The case for science funding

July 2nd, 2008 at 9:25 am by David Farrar

Simon Upton makes a strong case for more funding for :

I support spending taxpayer dollars on science more than most other areas of government expenditure. Extending the frontiers of human knowledge is a legitimate goal of public policy.

To start, two science stories. This (northern) summer, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will be commissioned. In the form of a ring with a circumference of 27km and buried 100 metres below the Franco-Swiss border on the outskirts of Geneva, it is the most powerful tool of its type ever constructed.

The scientific questions it will be targeting are mind-boggling: what happened in the first second following the inception of our universe some 13.7 billion years ago? Why do particles have mass? Does the Higgs boson really exist? What is the dark matter that makes up most of the universe made of?

Every statistic about the LHC is overwhelming. Particles will be accelerated to 99.99% of the speed of light; detectors will sift through vertiginous amount of data created by 600 million collisions per second. The instrument has taken nine years to build. While the Europeans have funded 90 per cent of the 3.7 billion euros the project has so far consumed, it will engage scientists from more than 100 countries.

To which I can only say “bravo” to the Europeans for such a staggering commitment which has no goal other than the quest of understanding why our universe is the way it is.

Like Simon, I think there is a legitimate case for public spending on science. Knowledge is what seperates us from the cavemen.

And now you ask, why do particles have mass??

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30 Responses to “The case for science funding”

  1. Labour are scum (58 comments) says:

    ‘And now you ask, why do particles have mass??’

    It is not the particles that have mass, grasshopper. it is your mind.

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  2. Dr Robotnik (533 comments) says:

    To celebrate the last supper?

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  3. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    “Across the Atlantic the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, has said that if he is elected he will promote a $300 million prize for the creator of a car battery that can leapfrog today’s hybrids.”

    Complete idiots. Its is not for the gummint to take the money of hard working families and use it for this kind of thing. The market will drive scientific development. Not theirs to give..!!!

    As for more conventional government funding, after the scientific community’s enthusiastic participation in the scam of global warming, one of the most financially disastrous mass bungles ever on earth, they need to pay part of the price of this mistake. NIWA and other depts who have promoted this rubbish should have their allocation halved at least with a view to the eventual closing of such departments altogether. That a supposed scientific department should be so completely in the pocket of pro-global warming politicians is a complete breach of departmental non-partisan traditions.

    That they could be so wrong, either deliberately (scare mongering to ensure future funding) or through incompetence, is grounds enough for winding up NIWA. Their actions, and other scientific groups who have promoted this fascist style fantasy have put the whole scientific community in a very poor light. Cut their funding. Let people who have earned the money by their own labour spend that money on what they want, and don’t forcefully take it from them to pay for the poor behaviour of the global warming scam/ religious movement.

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  4. paradigm (452 comments) says:

    Science funding has immediately practical benefits as well: The university lecturers that teach students are also researchers, as these are the only people qualified to teach at this level. If we fail to adequately fund their research, they will (and presently do) move overseas. We are then left with no one qualified to teach and end up with an ignorant population.

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  5. reid (16,471 comments) says:

    We do fund a lot of science esp in the ag research fields: we know more about crops, animal health, soil enrichment etc than just about any other country on earth.

    Trouble is, the GE debate has shut down our ability to take advantage of this new science. Imagine if doctors were denied X-rays because radiation is a bad thing. That’s the exact equivalent to what we’ve done.

    We either reverse ourselves on this, or face defeat in world agricultural leadership with all the attendant consequences.

    If I was the Nats I would seek cross-party support for a long term science strategy that dealt with everything from the brain-drain to managing public opinion to applying commercial principles to the research processes.

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  6. davejac (2 comments) says:

    Market based scientific funding doesn’t work. People tend to discover something, then only later think up an application for it. They had to discover Nuclear magnetic resonance before they could make an MRI.

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  7. Dr Robotnik (533 comments) says:

    It surprises me that Labour have not set aside a large budget for “Political Science” funding. Look how resourceful and influential a good political science lecturer can become in this country, and not just for brainwashing students, they benefit all good “working” families and produce a fairer, more productive and crime free country.

    Why are we not promoting their development?

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  8. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    “It surprises me that Labour have not set aside a large budget for “Political Science” funding. ”

    Damn right. How much public funding have Klark’s husband Peter Davis and his cronyist mates received to pump out (IMHO) politically partisan garbage about the effect of the Douglas reforms on health etc??

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  9. Andrew W (1,629 comments) says:

    While a fan of science, I’m not quite so keen on a lot of government funding of it, too often I’ve seen research funding turn into inefficient state monopolies stiffling progress on what might otherwise be fantastic commercial success stories, if only they had been run privately.

