Big Science

Most scientific knowledge has been developed by individuals puttering around in labs.  Labs, not something the size of the Pyramids or Hoover Dam. But sometimes it has been produced in large, expensive projects and installations. Cutting-edge optical telescopes are big projects, true also for  radio telescopes, definitely true for Ice Cube and LIGO.  The same for particle physics,  with SLAC and Fermilab and CERN.

Those big-science projects have been successful, but they haven’t been useful. They have produced almost exactly nothing of economic value. I get the impression that their builders would have been disappointed if they had been useful.  That’s wrong thinking: a richer society could afford more physics!

I can think of at least two big-science projects that would make big money, as well as DOING GOOD and LEAVING FOOTPRINTS IN THE SANDS OF TIME .  But how to get them off the ground? Policymakers are pretty skeptical about claims of big payoffs, since they’ve been lied to  for generations, while investors are apparently looking for chicks with weird voices wearing turtlenecks.

Unlike the products of the Demon Princes of Silicon Valley, what I’m thinking about would be truly useful.

 

 

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98 Responses to Big Science

  1. Hesse Kassel says:

    The government shows a far greater propensity to spend money on the useless than on the useful, on the worst rather than on the best and on the expensive rather than on the cheap.

    Your plan is on one out of three.

    I hope that helps.

    • Realist says:

      “The government shows a far greater propensity to spend money on the useless than on the useful, on the worst rather than on the best and on the expensive rather than on the cheap.”
      Yes, such as string theory and multiverse, among many others.

  2. dlr says:

    Big Science projects like the Human Genome Project, and the equivalent ones for proteins, etc, haven’t paid off — yet. But I’d say that’s because they are tackling a hard problem, not because their Big Science project was poorly conceived or executed.

    I presume the reason you didn’t reveal what the two projects are that you’ve though of is because you hope people will think about it a bit and come up with one or two of their own : possibly even better ones than yours.

    • Eugene Nicks says:

      We’ve genotyped millions of people thanks to the human genome project, and it likely kicked off genomics technology as well (yes you could do it now for thousands, but would we have current tech without the project?)

      Using genomics to find drugs and cure disease is really, really hard. But finding people predisposed to disease and having unaffected siblings born instead? That’s actually really easy.

    • JP says:

      The unnamed big project is perhaps landing self-replicators customized for the lunar and/or Martian surface, to get them going to work, self replicating and securing these bodies for the American Race, before the Celestial Menace gets there (not that I’m too worried about them beating us, more likely they’d hack our replicators).

      • gcochran9 says:

        That’s one, only you want to use the asteroids.

      • savantissimo says:

        Need to try to demonstrate self-replicators on Earth first.

        Very difficult, even after scaling ambitions down to, e.g.: making a factory that can produce all its own tools, tooling, machines and structure from inputs of metals, plastics, chips, etc. Even without trying to make it fully automated and having lots of humans on hand it would still be a civilization-advancing effort.

        It amounts to packing most of an economy into a (big) box.
        But if you could do that ~efficiently, even at town-size scale on Earth, it would pay for itself with trillions per year left to spare.

        • gcochran9 says:

          Over the years, I’ve talked to a number of people about this concept. As have others. Everyone within a light-year of the powers-that-be seems unable to understand it. It just bounces off them.

          • Alex says:

            A former Boeing employee who posted a lot on nextbigfuture.com, Dani Eder, promotes a (terrestrial) concept for seed factories that could be adapted for space once certain thresholds are met for resource utilization on-site.

            https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/User:Danielravennest/SFP/Intro

          • Cloudswrest says:

            A working definition of life is: information that can adapt and copy itself in a natural environment. Replicators and/or von Neumann machines are essentially artifical/non-biological life. You can view your replicators as artificial livestock. A space pastoralist going out and grazing the asteroids.

        • crew says:

          A problem will be what do you do with all those unemployed males?

          With lots of free time on their hands they could create lots of mischief.

