Sabine Hossenfelder thinks that it is a bad investment to build particle colliders that boast higher energies than their predecessors. The high precision frontier is better, she thinks. Physicists should be ashamed when they explain that a collider could access some decay channels, get a higher signal yield, or a better precision. In her opinion, to talk about supersymmetry is a downright blasphemy for them. And they are also "disappointing" if they dare to mention that the colliders have been a better investment than the wars in Afghanistan and that the World Wide Web was born at CERN.
Needless to say, she is absolutely, importantly, and fundamentally wrong about every single claim she is trying to articulate.
While talking about the arguments concerning the best investments – science vs non-science and which science – she writes:
Whether a next supercollider is worth the billions of Euro that it will eat up is a very involved question. I find it partly annoying, partly disturbing, that many of my physics colleagues regard the answer as obvious. Clearly we need a new supercollider! To measure the details of this, and the decay channels of that, to get a cleaner signal of something and a better precision for whatever. And I am sure they will come up with an argument for why Susy, our invisible friend, is still just around the corner.Her opinions are deeply troubling because she literally considers the most legitimate arguments to be blasphemies that should be suppressed if not banned. Every sentence above is outrageous but many details are staggering. For example, to defend one particular collider design by comments about decay channels is "superficial" – while monologues about experiments that avoid the term "decay channels" are not "superficial". Your understanding of the word "superficial" is clearly upside down, isn't it?
To me this superficial argumentation is just another way of demonstrating they don’t care about communicating the relevance of their research. Of course they want a next collider - they make their living writing papers about that.
And why should one not mention supersymmetry which is the most well-motivated class of physical phenomena that may be expected when physics beyond the Standard Model is discovered? Possible signals of supersymmetry clearly represent a large part, possibly a majority, of the reasons why people want higher-energy colliders to be built. Why should this fact about the true motives of the scientists be obscured if not completely censored? I just find her suggestions stunning.
I will focus on the "science vs non-science" spending later. But the arguments involving the better accessibility of some decay channels or supersymmetry are self-evidently important for the decisions whether it's wiser to build a collider running at a higher energy than the LHC, or some high-luminosity or lepton accelerator at a lower energy (or some completely different kind of an experiment).
One simply has to know something about the decay channels and the proposed new (BSM) phenomena in the credible scientific literature – and one has to talk about these things – if he wants to offer any actual, defensible arguments on technical decisions about the planned experiments, e.g. whether it is better to ramp energy or replace hadrons by leptons. A decision about the "way to go" by someone who completely ignores the literature, SUSY, or decay channels is guaranteed to be irrational and stupid, pretty much by definition.
Now, indeed, most of the public (and even most of the Parliamentary committee that will co-decide about the investments) won't understand what the phrases "cross section" or "decay channel" mean, let alone how they influence the usability of one possible experiment or another. And indeed, the monologues by many experts who have demonstrated virtually no skills in communicating science will be useless for their listeners (and many of the experts will actually be fachidiots who don't know much beyond their overspecialized expertise – so they will be useless even for their colleagues, in the real technical decisions). But it is just counterproductive and dishonest to claim that the actual reasons to prefer one experiment over another have nothing to do with decay channels or cross sections – i.e. that a sensible investor should be deciding according to some completely different, less technical criteria.
If the politicians don't understand the justifications that use some technical terms, they won't be able to become the source of "independent yet justified" arguments in favor of one design or another. But they may still understand that some people who have achieved this or that in science claim that they have verified some good arguments why one design is better than another. If someone isn't able to understand the beef of the science, he will have to rely on less reliable, sociological criteria, but it can still be done in smarter or dumber ways.
If we talk about the particular question whether it's better to ramp up energy: Indeed, ramping up the energy, e.g. to 100 TeV, is a priori the most promising way to learn new physics. It seems very likely that if there is some new physics to be discovered in a foreseeable future, high enough energy is what the LHC lacks most (or lacked most, before the upgraded 2015 run). Precision physics won't really teach us much if the energy stays low. The inaccessible particles will remain inaccessible and if some anomalies from the Standard Model emerge, we will be ignorant about their cause, anyway. So the anomalies won't be too interesting by themselves.
