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    01 Aug '12 08:494 edits
    I have given this much thought and have come to the conclusion that we should stop spending any significant money on pure science and only spend money on applied science until if or when world poverty is eliminated because, until then, that money could arguably be better spent on vastly more urgent things such as putting food into the mouths of the starving etc.
    That pure science includes most of space exportation especially manned missions which does next-to-nothing for science anyway but even sending probes to Mars should be cancelled. The only space stuff that should be done is that involving weather and communication satellites and searching for rogue asteroids to give us early warning of an asteroid hit on Earth and stuff to do with early warning of solar storms. That means, at least for now, no space probes to other planets, no manned space missions and no expensive space telescopes to look at the stars.
    We should also stop spending money on particle physics.
    Instead, we should spend all our science budget on useful applied sciences with the significant potential to benefit humanity such as on solar power, more energy efficient computers, medicine etc. we should re-employ most/all the current scientists that are doing pure science to do applied science.

    Don't get me wrong here; I am not saying we should never do pure research! What I would say here is, what is the hurry in doing pure research? Why not wait until world poverty and the global warming threat etc is solved and only THEN do that pure research?

    Now, I have heard it argued that the spending on pure science is justified because it can give unpredictable spin-offs that then justify the initial spending on that.
    But we are not doing pure research for the unpredictable spin-offs and “ unpredictable” is the operative word here; there is no guarantee of any significant benefit from any pure research but the benefits from applied science is obvious. And, now come on, do you really think that the billions of dollars spent on, for example, particle physics, is likely to result in spin-offs that would alone justify all those billions spent on it? Surely not.

    I have also I have heard it argued that if we stop spending on pure science until there is no more world poverty etc then we would never spend money on pure science because there will always be world poverty etc. But that argument is flawed because there will only always be world poverty etc if we keep spending vast amounts of money on things like pure science instead of spending that same money on eliminating world poverty etc.
    Besides, what is the damn hurry in discovering, say, the properties of the Higgs? Why should we consider it so damn urgent to know about the Higgs that rather than finding out in ~50 years time by spending all those billions we have now on eliminating would hunger etc, we should spend our billions that we have right NOW on finding out about the Higgs right NOW thus take potential food straight out of the mouths of the starving in the third world? I am not suggesting we should spend ALL our money on directly eliminating poverty but, IF we are to spend money on science, at least make sure it is only the most useful kind of science to humanity.

    Although military science is an applied science, we should also strive to either stop or, failing that, at least reduce our spending on military research by international agreement so that all countries of the world have the opportunity to divert wasteful funding away from military research and into funding useful things.



    Anyone agree? Disagree? Only partly agree? Debate:
  2. Cape Town
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    01 Aug '12 09:36
    Originally posted by humy
    Anyone agree? Disagree? Only partly agree? Debate:
    You are making the error of thinking that there is a shortage of money available to spend on world poverty and all its consequences and that the shortage is in the science budget. This is simply not true. If you cut spending on pure science it will not be spent on reducing poverty. What is more, reducing world poverty is not best solved by applied science either (which is where you suggest spending the money).
    If you have money available and you want to reduce poverty then do the following:
    1. Education, education, education. This comes first and really cannot be over stressed.
    2. If you have education sorted, then next is medicine. Here, a very large proportion of the budget needs to be spent on things we already know the solution for but are simply not doing in poorer countries due to a lack of funding. A small proportion of the budget can go into research into combating some of the major diseases (AIDS, malaria etc) as a scientific solution such as a vaccine would be orders of magnitude cheaper than currently available methods.

    However, to achieve the above, we need political will, so maybe you need to put some or even most of your money into political lobbying. There is more than enough money/resources to end world poverty very very quickly, what is lacking is the political will to actually do so.

    I agree with you that manned space flight is a total waste of money. I think we should put all our money (space money) into robotic space flight.
    I also agree that sponsoring NASA for the sake of spinoffs is also wrong. (but I wouldn't get rid of NASA). Similarly sponsoring military research for the sake of spinoffs is wrong. (I would cut down on military spending).

    I disagree that pure science research should be stopped. I believe that most applied science benefits significantly from pure science. If anything it is very hard to draw a line between the two. Modern computer components for example would not be possible without knowledge of the atom, relativity and quantum effects.

    I also disagree that atomic research has no potential. I believe atomic power has benefited the world very very significantly and the future similar developments such as nuclear fusion have enormous potential.

    As for not hurrying, I have a related favourite argument that has to do with Mores Law. A lot of modern research depends on computers and a large part of the cost is the technology or computing power. Good examples are SETI@home and genome sequencing. I was part of the seti@home project and I realised that if you simply wait a year or two, you can do the same amount of work that used to take a year, in one day. So why spend a year doing something if you can simply wait a few years and get it done much faster. In fact, the seti@home projects first year of work that took the resources of thousands of computers and people at home could now be done on one of their servers in a matter of hours.
    In general if one piece of research is dependant on technology that is rapidly advancing and becoming cheaper then it might be better to just wait a few years and do it at a fraction of the price.
    I suspect that astronomy is one whole branch of science that is like that. The imaging tools get cheaper all the time, and many tasks that used to require people to manually look at pictures all day long can now be automated on a computer.
  3. Joined
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    01 Aug '12 09:44
    Now, I have heard it argued that the spending on pure science is justified because it can give unpredictable spin-offs that then justify the initial spending on that.

