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back to article CERN Proton-smashers: We are economically valuable

International atomsmasher lab CERN has rubbished UK science minister Lord Drayson's suggestion that research funding should focus more on areas which directly benefit the economy. The Minister particularly favoured areas where he made his large personal fortune: med-tech and drugs. Here are a few highlights of Drayson's speech …

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Unhappy

Gah!

"Now he's back, despite not having won Le Mans. This time he's in charge of the science budget."

Please can someone sack this ignoramous, before or after Wacky Jaqui, I don't care. But SOON.

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Tom
Flame

Silly argument

I don't think the government will cut funding to the LHC, they have no reason to, not after championing the idea for the past 11 years that they've been in power. Just because "particle physics" wasn't directly mentioned doesn't mean it's not in consideration... I doubt they could name everything they plan to fund.

The LHC is perhaps one of the most important scientific projects of recent times and if Europe can crack Fusion power then it will be a very valuable resource for European economies. It's just a shame that the French (Eon) are so very far ahead of us on current Fission technology.

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Bronze badge

So his only achievement is to buy-out a sweets company?

And from the fizzy lemons and cola bottles he seems to have accomplished, well, not a lot, except getting paid by us for a lot a bad ideas.

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CKM
Black Helicopters

In 1995, before the LHC

...my wife wrote a huge article for a major Dutch publication about how the LHC was an incredible waste of money. Even the physicists at CERN admitted that the LHC was not powerful enough to test their theories and that it was basically a funding project for the scientific community. Despite all of this, it had zero impact on budgetary allocations by the Dutch to the LHC. Basically, for the scientific community, the LHC represents 'full employement' and they will do/say whatever it takes to make sure budgets are not cut.

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Flame

Benefits

"...directly benefit the economy..."

How f%^*g short sighted. Politicians can only ever rationalise things in terms of short term monetary gain. Idiots. Has the guy no clue that the research this facility will be able to undertake could well provide a new direction for clean energy generation among many many other things.

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Swap you even

How about if we take Drayson off your hands and in return give you Phil Gramm, economic advisor (until dumped) to John McCain's Presidential campaign, who while a US Senator fro Texas famously remarked "Between 20 and 30 percent of the gross national product of the United States comes from high energy physics"?

We're sure the fact that the Superconducting Supercollider was to be built in Texas has nothing to do with this.

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Useless blather

Here's what I took from that CERN guy: blah blah blah WE'RE IMPORTANT blah blah blah POOR US blah blah blah GIVE US MONEY blah blah blah YOU NEED US blah blah blah...

As we're firmly ensconced in a global recession, quickly sliding into a global depression, it does lead to the question -- does a bunch of scientists spending millions of dollars/pounds to smash atoms together have any short-term benefits? If not, does delaying the smashing result in a significant rise in cost? Normally I don't like to think short-term, but if we hope to get out of this recession/depression, then we need to. As for my own country, I'd gladly give up the space program (including the ISS) for however long it takes to reach non-rec/depression status. Spending lots of money on things which have no immediate benefit makes little sense in a rec/depression.

"And last year's budget didn't even keep up with inflation." -- join the club, pal. Most companies have had to CUT their budgets in addition to laying off thousands of people, and in addition to freezing or cutting the pay of employees being retained. Be happy you still have a job.

If the CERN scientists are so great that they can solve problems and have lasting benefits to mankind, naive little me must ask the question -- why don't they do so instead of having those solutions coming as an unintended side-effect of an unrelated problem they are having?

"Now the medical imaging industry are looking at what we've done, with a view to making combined PET/MRI scanners," adds Gillies. "Of course, it won't make us any money."

Bullshit. What he meant, of course, is that it won't DIRECTLY make them any money. And since it was created directly from government funding paid for by the various nations' taxpayers, it SHOULDN'T make them money directly. The information SHOULD be entered into the public domain since it's the public that paid for it in the first place. But considering it's things like this which at least partially factor into whether a country wants to help fund CERN (and how much), then it does make them money, just indirectly. But like other industries, indirect is hard to measure, so we'll conveniently ignore it.

