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Steven Weinberg defends linear collider, science

Last week, Steven Weinberg gave a talk in Arlington, Texas. This is the questions-and-answers part of the talk:

It's 28 minutes. At the end of the regular talk, he mentioned various indirect advantages from building a new linear collider etc. He makes a good joke when they prepare an award for his memorable talk: How did you know in advance that my talk would be memorable? I would be inclined to make exactly the same comment.

A person asked about new physics. Weinberg focused on the identity and detection of the dark matter particle. The same person and another one wanted to ask about string theory – that's what people are really excited about. Weinberg said it's extraordinarily mathematically powerful and it hasn't been possible to compare its characteristic predictions with experiments.

He says that the International Space Station was allowed to go at the same time when the Superconducting Supercollider was cancelled – even though it was 10 times more expensive and has produced no science. He strengthens the claim by saying that the astronauts have never produced any science. Of course, some people in the audience are stunned, others applaud. ;-)

The linear collider would measure the properties of the Higgs and all the things much more accurately. I have some doubts whether this information is worth $10 billion dollars, especially because it is somewhat likely (40%?) that they would exactly agree with the Standard Model, within the ILC precision. And if there were a disagreement, it would still fail to clarify where the disagreement comes from, what are actually the new particles and physical phenomena that are responsible for the deviation. Imagine that the ILC finds out that the diphoton decays of the Higgs boson are indeed 70% more frequent than the Standard Model says. Would we be fully excited and satisfied? Nope. It would only be a justification to build a collider that may actually find the new beasts that are responsible. So why wouldn't we build this collider immediately?

For those reasons, I would tend to think it's better to save a little bit more money and build a new SSC-like collider that exceeds the LHC by its superior brute force, by the energy.

Weinberg said that he was attracted to theoretical physics by reading popular books when he was at the high school. He also mentions that for a long time, he believed he had to know everything before he starts to do research, so he was reading lots of books. Then he learned better. Well, I still think that his previous "mistake" was very valuable because it gave us Weinberg who really did and does know everything about the particle physics and cosmology of his era.

Most of the time, nothing comes out of the research so it may be frustrating. Sometimes, something comes out. If you love it, do it, if you don't, then don't do it...

Weinberg's Arlington talk was a part of a broader linear collider conference (its web).

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reader Shannon said...

Would there be a competition between a new super collider and sending a human colony on Mars :-( ?

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Shannon, as Weinberg mentioned, and I think I quickly reviewed it, there can't be any competition between such things because they're at a totally different scale. The total cost of a Mars colony would surely exceed 100 billion dollars so it would be demagogic to stop a collider which will always be 10 times cheaper "because of the Mars spending".

reader Dilaton said...

Thats nice from Steven Weinberg to defend (experimental) high energy physics, may the (unified) force be with him :-) !
I thinks such efforts are badly needed to improve the situation in particular in the US ...

Learning about the story of the SSC cancellation made me very angry first; but now I think Lumo could be right and waiting a little bit to be able to build an even better gadget that brings even more fun is a valuable alternative.

I really love fundamental physics and I am content and comfortable with reading books, enjoying the TRF real-time reports about the newest score of the game, etc

Just for the heck and the fun of it :-)


reader George Christodoulides said...

definitely more money is needed for science but what i don't like is the way that most scientists like Weinberg ask for money and want money. obviously the system does not work and things have to change.

also the way money is allocated is not right and money is wasted on unimportant things and is not spent on more important ones.

university professors should first learn to spend their money correctly and then ask for more.

also in the UK the whole STFC, ESPRC bureaucratic system sucks. it is not flexible and money is not allocated correctly. too much money is also spent on PhD students that end up getting a job outside science instead of opening science jobs.

there are places like jodrell bank that do not have desks, seats and computers for graduate students but spend thousands on bullshit.

reader Robert Rehbock said...

"Too much" is subjective. Did we spend "too much" on war, religion and spectator sport rather than education" Generals, priests, and those with the capacity to place a ball in a hole ask for and get much more than Weinberg every day.
What if the US and its allies had encouraged several trillion in private (or even publicly funded) research and development, rather than getting Saddam, creating TSA and otherwise funding "security?"
Would not a small portion of our already paid for thermonuclear stockpile been sufficient to destroy the middle east oil fields, return the Muslim extremists to the dark ages for the next millennium?
Some would certainly prefer to have the trillions at hand to spend on science, technology and infrastructure. Values and choices may depend on education. What is "too much" may depend on education.

reader George Christodoulides said...

what i was trying to say is that it is very easy to just ask for money-it makes no difference. scientists have been doing this for a long time-it doesn't work. the system has a problem and has to change.

of course i don't expect it to change when there are people making comments here that they do what they do for physics, that physicists should be in a room and not care about the system or the politics and supervisors getting PhD students simply because they remind them of themselves and not because they are intelligent. it cannot change when people like Weinberg are pro big government and support socialist policies and then complain about the money science gets.

also i don't expect that if science gets more money with the current system that there would be much more results. they will probably create a lot of fake positions and professors will waste more money on trips.

you don't only need more money but the system has to become more efficient. and buy some more desks for graduate students!

reader George Christodoulides said...

you probably know better than me the major threats for humanity and what this kind of technology can be useful for. this kind of things are very important. it is not only the knowledge about the science and experiments in space that is needed - Weinberg gave a bad argument about new science produced in the space station.

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