Presentation Review: Hopes and Fears for Big Science
Dr. Steven Weinberg, a 1979 winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, gave a talk at the Austin Forum on Science, Technology & Society on October 5th on the Hopes and Fears of Big Science. Dr. Weinberg has a background in both physics and astronomy, so his talk mainly revolved around those sciences.To Weinberg, “Big Science” can be read as expensive science. One of the biggest projects Weinberg referenced was the Superconducting Super Collider planned in Texas, a particle accelerator that would be larger than the Large Hadron Collider. Construction of the collider was cancelled after $3 billion was spent, as the US Congress was unwilling to fund the additional $9-12 billion to complete the project.
Weinberg is emphatic about raising taxes to fund expensive experiments like these. First, they provide spin-offs – technological and intellectual stimulation. This in turn attracts people who are good at science. With that in place, the country then would have tried and true scientists ready for when it needs them. The example he gave was the Manhattan Project during WWII, which employed thousands of scientists to develop the atomic bomb.The issue though is always funding, because these big projects cannot produce enough direct monetary spin-offs that would spur private investment. An interesting note is that before a site is selected, there are 100 US Senators who will be for a Big Science Project, but after a site is selected there are only two.