"And I'd argue that that's why we have the world wide web today, not the Microsoft web and the Apple web and a lot of other competing methods all incompatible with each other... That's helped the economy, hasn't it?"

Oh yes, sing it, brother! "We are the world... We are the children..." Oh, sorry, I got caught up in his "We bring harmony to the world" aura. I'm sure all the web developers out there are happy there are no incompatibilities that require them to test for and design separate code for IE6, IE7, IE8, and Netscape/Mozilla/Firefox. Yes, I know that's not CERN's fault, but it goes to refute his stupid comment about the web not having incompatibilities. In theory, it doesn't. As Tim Berners-Lee designed it, it doesn't. In reality, it does.

As for whether or not the World Wide Web has helped the economy, I won't pretend to know the answer because it's not a clear yes or no. Sure, you have economic successes like amazon.com, but what impact has that had on local economies? You have social networking success stories like myspace and facebook, which at least benefit data centers and probably a small number of employees, but at what economic cost to local economies (since people "meet" on those sites instead meeting in person and frequenting local eateries, entertainment, etc)?

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will they ever learn?

let's hire a muppet who's persistently failed and how real track record to run things and make decisions, who cares if he screws people and the economy over...

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Anonymous Coward

heh

no shocks, our government has no interest in expanding our fundemental understanding, he just wants to add more gloss on old tech.

To use a very silly computer game example.

A level 100 machine gun may be very nice and hey you can get along way in a knife fight with the best machine guns around, but it ain't shit in comparision to a lvl 1 solar collapser.

A level 100 ground windmill may sort out power to a local town most of the time, but a level 1 ultra high altitude wind turbine will make power for a whole county all the time.

O well, off home to play solar empire v some more.

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Anonymous Coward

I didn't even realise it was a Lewis Page article...

Until I read the boot note....

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Anonymous Coward

Drayson

Short sighted twat, if it was left up to people like him we'd still be living in mud huts and grubbing in the dirt for a livng.

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Silver badge
Pirate

sounds

fairly typical for a government politician

"dont put money into pure research, channel into the companies I have/had a hand in running so I get a fat kickback when the government gets booted out in May 2010"

Need a Guy Fawkes icon....... the only man to enter parliment with honest intentions.....

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Gold badge

They are right

They are right. Physics is important. You would not have the transistor, modern-style hard drives (the giant magnetoresistive heads used in the last 10 years use quantum tunneling effects to work), a lot of modern metals and other materials, without what at first would have appeared to be "not economically valuable" research. I'll tell you what's NOT economically valuable -- the military. I guess there's not much to cut there in the UK though, the US should do some cutting there though. This wouldn't have to put Raytheon etc. out of business, just have them do useful R&D instead of developing the next jet fighter and bombs.

I am not sure if ANY gov't money should go to pharma research -- unlike CERN for instance where results are public, what seems to happen with this pharma research is the taxpayer pays for it, then some company uses those results and patents any resulting drugs or treatments. Then they mark the drugs way up "to cover the cost of development." Why should I pay -- twice -- for the drug company's research?

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Flame

Where to start?

First off, Lewis sums it up nicely:

"Presumably "intelligent transport" includes ramjet-propelled supersonic cars."

This is what the average politician is all about: showboating with pointless regime-aggrandising stunts to show the world that "we still have what it takes" while everyone behind the scenes knows what a total fraud it all is. Since the whole completely-flat-desert-based supersonic car has been done, I doubt that any other regime is really going to be so impressed with a jet car with a strap-on, somehow.

