact to HEP community is clear, but what about the impact to society? Where will we be in a world where we no longer have the capability to push back the fundamental frontiers of knowledge. Is that it?

  • If not our government, will anyone fund these immense projects or will physics slowly grind to a halt due to fiscal constraints?

    Yes, if the cost of pushing the frontiers of science continues to increase, we'll hit a limit where we can't fund the next step. However, I don't think we're there yet. The world economy just isn't doing that well now. When the economy picks up again, the funding will probably come back.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday April 23, 2012 @09:23AM (#39770639) Journal
    Is this really a political problem?

    We haven't been building steadily larger, more complex, and harder-to-get-funded physics machines just for giggles, we've been building them because the previous ones failed to smash particles hard enough.

    It's not as though scientists like grantwriting and political money-grubbing to get their science widgets built. It's just that, so far, each generation of Big Apparatus has managed to peel back another layer of detail that bears no signs of being the deepest one. There is, after all, absolutely nothing that requires the laws of physics to be discernible with apparatus(or minds) of modest size. It is entirely possible that this isn't just the comparatively petty matter of deciding which politicians sign the checks; but of whether we will be able to declare victory within the limits of all the mass and energy within our reach. If it turns out that chasing elementary particles into their spider holes requires an accelerator that runs around the edge of the Kuiper belt, or a Pulsar caliber beam source, who do we get to complain to?
  • ... first recognize its not government funding by rather misuse of tax payer contributions to funding.

    Next crowd source funding direction, each tax payer instructing government where their share is to be spent.
    Congress will like this as they no longer have to fail at budgeting and accounting, we the people will do it instead.
    The government and other previous and current government funded projects will have to educate the people where it is they need funding and why.
    Amendment 16 of the US constitution empowe

  • cause that is the true question; science is $$, and, even more importantly, there are a limited number of talented people who can do science (I mean, how many guys can hit a major league fastball ?) I would say that spending a lot on cosmology is less important then cancer, but thats my bias
    • cause that is the true question; science is $$, and, even more importantly, there are a limited number of talented people who can do science (I mean, how many guys can hit a major league fastball ?) I would say that spending a lot on cosmology is less important then cancer, but thats my bias

      You also have to keep in mind that there is a profit motive for curing cancer and thus the private sector is also hard at work on that problem. No private entity is going to cough up tens of billions of dollars to do fundamental research in high energy physics. Analogies between physical science and disease are also difficult because so much can be done through awareness and prevention; cancers are intertwined with lifestyle as well as genetics, AIDS remains a much larger problem in countries that lack effe

    • cause that is the true question; science is $$, and, even more importantly, there are a limited number of talented people who can do science (I mean, how many guys can hit a major league fastball ?)
      I would say that spending a lot on cosmology is less important then cancer, but thats my bias

      I hope you don't believe that advanced-level scientists can be moved to a different field just because another field is "more important." I once read a comment on a story about the shuttle program shutting down, "just move the NASA scientists to other fields, like cancer research". It displayed an absolutely mind-boggling level of ignorance, sheer stupidity even, about people in fields of science and research. A physicist is not a chemist is not a biologist, they didn't choose their field because of the mon

  • If not our government, will anyone fund these immense projects or will physics slowly grind to a halt due to fiscal constraints?

    Or, they can try to find some other way to do this research that doesn't involve such immense construction. But without establishing this alarmist false dichotomy, Mr. Weinberg won't be able to scare us into giving him more money.

  • The field of high energy physics requires these ever increasing expenditures almost by definition.

    However it is silly to correlate this with all of science, or even all of physics. There is lots of perfectly good science that doesn't requires this scale, and in fact it might well be that allocation of these vast sums of money to these types of projects is a mis-allocation in the sense that you may get far greater return on the investment in other areas.

  • What if we challenge the assumption that more money == more scientific progress? It's quite possible (nay, quite common) to spend vast amounts of money and make little or no progress, even if measured by "useful failures".

    Does anyone really believe that if we dedicated 100% of the earth's GDP for 5 years, we'd cure all cancers? End aging? Cure Jerry's Kids? When we imagine that science is simply determined by the amount of resources we're willing to throw at it, we're making a fatal error.

    At a certain p

  • The crisis is NOT in Government-Funded Science, but eventually in funding extremely large projects. Funding small (intended in terms of size) basic research is a flexible and effective way to move forward an idea into something that can become a product. It proved essential for the development of high tech companies and to spur innovation in general. When the government either takes the job of venture capital (in funding R&D) or takes on multinational resaerch projects, it will end up not performing as
  • The US government is broke. So is most or all of the European governments. Of course, they are all spending money like its going out of style. Where is the money supposed to come from for government funded science?

    Yes, government priorities are screwed up. But that isn't going to change anytime soon regardless of how much you hope for it. (yes, that is a dig at the current POTUS)

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