          • Jason says:

            Video games, anime and internet porn are keeping them out of trouble for the moment, but it’s not a perfect solution.

          • savantissimo says:

            Full automation is a pipe-dream, but still there would be a great deal of automation, and also a great deal of machine tending work. A system set up to limit concentration of ownership of machines, etc. via insurance and lending rules, regulatory advantages for small entities could combine the advantages of market-based systems, having many buyers, sellers and swappers of many different machines’ time, but at the same time a much greater and more widespread creative and productive potential than present ways. It would be something like having the workers send in robots to do most of their old jobs, but without implying 1-1 pairing. Rents -literally and in econ. jargon – from real capital (machines) would replace wage income in underpinning the demand for the products of the factory system.

            There should be a lot more design and engineering work, too. Anybody can make anything. Anybody with something to trade, anyway – money or in-demand machines, materials or labor. to trade in the automated market-making and internal factory scheduling software so getting to use the whole flexible factory system like a computer to run almost any sequence of manufacturing processes. An even half-sensible and low transaction cost system for valuing designs (& features, variations) and other contributions such as testing would pay a lot of designers and engineers who could never get paid for design before.

    • Alex says:

      A lot of these big projects have, in the current way of doing things, a significant free rider problem which probably detracts from investment in them. Meanwhile, things that are done purely for prestige or non-economic value do not have free rider problems attached to them. So long as taxpayer funded technology ends up sparking an economic boom in another country for one reason or another rather than in their own, there will be an opposition to these projects which, many times, do not have such hardcore lobbyists because there are lower hanging fruit to pluck

  3. megabar says:

    I recall reading an article stating that the prestige of an academic field is inversely proportional to how useful it is. That is clearly an overstatement; physics rose to great prestige while being useful. It’s more likely in my mind that the intellect required to enter a field is tied to the prestige, and usefulness is only weakly correlated. Today, prestige points are also awarded for being socially aware.

    So that suggests 2 possibilities: Sell the project as something only the most intelligent and socially-aware can see value in, and get a female POC to be the face of it.

    • Jim says:

      Physics eventually became very useful but in the time of Newton how useful was it to derive Kepler’s Laws from an inverse square law of attraction?

      • Zimriel says:

        Newton needed calculus to get his gravitational law and other laws of motion off the ground, as it were. I would say that accurate ballistics were immediately useful to the powers of Europe. Lotsa cannon in the late 1600s.
        So, it might not have mattered at the time that there was now a gravitational law, since King James I wasn’t sending ships to Venus, but everything that attended it very much did matter.

        • Young says:

          I don’t think Newton needed calculus for his greatest project, though it would have made it easier. The Principia was done using Euclidean geometry.

          • Jim says:

            Newton no doubt used calculus in his own derivations but the Principia was written in the Archimidean style because that style was widely understood and accepted at the time. Had the Principia used calculus only a handful of contemporary mathematicians would have understood it.

            • Young says:

              I think there is doubt whether he used calculus for Principia. A lot of his old notes have been archived and I don’t recall reading of any showing he worked everything out in calculus before setting to work redoing everything with geometry. There should be a scintilla of evidence to support your claim and I am not sure that scintilla is to be found. As for ‘only a handful of mathematicians’ would have understood Principia if presented in calculus, only a handful understood it in geometry. I dont think he cared; he was not notably considerate of others.

              • Jim says:

                No, the Archimidean style of presentation was well understood at the time but calculus would have been very novel to many.

            • Young says:

              By the way, it was your ‘Newton needed calculus to . . .” Clearly he showed it was possible to derive the results without calculus. Whether he used it or not at some stage, the fact remains that the whole structure could be erected with geometry.

              • Jim says:

                Calculus, geometry, whatever – it’s just the choice of a different language. But at that time a calculus style would have been incomprehensible to most contemporaries.

      • Rhetocrates says:

        Extremely. It greatly simplified some difficult problems in navigation and ballistics.