Anyway, back to the meat: Drayson - seemingly yet another peer with government responsibilities, making us all wonder whether parliamentary reform means giving everyone in the House of Commons a peerage, or whether Gordo's cabinet is stuffed with Siths - is presumably of the school that advocates lots of business-oriented solutions, meaning that the taxpayer gives money to researchers who then obtain unethical patents and perks which are transferred into private companies who then fleece the taxpayers and harass legitimate competition while screwing the poor and the developing world, especially in Drayson's favourite sector of "life sciences" where people wake up to find that some corporation has patented some genes and/or stamped their mark on some law or process of nature, thus having to pony up serious cash to monopolists in order to avoid dying of disease or starvation. It's the new "information economy": monopoly rights plus illicit privatisation equals extortion.

How any progress is going to be made in "green energy" without a better understanding of, say, nuclear fusion (whether the sun is doing it or whether you're doing it yourself) unless "green" is a label for new-age pixie-powered Glastonbury-style "natural living", clearly escapes the intellect of this Nathan Barley/Bertie Wooster hybrid. And on the subject of Nathan Barley, we shouldn't be surprised to see the "creative, digital and communications sectors" being represented: I'm sure this means hand-outs to Soho-based friends of the Beeb and brown envelopes from the record companies so that Cliff Richard's distant descendants can live off the proceeds of his mostly/preferably forgettable output.

Once again, it's some idiot from politics showing contempt for science and education, forgetting that if you stop doing basic research and target everything towards making a shinier iPod, you quickly run out of ways to make it shinier. Using the "return on investment" argument is disingenuous and particularly offensive from the likes of Drayson: CERN's budget wouldn't buy very many illegal wars or financial "rescue" packages (more like emergency remedy from sustained mismanagement, but anyway), but then Drayson and cronies aren't as likely to profit from spending on real science as on back room weapons deals and hand-outs.

CERN doesn't need to justify its existence. Drayson, however, needs to justify why he's in his current job every fucking day, it would seem.

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Of all the things to spend money on...

Ok, I'm going to annoy any of my former colleagues who read this by saying this, but modern particle physics is about the least likely field of science to ever produce economically useful results. It's hard to argue otherwise. However, and this is a big however, even though the science itself (the search for the Higgs and super-symmetry and so on) is arguably worthless, the research into sensor and computer technology that is what the people at CERN (as opposed to theoreticians looking at the results) spend doing is undeniably incredibly useful. As mentioned, the internet is a prime example.

There are two points here. One is that there are dis-economies of scale if you focus a nations efforts too exclusively on one scientific field. I don't really feel like going into detail as to why that is, but mainly it's that most good ideas come from cross-pollinations between disciplines, which is hard to do without a lot of disciplines.

The other point is that high-energy physics (as opposed to condensed matter physics or especially biology) has a much harder time getting funding from the private sector, because any useful results it produces are less likely to be easy to directly monetize. That is, better understanding of physics helps everyone live better, but mainly by allowing other people to design better technology. It's the other people who make the money, though. Unlike biology where whoever figures out what protein cures twitter addiction can directly market this discovery to drug companies. Physics funding is the standard public goods problem.

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Digital cameras

Also developed from particle detector technology.

Oh yeah, and there some interwebby thing...

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Anonymous Coward

Drayson has never raced at the Le Mans 24h

Drayson has never raced at the Le Mans 24h or in the Le Mans Series. He was born blind in one eye. Until this year, the FIA's rules bared him from racing.

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Treepulp grid

Nice

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Stop

Don't talk to String Theorists

"...my wife wrote a huge article for a major Dutch publication about how the LHC was an incredible waste of money. Even the physicists at CERN admitted that the LHC was not powerful enough to test their theories... Despite all of this, it had zero impact on budgetary allocations by the Dutch"

Good - it shows the Dutch government have enough sense to ignore someone who clearly has no clue what they are writing about. There are string theorists for whom the LHC is indeed no where near powerful enough to test their theories. However to talk to them (or similar theorists) and then conclude that the LHC is useless frankly shows that either you are not properly researching the material or that you simply do not have a grasp of what is going on.

