In “The Crisis of Big Science” (New York Review of Books, May 10, 2012),
Steven Weinberg laments,
What really motivates elementary particle physicists is a sense of how the world is ordered—it is, they believe, a world governed by simple universal principles that we are capable of discovering. But not everyone feels the importance of this. During the debate over the SSC, I was on the Larry King radio show with a congressman who opposed it. He said that he wasn’t against spending on science, but that we had to set priorities. I explained that the SSC was going to help us learn the laws of nature, and I asked if that didn’t deserve a high priority. I remember every word of his answer. It was “No.”
Perhaps the congressman’s constituents would be more favourable to funding
cancer research? It’s their money.
What does motivate legislators is the immediate economic interests of their constituents. Big laboratories bring jobs and money into their neighborhood, so they attract the active support of legislators from that state, and apathy or hostility from many other members of Congress.
Mmm, that’s what happens when it’s their money.
It seems to me that what is really needed is not more special pleading for one or another particular public good, but for all the people who care about these things to unite in restoring higher and more progressive tax rates, especially on investment income. I am not an economist, but I talk to economists, and I gather that dollar for dollar, government spending stimulates the economy more than tax cuts. It is simply a fallacy to say that we cannot afford increased government spending. But given the anti-tax mania that seems to be gripping the public, views like these are political poison. This is the real crisis, and not just for science.
There was a time when space exploration was an adventure – sometimes tragic, but still an adventure. The public bought it.
What Weinberg is describing here is not an adventure; it is an elite tyranny.
Weinberg has an article in Nature of Nature: Examining the Role of Naturalism in Science in which he fronts* the multiverse. In which case, why not stay home because everything you can think of is true anyway and all alternatives happen?
And come what may, we still need cancer research.
*Steven Weinberg, “Living in the Multiverse,” in Bruce L. Gordon and William A. Dembski, The Nature of Nature: Examining the Role of Naturalism in Science (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2011)