      • Young says:

        Not very useful if you want to make a glass of orange juice, very useful if you actually want to know and understand something.
        In math I think Gauss took pride in creating (or finding) knowledge that had no practical use whatsoever. Of course, he was mistaken in thinking that.

        • Jim says:

          I don’t think Gauss was much different from other mathematicians of about that time. Euler, Lagrange, Laplace, Legendre etc. don’t seem to have been much motivated in their research by considerations of immediate practical value.

          • Young says:

            No, they weren’t. Not just that time either. How much practical value does Dedekind’s work on number theory have other than being beautiful in itself. Maybe it is better to think of human inquiry at that level as equivalent to art, of value in itself. Who would use an ancient Grecian urn to hold flowers? It doesn’t need a subordinate utilitarian purpose.

            • Jim says:

              Well today I guess cryptography is an application area using algebraic number theory but I’m sure Dedekind never expected that. Certainly not many of the great mathematicians seem to have had a strong interest in practical applications of their work. Of course there is someone like Babbage.

  4. 罗臻 says:

    Under the JOBS act, it’s possible to raise a tidy sum from small investors. If the project can be broken into pieces, you can sell the whole idea, but only seek financing for the first stage. If successful, repeat for stage 2.

  5. ilkarnal says:

    Is one of them making a big enough Z machine to generate fusion energy?

  6. Glengarry says:

    Sell your soul to Google X, they don’t seem to mind spending big on odd stuff.

  7. Little spoon says:

    Hire a demon princess to procure funds on your behalf.

    • Toddy Cat says:

      This. Surely, some are available if some stock options are thrown in, we may even have a volunteer, judging from the message above. How do you look in a turtleneck, LS?

      • Little spoon says:

        Pretty good. And my fake man voice is even deeper than the current reigning princess. Added to that I am Indian, so I have princess and toad lackey powers combined. Alas, I lack the raw psychopathy needed to succeed in this arena.

        • Toddy Cat says:

          “I lack the raw psychopathy needed to succeed in this arena.”

          Lord knows, there are plenty of people who could teach you…

  8. dearieme says:

    Randomised Controlled Trials of medical/surgical procedures, old remedies, and diet. Most RCTs are funded by drug companies and are therefore of new drugs. There’s a gap: other things tend to have a weak evidence base, or next to none.

    Studies of drug adverse consequences and drug interactions. Again, the drug companies have no good reason to fund these, so who will?

    • dlr says:

      ‘Randomized Controlled Trials of medical/surgical procedures, old remedies, and diet’ would definitely ‘do good’, but, almost by definition, wouldn’t ‘make big money’. If they would ‘make big money’ the drug companies would presumably already be doing them.

      Although I could see how under certain circumstances those kinds of Randomized Controlled Trials might ‘save big money’ — for a single payer medical system, like Medicare or Medicaid or HMOs, determining the most cost effective way of treating illnesses might have a big pay-off.

      I could imagine someone like Kaiser Permanente establishing an open-ended prize that paid off say 10% of cost savings to anyone that proved an alternate to current standard care was cheaper or more effective. Everyone else in the world could and would steal their new approach of course, since no patent protection, but Kaiser would still come out ahead.

  9. Dana Thompson says:

    Big-engineering projects that benefit humanity are equally off-limits. 30 or 40 years ago a popular idea was to build a pipeline over the Rockies to carry water from the Great Lakes to the arid Southwest – fresh water that would otherwise flow uselessly down the Saint Lawrence River into the salty ocean. Why are people whining about the Southwest becoming uninhabitable due to global warming, if that region has already been written off? The decline of the water table will make farming nearly impossible unless huge pipelines bring water from outside. Likewise, people formerly could entertain the idea of blowing up mountains that block the flow of moist air to the interior of continents – “Operation Plowshare,” I think it was called. Unthinkable, now. “Without vision a people perish,” and perishers is what we’ve become.