Hossenfelder doesn't like if someone points out that particle colliders have been vastly better investments than wars in Afghanistan:
The most common argument that I hear in favor of the next collider is that much more money is wasted on the war in Afghanistan (if you ask an American) or rebuilding the Greek economy (if you ask a German), and I am sure similar remarks are uttered worldwide. The logic here seems to be that a lot of money is wasted anyway, so what does it matter to spend some billions on a collider. Maybe this sounds convincing if you have a PhD in high energy physics, but I don’t know who else is supposed to buy this.Maybe you should have a PhD in particle physics, then, if you want to have a sane idea about which investment is better. And if you don't have such a degree, maybe you should better shut up because you probably don't have a clue what you are talking about. And neither has Sabine.
The point of the argument that Sabine insanely disagrees with is that the investments by big governments or the whole societies or civilizations should be compared fairly. A collider costs billions of dollars which is "a lot". But the word "a lot" is ambiguous. We must ask: "a lot relatively to what"? The investment shouldn't be compared with personal salaries or investments by individuals or families because the colliders are (so far?) not facilities that people and families privately build next to their villas. They are investments by the scientific communities of a whole nation or many nations or whole continents – or global investments. So if we decide whether the cost of the collider is really "a lot", we must compare it with other things that whole nations pay for once in a few decades. And the cost of the LHC was therefore very, very small, and any verbal trick comparing the LHC to some family budgets or anything of the sort that ends up saying that "it was too expensive" is just pure demagoguery.
The cost of the LHC stayed below $10 billion. To compare, the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq cost about $6 trillion. It's something like six hundred LHC colliders. Even if you would claim that the only benefit of the LHC is the discovery of the Higgs bosons, which is a highly oversimplified interpretation, what are the benefits of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? The places are more messed up and more hostile than they were two decades ago.
Of course, it's partly because the wars are "primarily" supported by the people who prefer if lots of weapons are produced and sold and if the government increases its apparent importance by constantly pointing its finger on enemies abroad. They team up with tons of very stupid people who are incapable of learning anything.
Taliban (indirectly) and Al Qaeda (directly) have received lots of U.S. dollars which was being justified by their fight against the USSR. The idea that they could become dangerous by themselves was probably too complicated or abstract for those who would pay for those things. OK, everyone can err. One could perhaps say that the rise of the Taliban or Al Qaeda were unpredictable coincidences. But what about the money invested into Assad's foes in Syria which hugely helped the rise of the ISIS? Obama, instead of admitting the self-evident fact that he is a stupid asshole who has screwed the situation in Iraq and Syria like no Western politician before him blames the bad intelligence. But this is not an acceptable way to divide the responsibility in a civilized country. The intelligence guys are Obama's subordinates who can be responsible for some "details" (and their subordinates for even "finer details") – but the very question whether the most important opposition forces in Syria and Iraq that may be supported are "friends" of the U.S. is no "detail". It is arguably the #1 question of the U.S. foreign policy related to those countries and if the answer turns out to be wrong, and it clearly has, then Obama, and not just some subordinates, is the rotten apple.
If he failed to hear that there are Arabs living in those countries, would he also find a scapegoat who would be guilty instead of him? All of us, the people who have some understanding of the Middle East and the human behavior, would have emphasized for years that there existed no noteworthy opposition in Syria that would "like" the U.S. as a role model and that the support for the opposition against Assad is nothing else than the support for militant Islam. Moreover, our words shouldn't have been needed. These questions are exactly the same as the questions that have already been answered in Afghanistan. It didn't help.
I won't discuss the hundreds of billions of dollars that were thrown into the Greek black hole because 1) I have already spent too much time with (mostly off-topic) comments about politics, and 2) I would vomit if I had to think about the Greek parasites for another minute. But be sure that dozens of LHC colliders were destroyed by the anti-market political scum in Greece on every year in the previous 4 if not 40 years.
The sanctions against Russia have already created economic losses equal to many or dozens of the LHC colliders, too. Joe Biden candidly said that Europe didn't want to impose sanctions but Obama and Biden would "embarrass" Europe. Like a nasty bully or a rapist, they were harassing and intimidating the cowardly politicians on our continent and they finally achieved that both Russia and Europe would pay a heavy price. It's great that Biden admitted it but if he thinks that he hasn't created millions of new Europeans who prefer his and Obama's throat to be cut, just like most of the people in the Middle East, he is very very wrong.
And such bad investments and losses are unfortunately seen everywhere. Some $5 billion (more or less another LHC) was thrown to the "NGOs" in Ukraine whose only goal was to undermine the legitimate government in Ukraine – with the current post-coup nationalist regime, civil war, and economic and moral collapse of Ukraine (plus the increased threat of a conflict with Russia) as the only result. Can really have the staggering arrogance to deny that the LHC has been a better investment?