The LHC will definitively test the Standard Model Higgs mechanism (the Higgs boson) and either confirm it or exclude it. That is the primary goal of the LHC. It should also have enough energy to produce Dark Matter particles assuming that they do interact via the weak force and were thermally produced in the Big Bang (this is not guarenteed but both are reasonable, broad assumptions). If your wife had actually spoken with the experimentalists working on the machine she would have learnt this.

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Boffin

Quantum and Nuclear

"modern particle physics is about the least likely field of science to ever produce economically useful results. It's hard to argue otherwise. However, and this is a big however, even though the science itself (the search for the Higgs and super-symmetry and so on) is arguably worthless"

One hundred years ago you could have said exactly the same thing about quantum and nuclear physics - then the areas of fundamental physics research. What on earth is the practical application of bombarding alpha particles at a gold foil? Why do we care if an electron is a particle and a wave? etc. etc.

Fast forward a few decades and we have nuclear power, nuclear medicine, semiconductors, hard disks etc. I'll grant you that particle physics is long term but I bet 100 years from now we'll be doing something amazing with the science we are only just learning about now.

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Gold badge

He's got it backwards

If we've learned anything in the past hundred years, it is that governments can't pick winners. If a particular field of research might be lucrative, why not let private enterprise take the risk? (Well, see the next paragraph, but I think my point is basically sound.) Politicians are the worst people to decide where to spend research funds. Not only do they know nothing about the subject, they frequently have vested interests in making the wrong decision.

What government funding *can* do is, firstly: finance research beyond the financial event horizon of a stockbroker (so that's probably a couple of weeks at the moment), and secondly: finance research specifically to discover socially beneficial ideas *first*, before some commercial bod does it and slaps a patent on it.

Of course, the latter is only useful if you have a working patent system that bothers to check for "novelty" and "prior art" before granting monopolies, and the former requires a government that can see further than the next election. We have neither. We have this idiot Grayson, pretending that he knows more about future scientific progress than the people producing it.

None of this is an argument for unlimited scientific spending, but *please* once you've picked a budget, let it be spent by someone with a clue.

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Heart

There IS a use for phsysics

Just throw all the world's physicists into a room and don't let them out until they've created a hyperdrive.

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Silver badge

@Chris C

"Normally I don't like to think short-term, but if we hope to get out of this recession/depression, then we need to."

Has something -forced- you to up the drivel quotient in your posts here, or are you just doing it because you're an insufferable jackass?

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Flame

Re: In 1995, before the LHC

"...my wife wrote a huge article for a major Dutch publication about how the LHC was an incredible waste of money."

Well, even if you don't look at the science, which it would seem a lot of people are in the habit of not doing, the amount of engineering expertise involved and developed through the LHC is vast. The US gave up on realising the same project in the 1980s partly because the technology just wasn't up to the job. And if no-one attempts the LHC, how is anyone going to attempt to realise a more powerful machine without gaining experience with, say, superconductivity on a large scale?

"Even the physicists at CERN admitted that the LHC was not powerful enough to test their theories and that it was basically a funding project for the scientific community."

Of course it's a funding project for the scientific community: you have scientists doing work and that work is funded. The impression your wife presumably wanted to give was that it was money to achieve nothing, but this is a laughably simplistic view of how science is done. Furthermore, there are areas where the experimental validation of developed theories is still decades behind the work of the theorists. What's your wife's solution to that? Lay everyone off and call them back in several decades down the line, if at all, and have them try and get back up to speed?

"Despite all of this, it had zero impact on budgetary allocations by the Dutch to the LHC. Basically, for the scientific community, the LHC represents 'full employement' and they will do/say whatever it takes to make sure budgets are not cut."

Full employment? I don't doubt that working conditions for permanent staff at CERN have been decent historically, although I think you'll find that things started to take a bit of a negative turn back when your wife was busy rubbishing the organisation, but pretending that there hasn't been budgetary pressure on CERN and implying that particle physicists are all on some gravy train would get you laughed out of many a university department.