    • Rosenmops says:

      Some big dams were built in British Columbia in the 60s (Bennett), 70s (Mica), and 80s (Revelstoke). Now it is impossible to do anything without spending years in court fighting native Indians and environmentalists. The environmentalists don’t care about the fact that dams are a clean source of power. They also want the population to grow by bringing in more and more immigrants but they don’t seem to realize that more people will cause more damage to the environment.

      It’s like that crazy lady Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who wants open borders and free health care and university for everyone.

      • Jason says:

        You don’t have to spend years in court fighting Native Americans, you just have to offer sweetheart contracts to band owed companies and appropriate and regular gifts to band councilors and elders.
        Look at the Canadian oilsands, the only bands that protested development were from out of the area with no financial interest. Most Alberta bands were furious when BC bands were protesting the Trans Mountain pipeline.

        Environmentalists are a different matter though, like you said, their opposition is religious.

      • brokenyogi says:

        I don’t think Indians would mind water being transported through their lands. They, like the white people in the region, object to oil pipelines on their land.

    • E says:

      I was wondering about that a few years back when California was having a drought (I really can’t remember if it’s considered the same one as now or not) and meanwhile Boston had near-literal mountains of snow that wouldn’t melt until June or July. I realize that you wouldn’t want to use water from plowed snow before filtering it, but the same goes for pretty much any lake water. So why not just dump the snow into some watertight freight cars and send it west? I’m sure there’s some reason people aren’t doing this, but I suspect at least some of it just has to do with standard operating procedure for excess snow being to dump it in the harbor. (Of course, nothing I’ve read about California water policy makes much sense… Why, exactly, would you move to a semi-arid location and not expect to have to pay for the water you use?)

      • ChrisA says:

        It would be pretty costly to send snow in railcars – if you really want extra water in an arid place, first place to start is to stop farming there. There are plenty of well watered places in the world that just need fertilizer to grow things there so you don’t need to farm in a desert except for political reasons. A lot of emotion is wasted on a very small part of the economy, places like California should just buy up the land in the most arid parts and turn them into state parks, it would probably improve the local economy for the small towns nearby. Once you have removed farming, you then can recycle water, most sewage is pretty easy to clean up and perhaps 95% recovery can be cheaply achieved. Finally if you need more water, find some brackish water and use reverse osmosis – again there are lots of water sources that can’t be used because of small amounts of salt that don’t need much energy to clean. Then only if you are completely out do you need to go to long distant pipelines or sea water osmosis. But this quite rare. Even then the cost of water treatment from seawater is pretty trivial for any personal needs (assuming done by a competent company).

  10. Lior says:

    Are you thinking of publishing and disturbiting the recipe for your ‘secret sauce’?

  11. Jerome says:

    Science used to be an enterprise carried on by people with a calling. Then they built the Bomb, and government came running with the checkbook open. The result has been that science is now an industry, and most successful scientists spend most of their time chasing grants.

    • Leonard says:

      I don’t see any problem with science being an industry — consider Menlo Park. Nor in chasing a grant per se. The problem is that “funding” is now monopolized, and scientific truth is thus determined by consensus and not replication. The result has been that vast swaths of science are now essentially Lysenkoist.

    • Rich Rostrom says:

      The Manhattan Project created a paradigm which governed science funding for many years, and still has influence. That is: give Big Science a lot of resources, and they will produce world-conquering technology.

      If one reads science fiction of the 1940s to the 1960s, it’s clear that a lot of people thought the success of the Manhattan Project could and would be replicated.

      The paradigm first broke down circa 1970, when it became clear that manned space exploration was not going to decide the fate of the world, and was largely abandoned. (I.e. missile bases on the Moon would not dominate the Earth, no one was going to get rich from asteroid mining any time soon, Mars and Venus are uninhabitable…)

      Later, the demise of the Superconducting Super Collider showed that Big Physics no longer had a blank check.