    This is so unmistakably true that it's a surprise you tried to counter it. Studying the properties of electricity was once considered useless except as a novelty, look where that got the world. You're asking us to give such research up ? You'd better have some very strong arguments. Let's see

    But we are not doing pure research for the unpredictable spin-offs
    For one it's not true, second it's irrelevant. In many areas that are still in the "pure research" stage, we have some ideas about possible applications, quantum computing for example. Prove to the researchers and funders that there will never be a possible application to a research field and you'll see interest die out quickly.

    As to why it's irrelevant. Let's put it like this, if Hitler was Hitler, except so horribly incompetent that every time he tried to invade a country or kill a Jew he failed an accidentally built an orphanage instead, I'd bankroll the guy. Likewise I fully support research that'll have practical applications, even if the researchers only do it because they're interested in the theory.

    and “ unpredictable” is the operative word here; there is no guarantee of any significant benefit from any pure research but the benefits from applied science is obvious.

    There is no guarantee for anything. We only know that "Pure research" has led to countless discoveries that have made this planet infinitely better to live on for humans and I don't see a reason why we suddenly landed in an era where this won't be the case any more.

    And, now come on, do you really think that the billions of dollars spent on, for example, particle physics, is likely to result in spin-offs that would alone justify all those billions spent on it? Surely not.

    Quantum computing. Quantum entanglement might lead to vastly faster communication devices. So yes, the leap in technology could be so huge it's hard to imagine.
  4. Joined
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    01 Aug '12 10:331 edit
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    You are making the error of thinking that there is a shortage of money available to spend on world poverty and all its consequences and that the shortage is in the science budget. This is simply not true. If you cut spending on pure science it will not be spent on reducing poverty. What is more, reducing world poverty is not best solved by applied science to require people to manually look at pictures all day long can now be automated on a computer.
    You are making the error of thinking that there is a shortage of money available to spend on world poverty and all its consequences and that the shortage is in the science budget

    No, I am not making that error. I do NOT think “ there is a shortage of money available to spend on world poverty and all its consequences and that the shortage is in the science budget”. I don't know where you got that from.
    One thing I am saying is that the money currently spent on pure science could be spent on helping to reduce world poverty instead; note that does NOT imply what you said above.
    If you cut spending on pure science it will not be spent on reducing poverty

    agreed, and I didn't say otherwise. But it could be spent on reducing poverty if only there was the political will to do so -right?
    I don't understand why you completely misunderstand what I am saying so much.

    I also disagree that atomic research has no potential.

    If you read my post again, you see I didn't say that. I consider atomic research for atomic power to be worth doing.
  5. Joined
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    01 Aug '12 10:433 edits
    Originally posted by Barts
    [b]Now, I have heard it argued that the spending on pure science is justified because it can give unpredictable spin-offs that then justify the initial spending on that.

    This is so unmistakably true that it's a surprise you tried to counter it. Studying the properties of electricity was once considered useless except as a novelty, look where that got th evices. So yes, the leap in technology could be so huge it's hard to imagine.[/b]
    Studying the properties of electricity was once considered useless except as a novelty,

    you cannot extrapolate from that and conclude that it is likely that the research into, for example, the Higgs, will lead to very useful applications -if that is what you are arguing here? Would you argue that, for example, BECAUSE the studying the properties of electricity was once considered useless except as a novelty but then proved useful later on, putting an extremely expensive telescope into space just to study black holes is worth while because it will prove useful later on?

    Besides, did governments spend billions of dollars on this line of research? I think not thus I would not be against it even if I didn't have the benefit of hindsight.
    In many areas that are still in the "pure research" stage, we have some ideas about possible applications,

    then what you are talking about here is NOT strictly pure research and it is wrongly called "pure research". There is often a grey area between pure research and applied research. What I was referring to in my post by “pure science” was just that and with no obvious possible applications. What about true pure research that has no obvious possible applications?


    Quantum computing. Quantum entanglement might lead to vastly faster communication devices.

    that makes it APPLIED science -get it? What I am questioning is the current spending on true pure science i.e. spending billions of dollars on pure science that has NO obvious application. “Quantum computing” or “vastly faster communication devices” would be an obvious application!