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Flame

Re: Useless blather

"As we're firmly ensconced in a global recession, quickly sliding into a global depression, it does lead to the question -- does a bunch of scientists spending millions of dollars/pounds to smash atoms together have any short-term benefits?"

I think you'll find that the key to a stable society, especially one not subject to economic volatility, is in maintaining stable priorities. Throwing everything overboard at the first sign of a storm just makes things worse. When Intel, say, decides to invest in 32nm fabrication, are they stupid? Shouldn't they be cutting back and delaying fabrication improvements? According to you they are, but I doubt that you're sitting on the smart money, somehow.

"If not, does delaying the smashing result in a significant rise in cost? Normally I don't like to think short-term, but if we hope to get out of this recession/depression, then we need to. As for my own country, I'd gladly give up the space program (including the ISS) for however long it takes to reach non-rec/depression status. Spending lots of money on things which have no immediate benefit makes little sense in a rec/depression."

So what would you spend the money on? And why must it be the money for this that is diverted and not the money for, say, guns and bombs? And how does one realistically reach "non-rec/depression status"? You can say, "Let's not spend money on anything non-essential!" You can even say, "Let's give everyone money to get them spending money again." But the former is quite likely to deepen a recession, whereas the latter will just cause a momentary false recovery before everyone gets an even nastier surprise.

Throw away the space programme, now there's an idea! We've all seen how that kind of idea worked out back in the 1970s: thirty-five years on and the US is working out how to get back to the moon. Time, money and expertise discarded, and you'd do that again to keep the failing industries of Detroit happy for a few more quarters?

Useless blather, indeed!

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@ Chris C

"Normally I don't like to think short-term, but if we hope to get out of this recession/depression, then we need to. As for my own country, I'd gladly give up the space program (including the ISS) for however long it takes to reach non-rec/depression status. Spending lots of money on things which have no immediate benefit makes little sense in a rec/depression."

Capital idea. So I guess you'd be talking about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan then--five years of expenses that burn through more money in a couple of weeks than the ISS and the space program go through in a year.

Cutting funding for science while continuing to pour money into the sand in Iraq is like saving money by cutting out cable TV while still buying a Ferrari every month.

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Silver badge
Alien

Live Registered Systems BetaTesting ...... :-) *

"So his only achievement is to buy-out a sweets company? ..... And from the fizzy lemons and cola bottles he seems to have accomplished, well, not a lot, except getting paid by us for a lot a bad ideas." .... By Hollerith Posted Friday 13th February 2009 16:57 GMT

Hollerith,

In his new job "This time he's in charge of the science budget.", and let's hope he is a lot better at understanding the nature of Relativity between Science and Business/Ideas and Economy than the minions in Politics are, he is easily tested for competence by submission of a direct request for grant funding.

And such requests should always be so designed that they can be globally shared with their "printing" to the Internet/Global Information Grid/World Wide Web at the same time as their virtual postal submission to whatever electronic address you may think to use and/or has been provided, such as DIUS.Ministers@dius.gsi.gov.uk or jennifer.eatough@cabinet-office.x.gsi.gov.uk [and do not be worried about a "personalised" address, for one never really knows who has set up the address, does one?], because if you have an idea/a proposal which you perceive as having enough merit for the granting of Publicly Funded/Quantitively Eased Reward, which can also be used for further research with enabling funding which will invariably attract more third party interest and their enabling funds too [and it is as well for any who would choose to sit in subjective/objective judgement on such proposals to recognise that some funds requested are grants/rewards/legitimate payments for years of selfless, unrewarded Intellectual exercise which will pay countless future dividends, rather than being solely any sort of payment for future works, although one will always presuppose that it would be the start of a glorious adventure which may be a Joint Venture] because you don't want them to be sitting on anything "hot" simply because it is personally inconvenient or fundamentally explosive. Que sera sera.

