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Yesterday at techtraum's brunch, there was a lively and engaging conversation that jumped around for a couple hours. Things started with the somber conversation about Hiroshima, and the upcoming anniversary of Nagasaki, and Oppenheimer's speech regarding the genesis of the Atomic era.

I am strongly opinionated on the issues of global socio-political inevitability, as well as the long-term perils of the course our species is on at present. I appreciate the variety of viewpoints and intelligent forays into economics, philosophy, theology, politics, and pop culture/media that were brought to the forefront in yesterdays verbal meanderings. It was a grand afternoon conversation, which only good friends, food and booze can spawn.

One of the gentlemen involved in said conversation is a particle physics researcher by trade. He is one of the chosen in, as he put it himself "a dying field." The ROI of particle accelerators, and the science they can do is very prohibitive. Under current projections, within a decade, there will only be one particle accelerator in business in the world. That amazes me.

What amazes me even further was that this physicist viewed this as a good thing. With the lack of available "testing grounds", and without being able to independently verify the science coming out of this one particle accelerator, scientists will be pressed into finding better ideas to prove, rather than picking and playing with theories pell-mell. They would have to find cheaper ways to test their theories, and do more work before going to test then they are now. I had never considered the feast/famine model in scientific research before. I had only ever looked at innovation from a supply/demand standpoint. Granted, feast/famine is tied to supply/demand, but one is an economic model, the other an ecological one.

All of my knowledge and interest in particle physics comes in to where it crosses paths with quantum mechanics (and trust me, on one level or another, EVERYTHING fucking crosses paths with quantum mechanics). It is a fairly esoteric field, with no immediate marketable returns on the research (though, as it was pointed out, an engineer can make a mint on any proved theory). What scares me, I guess, is that this scientific famine will not spawn the needed wave of intellectual innovation, but rather, will lead to a scientific cul-de-sac. It has happened before, and will happen again. Funding makes the world go round, but it also makes or breaks the horizon line of what cutting edge science can discover.

It scares me to consider the depth of control that bureaucracy and private industry seeking profit has over the process of knowledge gaining. Do you think humankind, as a social organism, is capable of making the innovative steps to overcome the lack of research not funded by a controlling interest? Christ I hope so.

Of course, as I am posting this, my attention was brought to this IDT Poll by the AFA . The results made me want to cry.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Aug. 9th, 2005 01:21 pm (UTC)
i'm just not sure pure research exists anymore, if it ever did. look at some of the greatest achievements man's done with his time on this planet - we went to the moon, but only to beat the soviets. we split the atom, but mainly to bomb the hell out of the japanese. we invented swishy pants, but only so that fat people can't sneak up on us. necessity is a mother, and there's not a whole hell of a lot that gets researched out there without an eye to marketability. and i say that from the vantage point of nearly half a decade in a "research firm" that's doing work on a subject that should be worked on no matter what - what gets funded is what sells.
in fact, the polio vaccine is the only thing i can think of off the top of my head that was done because it needed doing, not because it needed selling.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


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