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.