Watch this space for Currency/Fresh of the Presses News of such a Virtual BetaTesting of present Government Systems for AI and NEUKlearer HyperRadioProActivity, for Power and Control Leverage ..... and ITs Astute Facility and Faculty.

And don't forget that Innovative Ideas know no National or International boundaries and if helpful and inquisitive brains are missing in one country/business/department, they are probably definitely always easily found in another ........ with the Search Beautifully and Effortlessly AIdDed by Simple Internet Sharing.

"As for whether or not the World Wide Web has helped the economy, I won't pretend to know the answer because it's not a clear yes or no." ..... By Chris C Posted Friday 13th February 2009 17:27 GMT.

It certainly very effectively exposes all the fraudsters and parasites running unsustainable scams, Chris, and that is bound to help the real economy ....... and it also exposes all of their dodgy and/or criminal support elements too. And these constantly recurring tales must be a debilitating revolutionary worry to render any nation, a failed pariah state. ..... http://tiny.cc/kzifa.

And quite rightly so, some would say.

"There IS a use for phsysics .... Just throw all the world's physicists into a room and don't let them out until they've created a hyperdrive." ..... By BioTube Posted Saturday 14th February 2009 14:31 GMT

Hmmm? :-) ..... You might get a much better result with PsychotICQs/Borderliners [in the mix], BioTube.

* El Reg goes Virtually Astute and NEUKlearer HyperRadioProActive ....... Quantum Aware?

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Boffin

All this science for so little money

What was it, £70m + £34m = £104m a year. Bargain for all the spin offs that WILL come out the thing.

If anyone thinks that £104m a year is a lot of money, consider how much money the bankers can loose in an afternoon. The LHC costs peanuts compared to HBOS/Lloyds/Northern Rock et al. The banks have been a real boost to our economy recently haven't they.

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Bronze badge

Pharma is particle physics too

Just go and look at the physics involved in revealing the structure of proteins. Go on. I'll wait.

I am slightly inclined to the view that the math of particle physics has become so complicated that we may be doing something wrong. Look up epicycles, Kepler, and Newton.

I live within a dozen miles of a steelworks. It couldn't exist without the waste and futility of NASA, because they spent the money to learn how to produce huge quantities of liquified gases, which happen to be the key to the steel-making process it uses.

Drayson is making himself seem a fool. His history is also being consistent with him being a crook. And his only personal asset is his political connections.

Rollon the next General Election.

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Joke

@Roger Moore

Rog, now that the film work has dried up, and the UNICEF gig is cominig to an end, have you now turned your attention to Quantum Physics ?

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Lord snooty

To all of you who think things are going to improve once the toffee-nosed get into power, think again.

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@Chris C

Wow, goes a long way to show that when one wants to find reasons for a preconceived opinion, one finds them (but generally looks stupid).

"

As we're firmly ensconced in a global recession, quickly sliding into a global depression, it does lead to the question -- does a bunch of scientists spending millions of dollars/pounds to smash atoms together have any short-term benefits? If not, does delaying the smashing result in a significant rise in cost?

"

It should be obvious to you that yes, there's a VERY significant rise in cost of delaying: cost now is people whose job you have to pay for. Stop the costs, you stop the jobs. The people go somewhere else, and in three years time, you just CAN'T find experienced people again without spending years enticing them and paying them WAYYYYY more.

If you had thought about it, you could even have seen this everywhere: private companies too avoid at all costs to get rid of valuable people, even in a recession (firing blue-collars is not the same: the more qualifications you need, the more the company will try and keep you in a downturn so that you're still there when it gets better.

"Spending lots of money on things which have no immediate benefit makes little sense in a rec/depression."

Quite the opposite. In a recession, governments will often spend, spend, spend, just to get counteract the vicious circle of "recession->noone spends money->there's no reason to produce as noone buys->fire people->worsening recession -> noone spends money-> ..."

Of course, spending on something useful may be better, but actually, just spending, even for something utterly useless, actually has a very direct and useful benefit in recession times.