  12. mapman says:

    “Sequence everyone, input everyone’s medical records, correlate” is very obvious.

    • savantissimo says:

      It’s best to set a requirement of # of subjects per year, perhaps increasing, set a budget, and see how much useful data you can potentially get for the price. Even good-quality DNA sequencing is getting pretty cheap, and in very large volumes it could be cheaper, less than $100. Nearly all other tests could also be quite cheap in large enough volumes. For $300 – $500 per subject in 30,000,000 per year volumes, I think you could get quite a bit.

      Sequence everyone’s DNA (interesting ones first), body-scan them in-house (need new, more cost-effective scanning tech – could be ultrasound, RF, MRI, X-ray, other), build computer models of subjects’ anatomy down to organs’ size, shape, even stiffness. Do motion-capture of a range of standard movements. Scan their skins, retinas, capillaries, everything detectable on the surface in visible and IR. Give adaptive tests of intelligence, personality, choice reaction speed, and build a question bank on various trait measures. Get a nice big blood sample mostly flash-frozen for the library, the rest given tests: standard, fluorescent antibodies, mass spectrometry, exotic new tests..

      With centers set up for the purpose of doing all the tests in-house, assembly-line style, and volume purchases and development of the most cost-effective new testing equipment with a very high utilization rate, a budget of on the order of $20B/yr. for the first 3-5 years then $10B per year should be able to do something approaching that level of data collection for about 30,000,0000 subjects per year, enough to test everybody in the US on average every 11 years – though actual individual retest rates should vary, longitudinal developmental studies should also be done with millions of children.

      The budget should be held constant and the organization rated on maintaining quality while increasing the useful data produced and the number of subjects tested per year. Surplus testing capacity could be used in part in getting data on foreign subjects.

      Of course the big pile of data needs to be analyzed and the conclusions tested and applied in further research. Anonymizing the records would be worse than publishing them all, though I don’t think the either is a good idea.

  13. biz says:

    SLAC is now doing mostly photon science – coherent x-ray and synchrotron imaging. Big usefuleness there, in materials science and biochem. Your perspective is a bit out of date on that one.

    Also generally particle physics and astro projects have pushed the frontiers of computing.

  14. The Z Blog says:

    Figure out how to frame it as “disrupting” white supremacy. Or, figure out how your great idea can improve on cost shifting, which is the basis of our economy.

  15. George S. Patton says:

    Gates Foundation? They must have some scientists on the team, get an intro? Cold-call Bill Gates? If your ideas really are that good, then not resorting to half-desperate measures would be immoral, as you probably well know. Especially if the second idea is to put together a team of microbiologists, medically trained cluefulls and metagenomics guys and try and map out the entire pathogenic load of the human race, in terms of bacterial families/orders and locations within the body, and correlate with diseases. Doable on a big budget — call Trump and get him to trust you. If Dick Cheney could do it, so can you.

  16. BB753 says:

    Whatever you do, keep Elon Musk out of the project.

  17. megabar says:

    What about your ideas disqualifies things like Google X (e.g. self-driving cars), which in theory sound like a good match? Too much money? Too risky? Is the benefit not universally recognized?

    Perhaps I’m naive, but I think some of SV types truly want to improve the world.

  18. crew says:

    A working, smallish, fusion power generator would be nice.

  19. Clay says:

    “nothing of economic value!” What about all of the science writers that make a living off what is coming out of the labs?

  20. Randall Parker says:

    Economic value:
    – mine the asteroids
    – genetic engineering of microbes and plants to have them manufacture drugs, textiles
    – gene therapy, cell therapy, tissue engineering for replacement organs to reverse aging
    – LFTR or some other way to make nuclear power much cheaper

    • Zenit says:

      All correct except the first one.
      Asteroid mining is science fiction, only without any science. There is nothing up there worth the enormous expense.