    Incidentally, if my memory serves me correctly, quantum entanglement has already been more or less ruled out as a way of achieving faster than light communication.
  6. Cape Town
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    01 Aug '12 10:58
    Originally posted by humy
    agreed, and I didn't say otherwise. But it could be spent on reducing poverty if only there was the political will to do so -right?
    I don't understand why you completely misunderstand what I am saying so much.
    But that makes no sense at all unless I am correct (and you are wrong). The fact is that there is plenty of money available without taking it out of the science budget. It just needs political will. If you can get the political will, you still don't need to cut into the science budget. If anything you would want to increase the science budget.
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    01 Aug '12 11:01
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    But that makes no sense at all unless I am correct (and you are wrong). The fact is that there is plenty of money available without taking it out of the science budget. It just needs political will. If you can get the political will, you still don't need to cut into the science budget. If anything you would want to increase the science budget.
    so what "makes no sense"?
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    01 Aug '12 11:14
    Originally posted by humy
    so what "makes no sense"?
    It makes no sense that you want to take what little (and comparatively speaking, it is little!) money is spent on the very roots of applied science (which is what pure science is), when there is so much more to be had, to so much less catastrophically destructive effect, in politics, finance, administrativium, and football franchises. You're digging your own grave, and there's lots of vacant holes to be had which already need filling.

    Richard
  9. Cape Town
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    01 Aug '12 11:26
    Originally posted by humy
    so what "makes no sense"?
    Cutting the science budget makes no sense.
    If there is no political will, that money will not be spent on reducing poverty.
    If there is political will then there is plenty of other money available and one of the places to spend it to aid the goal of reducing world poverty is the science budget.
  10. Joined
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    01 Aug '12 11:30
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    Cutting the science budget makes no sense.
    If there is no political will, that money will not be spent on reducing poverty.
    If there is political will then there is plenty of other money available and one of the places to spend it to aid the goal of reducing world poverty is the science budget.
    Cutting the science budget makes no sense.

    but I don't agree with cutting the science budget.
    I just think all the money in that budget should be diverted to science with reasonable hope of useful applications.
  11. Joined
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    01 Aug '12 11:32
    Originally posted by Shallow Blue
    It makes no sense that you want to take what little (and comparatively speaking, it is little!) money is spent on the very roots of applied science (which is what pure science is), when there is so much more to be had, to so much less catastrophically destructive effect, in politics, finance, administrativium, and football franchises. You're digg ...[text shortened]... r own grave, and there's lots of vacant holes to be had which already need filling.

    Richard
    It makes no sense that you want to take what little (and comparatively speaking, it is little!) money is spent on the very roots of applied science (which is what pure science is),

    No, that not what I propose. I am proposing doing the exact opposite.
  12. Cape Town
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    01 Aug '12 11:33
    Originally posted by humy
    then what you are talking about here is NOT strictly pure research and it is wrongly called "pure research".
    I think this is the key flaw in your argument.
    Unless I am mistaken, most of the projects you classify as 'pure science' are in fact possible to classify as 'applied science' and that when the scientists in question asked for the funding they had to give good reasons and suggest possible applications. Even if the applications were unknown, they must have at least been able to convince the government that there was a high likelihood of applications arising.

    Of for course some areas such as manned space flight where the 'applications' are 'political showing off' and 'public interest' you might argue that the applications are not worthy of being funded by government, but they are applications none the less.
  13. Joined
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    01 Aug '12 11:372 edits
    Why is everyone here so grossly and completely misunderstanding what I propose? -I am NOT saying we should cut funding to applied science ( and I also just happen to think we should increase that funding! )
  14. Cape Town
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    01 Aug '12 11:40
    Along the same lines as your main argument I have issues with the way money is spent in poor countries such as my home country Zambia.
    A few years ago I heard that the World Bank had provided a large loan to the department of National Parks. Now I fully admit that the national parks are a good cause and are underfunded. However, if Zambia cannot afford to maintain them now, they probably wont afford to pay off the loan later. Also, if we are able to borrow money, we should be spending it on reducing poverty (education and health in my opinion) and not on national parks. Saving wildlife is all well and good but not at the expense of saving people.

    Of course the real problem is that the World Bank is more interested in saving National Parks than they are in saving people. The decision makers when it comes to receiving the loan are more interested in the fact that their incomes will increase (and they may even get to steal some of it too) than in whether or not it is a good decision - and of course they don't care about the fact that someone will eventually have to pay back the loan.
  15. Joined
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    01 Aug '12 11:463 edits
    Originally posted by twhitehead
    Along the same lines as your main argument I have issues with the way money is spent in poor countries such as my home country Zambia.
    A few years ago I heard that the World Bank had provided a large loan to the department of National Parks. Now I fully admit that the national parks are a good cause and are underfunded. However, if Zambia cannot afford t ...[text shortened]... f course they don't care about the fact that someone will eventually have to pay back the loan.
    Yes, I couldn't agree more with that.
    National parks don't matter as much as people.
    Strange that some people act as if they don't see it that way.
    I am not 'against' pure science just as I am not 'against' national parks but I would also say that pure science does not matter as much as people.
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