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BREN forums • View topic - IS THERE A HIGGS?


За всичко свързано с научните изследвания, висшето, средното образование и пр.


Postby vedrin » 04 Mar 2009, 21:45


Прочетох току-що в последния брой на Edge интересно интервю с Brian Cox (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Cox_(physicist)), физик на работа в CERN и същевременно популярен водещ на BBC, което реших да споделя и с вас:


Понеже четивото е дълго, ето и някои интересни избрани цитати, за онези от вас, които нямат достатъчно свободно време да му насладят изцяло, без да ги коментирам -- приятно четене! :)

...the average government investment in science in the Western world is about 0.4 percent of GDP. It depends which way you look at it—I know in Britain the science budget about 3.5 billion pounds a year—so you can work that out. It's a pitifully small amount, and what's begun to bother me is the question, is that optimal in any way? Has it been optimized? Has anyone even stopped to think what would happen if you doubled it or tripled it? And about a year ago that was a controversial thing to say because 3.5 billion pounds or 5 billion pounds—$10 billion—sounded like a lot of money. Now it doesn't sound like a lot of money at all. It's fractions of a percent of the bailout packages. I know in the US that it seems that there's going to be a large input, increase in science spending. I want to know whether it's optimized. I strongly suspect it isn't. I know when I ask people in the British government what would happen if you doubled the science spent, they don't know. They don't know what the impact would be on GDP, on our quality of life, on the rate of discovery. And with that actually goes an interesting question, which is, if you increase the amount of, let's say taxpayers' money into science, then what's the responsibility of the sciences back to the taxpayers again? How should government direct scientific inquiry given that they spend taxpayers' money on it? Should you follow government priorities? In Britain, and I'm sure it's the same as the US, it's energy, security, climate change, aging population. But when government directs scientific research, it's my opinion, and this is not necessarily true, that it rarely works. You look at paradigm shifts, the big scientific discoveries, and you can name them all, you have penicillin or the transistor or nuclear power or solar cells, anything you want, I struggle to find one that came from direct government scientific research. They're chance discoveries, and it's not surprising to me. It’s actually obvious why that is.

If you decide not to allow, or you request that politicians do not direct the direction of scientific research, then the question arises, well, who does it? Somebody has to allocate the billions of dollars of public money that are spent on scientific research every year. Scientists are good and bad at doing this. Scientists are very bad when pressure is applied to them, because scientists are clever, and scientists are good at playing systems. If you put a system in place then the scientists will go and get the money, and there's a huge danger of scientists trying to second guess government, and you get into a vicious circle.

What you can see is that a scientist in a university whose salary—particularly in the US, but also in the UK— and professional standing is based on the amount of research income they get, will build research projects they think governments, or at least the funding agencies, will respond to. The direction can often be accidental. This is a snowball effect, and I've seen it in effect in the UK. Obviously a politician such as a science minister will say that the government has priorities and doesn't really think about the impact that will have further down the food chain. But for some reason people listen to politicians really carefully and they pick out the little nuances as they see them and then start modifying their behavior. Before you know it you have an intensely directed, narrowing, science program, which nobody really intended to generate. What you need actually at the top of science are people who are not in awe or overwhelmed by the political process and also who don't enjoy it, actually, because it's really quite enjoyable to start mixing with the powerful and trying to understand... I've seen it. You can get it into a mind set where you think, I know what these guys in Washington or London are thinking. And you start maneuvering. And you ruin the science program. You need people who believe that scientific investigation is of most benefit to society when it's free and who don't believe that politicians are the people who can maximize the benefit to society through the direction of science funding.

The mark of a scientist is that they're not attached to their ideas. They're attached to the truth. I use that word quite lightly, as well, because philosophically I would find it difficult to say that anything we know about the universe is correct in some sense—a truth would be the wrong word. What it is is the best description we have, and we know that every description we have of nature is not complete. We know that.

In a very pure sense you build the accelerator you need when you know what the question is. If you don't have a question, you don't build one, because they're expensive. There is a technical issue with that, which is that the lead time is so long for these machines that you can't really wait until—if you strongly suspect you're going to need another one, you need to be doing the R&D, not only because of the lead time, but the people who build them, the accelerator builders. These machines are incredibly difficult to build and they require experience and they require an engineering community that passes the knowledge from one generation to the next. If you have a 20- or 30-year lead time on these machines you find that the people who know how to do it retire, and if you're not passing that knowledge on then you can't build another one, very simply. You hear that the US has had that problem with rocket technology. It's very difficult to build a Saturn V now if you wanted to because the people who knew how to do it have gone and not passed the knowledge on. I don't know whether that's true, but you hear that. In particle physics this is a problem, and it's the same with any big scientific engineering endeavor. The same problem is there with fusion reactors, which is a very serious problem for the world. We need to have rather more fusion reactors in development than we have at the moment for that reason.
Vedrin Jeliazkov
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