      There is no mass demand for platinum group metals, that space cadets love to cite, and if there was, it would be by several magnitudes cheaper to drill deep into Earth’s crust and mantle than to get them from space.

      • Bies Podkrakowski says:

        There is one resource.

        Distance.

        Imagine if you could move away from transgender bathrooms and refugee crisis. And in the future matters will be worse.

        • Zenit says:

          Move away? Easy. Buy your own private island in the Pacific, and enough lawyers and politicians to protect your property. It will cost about 1/1000 price of asteroid base, and you can do it right now.

          • Bies Podkrakowski says:

            Not distant enough.

            Soon there will be boat full of refugees landing on your island beaches. And your bought politicians will start insist on you to be positive about this, refugees will soon be gone, and meanwhile could you make some pictures with this sweet brown-skinned child that survived horror of her birth country?

            • ChrisA says:

              If you think you would enjoy living in space, why not try a colony in the antarctic? I doubt you would get many refugees there and the living conditions would be better than in space as at least part of the time you could go outside and it would be possible to get fresh food from outside much cheaper. The one downside would be lack of free solar energy, but I guess a couple of windmills would work instead. Of course the one downside is interfering governments – I guess if you were doing something they didn’t like (say hosting Westhunter on your server) then they would come a calling. But it is probably just an easy for them to destroy a space colony as one on earth.

    • crew says:

      For anything to happen in space, like mining the asteroids, there has to be a short-term economic benefit.

      As someone else has already said, there are cheaper ways, it seems like, to get most of what we need in the short term.

      Perhaps the only real short-term economic benefit is making things in vacuum or Zero/Low-G that we currently cannot make on Earth.

      Somehow, we have to bootstrap our way there.

  21. Unladen Swallow says:

    Thorium based nuclear reactors would be useful, however the PTB do not seem very keen on any type of nuclear power source.

  22. Russell says:

    The space elevator would be one transformational development. It might be possible to bootstrap really significant expansion into space with lesser technology, but I’m not really confident of that.
    If we have enought time though, maybe the most useful bootstrapping of all would be to start breeding for higher intelligence. Even without understanding the genetics we could pay demonstrably smart people to have more kids, or even better pay thousands of surrogates to carry their embryos.

    • West Anon says:

      Not too long ago I’d have ridiculed your proposal of breeding thousands of other people’s children, on grounds that no self respecting people would foot the bill for an undisguised program of population replacement. How times have changed; nowadays even blog sites full of supposed right wingers / conservatives dream the dream.

      • Zenit says:

        1/This is not conservative blog, this is pro-science, pro-rationality, pro-IQ blog.
        2/ “Your” children are not yours, they are state future workers, taxpayers and cannon fodder.
        3/ Birthing and raising children is hard, dirty and ungrateful work nobody is going to do for free anymore. Birth rates are falling around the world and “conservative” solutions (banning abortion, bleating about “moral values”) make no difference. Immigration is temporary solution – the supply will run dry soon.

        If governments want new citizens they must grow them themselves. The big science project of 21st century would be new Manhattan project to develop workable artificial wombs.

        https://www.unz.com/akarlin/paper-review-artificial-wombs/

        The progress is amazing, considering that the research is on shoestring budget. Imagine what could be done with sufficient funding.

        • Bies Podkrakowski says:

          “If governments want new citizens they must grow them themselves.”

          I imagine a new, vast field of social engineering. The fights over what is politically correct genotype and brain structure (no conservatives, rational types, thank you very much, but what kind of new genders we should create?) would be astonishing.

          There will be probably giant magnets to damage newborn’s brains into accepting refugees and electrodes to imprint Asian derived babies into dropping blankets that lie on their faces. For equality reasons.

          Imagine a smiling bureaucrat and political apparatchik creating their new voters and taxpayers.

        • Cloudswrest says:

          Presently the powers that be, rather than growing new citizens, simply acquire them hunter gatherer style. There’s no need to husband a new generation when there is plenty to harvest from nature’s bounty.