So if you're convinced CERN is useless, well, now is exactly the time when you should complain LESS about the spending.

"

"Now the medical imaging industry are looking at what we've done, with a view to making combined PET/MRI scanners," adds Gillies. "Of course, it won't make us any money."

Bullshit. What he meant, of course, is that it won't DIRECTLY make them any money. [...]

But like other industries, indirect is hard to measure, so we'll conveniently ignore it.

"

ahahahahah.

If you had actually read the thing with an open mind, you'd have realized the guy is actually saying EXACTLY the same as you are. He's precisely making the point that it doesn't make them any direct money, but that it's useful to society as a whole, and thus is making money indirectly. Read again, it's so funny seeing you try to prove the guy is a whiner by precisely explaining the same thing as he.

He of course doesn't "conveniently ignore it". On the opposite, he's using this as one of his main arguments to prove that the research was helpful, indirectly bringing benefits to the society, in return for the money expended.

"

Oh yes, sing it, brother! "We are the world... We are the children..." Oh, sorry, I got caught up in his "We bring harmony to the world" aura. I'm sure all the web developers out there are happy there are no incompatibilities that require them to test for and design separate code for IE6, IE7, IE8, and Netscape/Mozilla/Firefox. Yes, I know that's not CERN's fault, but it goes to refute his stupid comment about the web not having incompatibilities. In theory, it doesn't. As Tim Berners-Lee designed it, it doesn't. In reality, it does.

"

You don't know what the web is do you?

Browsers is not the web.

He's talking about the fact that the content is not specific to a private network (like Microsoft tried to do). Minor deviations in the web standards is so far from what you'd have if some private companies had each developped a web (not counting the fact it would probably have taken 10 more years, or even more, to get a critical mass to get it to take off).

It's getting really ludicrous.

And the best:

"As for whether or not the World Wide Web has helped the economy, I won't pretend to know the answer because it's not a clear yes or no. Sure, you have economic successes like amazon.com, but what impact has that had on local economies? You have social networking success stories like myspace and facebook, which at least benefit data centers and probably a small number of employees, but at what economic cost to local economies (since people "meet" on those sites instead meeting in person and frequenting local eateries, entertainment, etc)?"

Wow, that one shows a real, laughable lack of understanding of the economy.

Is life simpler with the web? Yes, there's a clear yes or no to that one. Finding an address? Booking a flight, a hotel? Looking up some obscure information? Contacting someone? Sending information fast and reliably?

All this that you now do through the web saves you hundreds of hours a year. And it also saves hundred of hours of people you'd have made work to get the same result.

At the same time, unemployment had not risen at the same time all those jobs were destroyed (cos' they were, you're right). What does it mean? Well, basically, that's the definition of growth.

If population doesn't grow significantly (and in that case there's no growth 'per head' so it doesn' teven help), how is there any growth in our society? By freeing up people's time, and destroying jobs that can be done more efficiently, so that these people can produce something else instead.

Since as many people were employed after the web revolution as before, you have to realize they just did something else instead of having hundreds of thousands of people employed at booking plane tickets and printing address books and others.

So you got the same thing as before - through the web - and all the things those people now do, which they wouldn't be doing if they still had to do the thankless tasks the web has removed the need for.

Growth, per definition.

Thinking it's not clear whether the web has helped growth because it has destroyed jobs is exactly as stupid as thinking agricultural machines has not clearly helped growth because 80% of pre-existing the jobs were eventually destroyed because of it (going from 90% of farmers to 10%). Hmmm, let me see, I can't really be sure about this. We probably would have had more economic benefits if we'd kept 90% of the population plowing the fields. That HAS to be better than destroying all those jobs, we'd surely be economically be better off...

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@Dave Bell

"I am slightly inclined to the view that the math of particle physics has become so complicated that we may be doing something wrong. Look up epicycles, Kepler, and Newton."

Brilliant comment - see also "saving the appearances", and page William of Ockham while you're up :-) :-)

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