Sabine also opposes the observation that the World Wide Web was born at CERN, partly because of the environment that needed certain services and forms communication. She says that wars lead to the development of new technologies, too. I surely agree. One may still compare the amount of spin-off technologies that came from wars with those that came from the big experiments. Take the Internet which is legitimate because the military also needed it and contributed to the construction of the required infrastructure and some know-how. If you look fairly, you will see that the contributions to the birth of the Internet as we know it from the CERN-like big experiments and from the military were pretty much comparable – despite the fact that the military has received about 100 times more money during the same time.
Qualitatively speaking, every investment may have spin-offs and unexpected beneficial side effects. But if we are kindly allowed to speak about the "return on investment" quantitatively, it is simply indisputable that the big experiments produce much more "useful technology for peaceful times" than the military spending. And you know me enough to see that I am in no way against military spending. It is one of the basic things that countries naturally pay for because it decides about their existential questions. But just because I generally understand that the military spending has good reasons can't prevent me from seeing that the argument that big experiments produce much larger unexpected beneficial side effects is true and very powerful.
Sabine Hossenfelder also dismisses China's plans to build new colliders because these plans result "only from their desire to be competitive rather than from a careful calculation of the return on investment". This hostile remark is bizarre, too. "Being competitive" is clearly a legitimate and important goal for a country like China. In most industries etc., China is clearly an example of a country that "follows". I don't say that it is the only thing that China does – but China clearly does produce tons of clones of Western smartphones and millions of other products. So of course that the Chinese activities in science have this flavor, too. But if China builds a high energy collider, and perhaps the strongest one in the world, the country will indeed become competitive in experimental particle physics. This outcome is their return on investment, and if the collider will ever work, it will be a huge return on investment, indeed, given the fact that the expenses will probably be comparable to the negligible price of the LHC. If there exists a better way to (reliably?) discover new physics, maybe it won't be found by China but that shouldn't be surprising given their follower status.
Sabine Hossenfelder may disagree but the reason why she disagrees is that she actually hates particle physics. Many other, mostly stupid people, hate it as well and Sabine is clearly playing the role of a spokeswoman of these anti-science people. She belongs to the fifth column and wants to make these stupid people as influential as possible.
But unless the organization in the civilized societies breaks down completely, the question "which big scientific experiment is going to be funded" will be decided not by these morons that Sabine wants to become very important but by those who indeed know what a "decay channel" is and who are actually judging these questions in a scientific legitimate way. Sabine Hossenfelder unfortunately doesn't belong to this set of people. I am actually amazed how much anti-science propaganda people like Hossenfelder produce while staying in their environment.
Quite generally, far-reaching questions such as similar multi-billion investments should be decided by people who have some expertise – when it comes to really detailed questions such as "which kind of a collider" – or at least some "more enlightened souls" than the average. Ronald Reagan was such a guy which is why his administration would start the Superconducting Supercollider project. There was also a lot of opposition (obviously including, and mostly, from the G.O.P.) but these people didn't have so much influence during Reagan's tenure – they only won and killed the project during Clinton's years. But a soulmate of Reagan's, Margaret Thatcher, became a co-mother of the LHC which finally was built. A 2010 speech in the U.K. Parliament reminded us that such decisions used to be rather simple:
Margaret Thatcher was more circumspect when she wrong-footed sceptical Cabinet colleagues with her defence of public spending on the Large Hadron Collider. “Yes, but isn’t it interesting?” was enough to stifle their objections. And her interest in the work at CERN was rewarded by Tim Berners-Lee establishing the groundwork for the World Wide Web. I’ve seen the original computer server with a note from Tim attached, instructing fellow scientists not to switch it off. Our lives have truly been revolutionised by his inventiveness.Sadly, we entered an era in which people with inferior souls – relatively to Thatcher and many others – have flooded our institutions and gained lots of the influence. They're so arrogant that they're almost planning to prohibit scientists from talking about decay channels while explaining whether one collider project is better than another.
I don't plan to proofread the text above because I am too upset what kind of "scientists" have become normal at an institution founded by Niels Bohr with the purpose of leading the global science in the same sense as the Copenhagen school led the global physics in the 1920s. Bohr is surely spinning in his grave these days.