A fridge with a pre-iPhone camera took a picture of a rock today.
How will this benefit me? Is it really important? Don’t we have better things to spend money on? These are a few of the arguments you’ll end up hearing about it, but flying past the planet (not in my name deGrasse Tyson) Pluto matters.
The best thing about modern science breakthroughs are just how far beyond the comprehension of the layman they now are. We have passed the territory of explaining why apples fall or we look a bit like apes and we are now in the realm of sub-atomic discovery. The type that requires years of intense, and to some expensive, research.
This is not science that can be made fun of, it’s not the kind of story that newspapers like about the tensile strength of a dunked biscuit, it is proper and hard science. It requires slingshots around planets to be able to direct a piece of metal towards a rock smaller than the moon millions of miles away (think how hard it is to throw a ball of paper in a bin across a room).
It was the same for the Higgs Boson discovery, that may have been at a smaller scale but it all goes to trying to answer the really big questions we face. Why does the universe behave as it does? Why do things have mass and mean we don’t fall through the floor? Why and how did the universe begin?
Will the answers to these questions lead to better cars, or better medicine, or longer lives? Will it improve the lives of millions of humans in one fell swoop? Of course not, but then do paintings or novels? Should we no longer support them?
The benefit to the everyday person is knowing that as a species we are improving ourselves, we are moving forward to discover more about the world around ourselves. We are not stagnating as a society worshipping sun gods and panicking during a solar eclipse, solving the problems of a failed harvest by using blood sacrifice. We are striving to answer questions that we do not yet know we need to ask, and this impetus means we will continue to work on other areas of science, like cancer treatments and ways to reduce pollution.
Upping the game in one field provides motivation for other physicists, chemists, biologists, engineers and all other scientists to push their own boundaries. The acceptance of the public for these discoveries gives them the opportunity to make them.
It has cost £400m to find out more about the depths of our solar system, and we can finally say that we have been to every planet in our neighbourhood. That money is the cost of the programme over the last decade, so just £40m a year. Assuming that the only reason for the Large Hadron Collider was for the Higgs Boson experiment (which it’s not) then we can say that it cost £9b, was it really worth it to spend this much money on a science facility?
I’ve had this argument with plenty of people before, and the fact is that science funding is criminally low compared to other areas in national budgets. Bear in mind this cost of £9b is spread over 10 years, and that it is amongst many other countries as well. Let’s assume that all 738,000,000 people in Europe helped fund it then it equates to about 10p per month that it cost.
Now think how much you might spend on putting chemicals in your body that only do damage (like alcohol or nicotine), how much do you spend on frivolous items like home decoration. Do you leave your TV on standby for a year because you are spending more than your contribution to science?
And if you don’t want science then that’s fine, you can opt out of it but you are not allowed any of it…you are not allowed electricity supplied via any means other than lightning, you can only have trepannings to help with headaches, in the winter you must use natural means to keep warm. Science is not for you.
Admittedly I am of a scientific bent so I may be biased towards the advancement of this field. I don’t advocate the removal of other fields of thought just to concentrate on the one I feel most strongly about. Yet to be certain in your belief (I use belief in the same way we use theory – to mean that all evidence suggests nothing other than what we think) of science means you come across as aloof or arrogant.
Now tell me, would you not feel a little full of yourself if you had torn apart a particle you had accelerated using a massive magnet to almost the speed of light under Switzerland to answer a question many had thought impossible to solve?
What doesn’t matter is that we flew past Pluto or it was the Higgs Boson we found, it is more important that we found something. Using intellectual rigour, questioning and an advancement of our scientific and engineering know-how we ask questions and we discovered answers because of something we did. It is what separates humanity from large sea cows.