Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Large Hadron Collider - Why Bury 8 Billion Dollars Under Europe?

From a great article in the New Yorker, May 14, 2007, A Cosmology "Crash Course" by Elizabeth Kolbert.

Below, Elizabeth sketches the link between cosmological theory and practical matters, like public money (my added links):

"In 1969, the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy held a hearing at which the physicist Robert Wilson was called to testify. Wilson, who had served as the chief of experimental nuclear physics for the Manhattan Project, was at that point the head of CERN’s main rival, Fermilab, and in charge of $250 million that Congress had recently allocated for the lab to build a new collider. Senator John Pastore, of Rhode Island, wanted to know the rationale behind a government expenditure of that size. Did the collider have anything to do with promoting “the security of the country”?:

Wilson: No sir, I don’t believe so.

Pastore: Nothing at all?

Nothing at all.

Pastore: It has no value in that respect?:

Wilson: It only has to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. . . . It has to do with are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about. . . . It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to make it worth defending.

Asked to explain how their work, supported by public funds, contributes to the public good, particle physicists often cite Wilson, or offer some variation on his non-answer answer: the search for knowledge cannot be justified on other grounds; its value, like the particles under study, is irreducible."


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