  23. Phille says:

    You’re a horrible tease, you know.

    The first thing to do to get them off the ground would be to actually tell us what they are.

  24. Little spoon says:

    Why don’t you claim you can close the racial achievement gap with the funding?

    You will have any number of options for funding and you can just siphon all of it into your personal project. When you have no results to speak of regarding the gap closing stuff, no one will suspect any funny business because it’s normal to have no impact.

  25. blah blah says:

    i consulted on a VC pitch to bill gates and nathan myhrvold back in 2010. technology interested billionaires are your best bet here. kickstarter, gofundme don’t won’t cut it.

    some figures for consideration:
    LIGO, ice cube > 1 billion
    IBM summit > 1 billion
    boston dynamics Atlas development cost > 1 billion
    USN railgun > 1 billion
    extremely large telescope = 1 billion
    wendelstein 7 X = 1 billion
    falcon heavy development cost = 1 billion
    EPR reactor, a total bust = 4 billion per unit in china, 12 billion in france
    JW space telescope = 10 billion
    ITER = 15 billion
    EUV lithography for semiconductors, development cost = a lot. billions and billions. still not ready

    improved fission reactors are a better bet than fusion reactors, IMO.

    mining asteroids does not make sense to me. if somebody can make the economic case i’m listening. we don’t have the technology for that right now, but it might be possible

    if this is a dupe post, please delete.

  26. adreadline says:

    Would Theranos really ”do good” and ”leave footprints in the sands of time” even if it was for real? I’d say needing less blood to do stuff has a good chance of being used to do evil.

  27. cargocultist777 says:

    Would you like to work on something yourself? I have plenty of ideas, but I’m not just giving them away.

  28. cargocultist777 says:

    Gainful fusion isn’t actually unreasonably difficult to achieve and I think I know how to do it, but I’m skeptical about the economic viability. Is there any use for extremely intense fast neutron radiation, other than burning nuclear waste?

  29. cthulhu says:

    You forgot FILTHY RICH…and I’m assuming that curing cancer isn’t on the list.

  30. J says:

    Superconductors at room temperature. I nice idea that has been given up.

    • cthulhu says:

      Physics Nobel laureate Robert Laughlin (a condensed matter expert) has a good joke illustrating the state of high temperature superconductivity physics in his entertaining popular science book A Different Universe, goes something like this:

      A country experiences a coup, and the new government is dispensing with the old in the traditional way, i.e., by firing squad. At one department, two deputy ministers are asked for their last wishes. The first says, “Before I joined the government, I was a theoretical physicist. My last wish is that you convene a conference of our country’s physicists, so that I can present my theory of high temperature superconductivity.” The second minister then says, “I am also a physicist. My last wish is that you shoot me before he gives his lecture.”

  31. cthulhu says:

    I’ll add one serious comment to the comment section: a big chunk of potential future problems are solvable with relatively clean, relatively cheap, relatively abundant, relatively easy to build, and relatively inexhaustible energy. (This is not my original idea; I stole it from the late Jerry Pournelle.) If LFTR-style fission breeder plants can do it, then let’s do whatever it takes to finish the engineering and get production lines for different sizes going. If it’s fusion, antimatter, beamed power from space, whatever, just get it solved and lots of currently hard problems get a LOT easier.

  32. ChrisA says:

    I like the idea of funding big science projects via prizes. That way you have people who can think outside the box competing rather than just the people who are good at filling out grant forms and when they fail look don’t make the funding department look bad. I have always thought that we could disband Nasa budget ($20bn per year) and use that money. You could imagine a $10bn compounding prize for the first people to put someone on Mars and return them safely to earth – don’t you think that would get the attention of private industry. Over 10 years (not including any interest) that would get you $100bn prize, I suggest there would be plenty of people chasing that with some very different ideas. The remaining $10bn per year we can divide up among other goals.

  33. Pingback: Big Science — West Hunter – SEO

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