    Red, do you think there should be some form of propriatorship of our rivers (as there is now in the form of state ownership) or do you think noone should own them, so that anyone can use them for anything they want?

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  10. Andrew W (1,629 comments) says:

    Reid: “We do fund a lot of science esp in the ag research fields”

    Yep, my observation is that the best research in these areas is financed privately, often by Fonterra, rather than the state.

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  11. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    “Red, do you think there should be some form of propriatorship of our rivers (as there is now in the form of state ownership) or do you think noone should own them, so that anyone can use them for anything they want?”

    NIWA are a completely discredited outfit and through their partisan promotion of the global warming scam have done much harm to the credibility of publically funded scientific community. They should be shut down.

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  12. PhilBest (5,121 comments) says:

    OK, Redbaiter at 10.07AM has ended up with negative Karma so far for that comment. Come ON people, he’s right.

    Public money being used for science, firstly, only gets hit up for the “pup” projects that venture capital wouldn’t touch; and secondly, ends up being driven by political agendas, witness “global warming” as Red points out.

    Smaller government and a lower tax burden on the sectors that drive scientific progress is, always has been, and always will be, the way to go.

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  13. paradigm (452 comments) says:

    reid mentioned:
    “applying commercial principles to the research processes.”

    There is a major problem with this. Basic research, such as that involving the large hadron collider mentioned above, would simply not be done were we to demand it have immediate and forseeable commercial viability. Market principles require that we already have perfect knowledge, but the reason for conducting basic research is to discover the unknown. Attempts to apply commercial principles to research, particularly of the basic variety is thus a highly dubious endevour which tend to stifle it. Yet basic research does, over the longer term, lead to extremely useful discoveries. When Einstein first theorised stimulated emission we initially saw no interest from the commercial sector, yet I have lost count of the number of instances that lasers are employed in today.

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  14. Andrew W (1,629 comments) says:

    Fair point paradigm, but it was a long time between that initial research and subsequent commercial products, in the interim surely a commercial outfit would have produced the research before now and in a time frame that would not have delayed the developement of those commercial applications.

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  15. Grant Michael McKenna (1,160 comments) says:

    I’d rather they spent the money on cleaning my windows- I have Bose-Einstein condensation.

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  16. Andrew W (1,629 comments) says:

    Red, your reply didn’t address my question.

    If funding was cut for NIWA many of the commercial services would be taken over by other organisations, unfortunately for your own ideologically based views on GW, the science wouldn’t change.

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  17. stephen (4,063 comments) says:

    “commercial services would be taken over by other organisations,”

    *Commercial* organisations?

    edit: perhaps I’m not reading this quite right – maybe you mean the science services they conduct that businesses just so happen to be interested in (like what Stats NZ does)

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  18. paradigm (452 comments) says:

    Commercial institutions are driven to make money. They conduct research that will lead to some sort of intellectual property they are able to control: either the components needed to make a product, a patent or both. Failing this the only reason for them to research is as a public relations exercise. Basic research does not gurantee anything. One can only say what its results will be after finishing it (and spending the grant money). In my previous example of Einstein, prior to conducting his research he would not have been able to tell an interested company that his research would have led to his findings on stimulated emission, hence they would not have backed him financially.

    Moreover basic research does not usually yield controlable intellectual property: in order to be valid, basic research must be published (essentially made public domain) and peer reviewed. This leads to the problem of companies leeching – if one company spends on basic research, the others can often just “steal” the results rather than do any research themselves.

    Commercial institutions tend to be good at applied research taking the theory already developed and making something out of it, then developing it into a product. However it is a simple fact that basic research is not economically justifiable for them. This is further illustrated by the fact that in spite of the pittence the NZ Marsden fund gets, NZ universities that are fed off it still make up the overwhelming majority of basic research in the country. Even in countries such as the US, the vast majority of basic research is conducted by universities, not companies.

    I would challenge anyone to give me an economic justification for a single competing company to spend money on BASIC research, and explain how it would give them an advantage over their competition.

    And Grant Michael McKenna: I find attaching my windows to a heat bath – the earth’s atmosphere for example – tends to clear that up fairly smartly.

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  19. Andrew W (1,629 comments) says:

    My understanding is that a fair chunk of NIWA’s income comes from selling weather forecasts and other information.

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  20. stephen (4,063 comments) says:

    Thanks for the insights paradigm! I suspect long term past/future climate research would be a very low priority if all science was commercially driven too. I can see companies being interested, but more immediate prospects would probably win out..?

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  21. paradigm (452 comments) says:

    I think it is rather dangerous attitude to condemn all basic scientific research because one particular field (climate change) is at present controversial.

