Saturday, October 27, 2007

And Knowledge, Too

You have seen several time on here where I tried to emphasize whenever I can some parts of physics that actually have a direct application and benefit to our lives. This is because from my many encounters with people both personally and online, they have a vague idea that physics is nothing more than some esoteric, particle-physics-meet-string-theory type of study that has no direct bearing on anything they might use, or might affect them. In other words, physics is just the study of basic knowledge that may not mean much to them.

I've tried to dispel this myth as much as I can. However, it doesn't mean that I do not appreciate the theoretical and basic science aspect of physics. They certainly have a place in the evolution of physics, and a necessary ingredient. So that is why I found this opinion letter rather compelling because it explains and answers the question rather clearly with regards to why basic knowledge research should not be used as a pawn in problems of our world today.

The annual budget for NSF's entire physics program, of which theoretical physics is only a small part, is approximately $249 million; this represents 0.009 percent of the federal budget. Our government devotes more than 1 billion dollars per week in deficit spending to perpetuate the war in Iraq.

[b]The amount that the federal government spends on curiosity-driven scientific research does not impede our nation from making progress in the day-to-day effort at improving the human condition. Our nation's misplaced priorities are much larger in scale and much harder to scapegoat[/b]. While learning about the origins of the universe or the evolution of man may not lead to more shelters for the homeless, collectively burying our heads in the sand is unlikely to have the desired effect either.

In other words, even if you stop completely funding ALL of physics funding, it will STILL be a drop in the bucket of the amount of money you "saved" to help solve world hunger or diseases, etc. And this is still not considering the fact that advancement in medicine, biology, and pharmacy occurred in no small measure due to physics. Modern equipment and facilities that are widely used in those fields such as synchrotron centers, x-ray, MRI, PET scans, etc.. all came out of basic physics research in quantum physics, high energy physics, elementary particle physics, etc., all area in which people do not think to have any "effect" on their normal, everyday lives. So it can easily be argued that there have been precedent that these seemingly worthless, basic knowledge research has actually spawned many useful technologies that we currently use.


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