Particle Physics: Priorities?

In a strange series of coincidental events on Tuesday, my dad and I listened to the wonderful people of Coast to Coast while we drove back home from a soccer game. The topic of discussion was the Large Hadron Collider - the largest machine in the world - built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research, abbreviated CERN. (If anyone informs me as to why the hell it's abbreviated CERN, I will give them major kudos.) The LHC is supposedly going to explore the tiniest properties of matter ever explored by man by crashing atoms together in its big underground magnetic tube machine. Coast to Coast was on the topic, obviously, because of the risk of black holes being generated that would destroy the earth.

Upon returning home I turned to PBS - the best TV channel ever invented - which was showing a film about Fermilab, the LHC's American competitor, and the race within particle physics to find these smallest particles of matter using these huge experiments. Obviously this coincidence of topics was too much for me to ignore (and obviously too much for me not to blog on it). The film, hosted by the show Independent Lens, bemoaned Fermilab's lessened funding during Bush administration years just as the project was working full force towards accomplishing its goal while the LHC still wasn't even complete. It challenged the idea that particle physics was not a worthwhile investment and projected inspirational pleas of scientists stating how we must explore the world and keep reaching for new knowledge etc. etc. etc.

Well you know what? I applaud your principle, former President Bush and former Congress - whichever one you were. I agree with the idea that particle physics is not a priority. It may not even be something government should spend its time or money on at all.

Now of course we all know that government in general and Bush in particular did and still do not spend money very well. The waste that occurs in Congressional spending is unfathomable - but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have priorities. In my mind, finding the "God particle" that is going to be even smaller and more fundamental than the atom is just not something on which we as the American people need to spend millions and millions of dollars. I've said this before and I'll say it again: let's spend our money helping our fellow human beings. Let's improve the lives of the impoverished and starving before we go off on monstrous spending sprees to build bridges between remote Alaska islands, make giant tubes in which to crash molecules together, or senselessly bomb, invade, bomb, and occupy other countries.

Science is a good pursuit. It has lead to the improvement of human society throughout history - in fact many would say that technology is the foundation of human progress. Now, however, perhaps in order to make greater progress for humanity in expanding human knowledge we need to involve more of humanity in the process. Billions of people living at this very moment will never get the chance at an education that will open their minds to ideas like the Big Bang. Perhaps before the richest nations of the world galavant off to uncover smaller and smaller details of the universe's beginning we should make it so that more people will be able to contribute to the expansion of human knowledge instead of just contributing to the testament that our priorities are egregiously out of order.

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