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  22. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    “I think it is rather dangerous attitude to condemn all basic scientific research because one particular field (climate change) is at present controversial.”

    Its not so much a matter of condemnation as pointing out a pretty obvious fact. That part of the scientific community who have promoted the scam of global warming have effectively cut their own funding off, for without prosperity, there’ll be little money available for them and by logical extension, the whole of scientific research.

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  23. baxter (893 comments) says:

    ANDY SAID”My understanding is that a fair chunk of NIWA’s income comes from selling weather forecasts and other information.”

    Not like ‘the Warehouse’ though are they No assurance of personal satisfaction or a moneyback guarantee.

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  24. Andrew W (1,629 comments) says:

    “… No assurance of personal satisfaction or a moneyback guarantee”

    So it’s let the buyer beware – Go the free market!!

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  25. PhilBest (5,121 comments) says:

    Oh, come ON, Andrew W, enough has been written about the genesis of the IPCC, Maurice Strong, James Hansen, Al Gore, the appointments to membership BY bureaucrats from participating countries, the cronyism, the predetermined agendas………

    Pull the other leg, its got bells on………

    To casual onlookers, I recommend you look up and read: (not you, Andrew W, you’re up to your eyeballs in the same ideology as the UN climate agenda hijackers)

    REPORTS AND ARTICLES – Google them yourself –

    Edward J. Wegman et al: “Ad Hoc Committee Report (To the US Senate Committee on Energy and Commerce and the US Senate Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations) on the Hockey Stick Global Climate Reconstruction” (THIS IS SHOCKING READING)

    Tim Ball: GLOBAL WARMING SERIES (Excellent – best of their type yet)
    Part 1: Environmental Extremism
    Part 2: Historical and philosophical context of the climate change debate.
    Part 3: How the world was misled about global warming and now climate change
    Part 4: How UN structures were designed to prove human CO2 was causing global warming
    Part 5: Wreaking Havoc on Global Economies
    Part 6: The Hockey Stick scam that heightened global warming hysteria
    Part 7: The Unholy Alliance that manufactured Global Warming
    Part 8: UN’s IPCC preying on people’s ignorance
    Part 9: Carbon Taxes: Hand over your money! “We are saving you from yourself”
    Part 10: Environmentalists Seize Green Moral High Ground Ignoring Science
    Part 11: Maurice Strong Politics 101 (Series still continuing)

    Vincent Gray: “Spinning the Climate”

    S. Fred Singer et al: “Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate”

    John McLean: “Peer Review? What Peer Review?”

    Jack Welch: “NIWA Scientists have become propagandists”

    Brian Sussman: “James Hansen: Abusing the Public Trust”

    Laurence Solomon: “The Deniers”

    Ray Evans: “The Chilling Costs of Climate Catastrophism”

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  26. stephen (4,063 comments) says:

    Why are these opinions relevant to this discussion and won’t you please just get your own blog and link-whore like phil u please philbest?

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  27. jafapete (757 comments) says:

    Glad to see that someone else is blogging about science funding. Much more important than the usual beat-ups and trivia the MSM serve up.

    Our research spending — both public and private — is pathetic. (Except, most recently, for some agricultural research.) We spend a little over 1% of GDP, or $700 million odd, on research. This is well below most other advanced economies — half the OECD average and a third of some OECD countries — and is often cited as a reason for our poor relative economic performance.

    We’re in the same league on funding/GDP as Spain, Italy, Turkey and Greece. Yup, the same group we’re part of on the GDP per capita table.

    And great to see DPF and the Hive both recognising the need for state funding of some R&D research. For the loony right there is, of course, no need for state funding of science. Hence good to see Redbaiter’s comment at 10.07am still with 3 negative karma (although I’m sure this comment will outscore his).

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  28. chiz (1,144 comments) says:

    And lets not forget the “science” funding that shouldn’t have happened, like possum peppering. Science funding should be kept away from political interference.

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  29. Redbaiter (13,197 comments) says:

    “Hence good to see Redbaiter’s comment at 10.07am still with 3 negative karma (although I’m sure this comment will outscore his).”

    When the gummint represents about 60% of the economy and so many NZers are therefore dependent upon its largesse, its not surprising that cutting spending in any area is an unpopular notion. This is why I call socialism a perversion of democracy, and if we ever manage to change things and get gummint back to the size it should be, we should institute a constitution that, for the sake of democracy, prevents this corrupt and cronyist state of affairs ever arising again. (No doubt you are aware of Tytler’s well known declaration)

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  30. stephen (4,063 comments) says:

    “60% of the economy”

    Nope.

    Does anyone REEEALLY give a damn about karma?

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