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Shut It Down

Entry 1261, on 2011-01-12 at 21:28:45 (Rating 4, Politics)

I saw in the news yesterday that the US is preparing to shut down their biggest particle accelerator, the might Tevatron, at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Sure, there is a bigger and better accelerator in the world now, the famous Large Hadron Collider, but there is surely enough work for both. Also, an expert panel recommended continuing to run the Tevatron for several years more.

Before I continue I want to make an amusing observation. Look at the difference in approach to naming the two facilities. The US calls theirs the Tevatron. That sounds like something out of a science fiction movie. I can just imagine Scotty saying something like "the Tevatron is overloading cap'n. She's gonna blow!". The Europeans call their collider the Large Hadron Collider. This thing is 27 kilometers in circumference. It's the biggest, most expensive, and most complex machine ever built, yet they just call it "large". I like that sense of understatement!

So back to the topic at hand. The Tevatron would have cost $35 million per year to operate, yet the richest country in the world can't afford it. That's just total nonsense. They can easily afford it, in fact given the decreasing relevance of the US in science (and everything else) the question is can they afford not to keep it running. That sort of money is nothing. The US has spent that amount 3000 times over on wars in every one of the last 10 years.

And it's not just the US who is to blame. We get similar claims here in New Zealand. Our government claims they cannot afford funding for university research and other important things yet they throw around billions on bailing out private finance companies and other similar tasks. Clearly they do have plenty of money, it's just they choose to spend it on the wrong things.

You might be surprised to hear me being critical of the current US administration because many people think I am an Obama supporter. Perhaps I should clarify that: I think Obama is a terrible president - but he's still the best one they have had in living memory! That just shows what a terrible state the US has got itself into. The country is far too much under the control of big corporations and idiotic conservative and religious groups. As always happens in these situations (don't people ever pay attention to history) where an empire becomes inward looking and conservative, the end isn't far away.

It's not just the Tevatron either. Funding for many other scientific programs is also being cut (again not just in the US either because Britain and other parts of Europe are also making this mistake). NASA is becoming a joke. It seems more interested in putting out politically motivated "good news" stories than engaging in the exploration of space. Who could imagine a time when the US relied on Russia for a launch vehicle!

It often seems like I spend a lot of time criticising the US. Is it not the responsibility of every country to contribute to progress, especially in science? Well yes, it is, but the US is the only current world superpower and it got there by exploiting the resources of the world (and causing more harm to the environment than any other country). Because of that I think it has a responsibility to use its power for good. Imagine what the money spent on the war in Iraq (approaching $1 trillion) could have achieved if it had been used constructively instead. For a start it would fund NASA for 50 years, or the Tevatron for 22,000 years!

You know the worst thing about it though? It's how desperately underachieving the whole human race is for the most ridiculous reasons. The greatest achievements of humanity can be terminated on a political whim when it would be so easy to continue and improve them. Progress is held back by pathetically childish religious reasons (look at how Islamic countries have contributed to progress in the past compared with now, and how various elements in American society are specifically anti-science) and ignorant politics (need I mention the Tea Party?)

It's all so depressing and I wonder where it will lead. There is one thing I think is true beyond anything else though: as soon as a country starts cutting back on truly innovative research, and shuts down programs which are intended to make genuine discoveries, and stops exploring the real boundaries of understanding, it's finished. I guess the groups who are against progressive social and scientific policies will look back and wonder what went wrong. They should have checked out their history books. When conservative, self centered, inward looking attitudes take over the end is always near.


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