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PhoneyMcRingRing

The Wrecking Of British Science

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http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/new...2084783,00.html

Less physics departments, more intelligent design in schools.

Phoney

Well, I'm a great fan of physics. I've got a PhD in fusion physics. I think physics is a fantastic thing to study, and I think it prepares the mind to deal with a range of different ideas beyond the direct subject matter itself. But I have to say, if physics was that important to the economy, it would command a lot more money. The sad truth is that the UK and the west in general don't need the skills of physicists. That's not to say I don't believe that we should be utilising their skills a lot more, and in so doing raising the profile of physics to a much higher level. I passionately believe that we should throw ourselves fully into a nuclear fusion power programme for example. But as we live today, with the vision of the future given us by our governments, physics is not that important to the economy, and hence it is difficult to argue for more physics departments.

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i work in a university science department and its getting worse as the days and months go by (i can't decide if that was good grammar or not).

nobody values science - the university chiefs don't, the public don't, the politicians don't and the employers don't.

i do cancer research - i would be earning a lot more if i left school at 16 and worked for the council - makes you sick.

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Well, I'm a great fan of physics. I've got a PhD in fusion physics. I think physics is a fantastic thing to study, and I think it prepares the mind to deal with a range of different ideas beyond the direct subject matter itself. But I have to say, if physics was that important to the economy, it would command a lot more money. The sad truth is that the UK and the west in general don't need the skills of physicists. That's not to say I don't believe that we should be utilising their skills a lot more, and in so doing raising the profile of physics to a much higher level. I passionately believe that we should throw ourselves fully into a nuclear fusion power programme for example. But as we live today, with the vision of the future given us by our governments, physics is not that important to the economy, and hence it is difficult to argue for more physics departments.

It is going to become more important - look at the energy review. For energy alone, we seriously need to get some good scientists coming into the market or the country will be begging Russia cap in hand for gas in 10 years' time.

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One of the problems physics faces (and some other science) is that it's reached a limit whereby any further real progress is incredibly expensive (multi-billion pound projects) for progress that is more incremental than grounbreaking. That makes it poor value for money in many eyes, and they've probably got a point.

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I work within physics and see the problems only too clearly. As others have stated, there really is rather limited interest in scientists doing science. On the other hand, there is rather a large demand for logically trained individuals outside of their area of expertise. Take for example an individual with a doctorate in physics. Within the first years following full qualification they could work in scientific research in a university and take home a salary approximately equal to the national average. The first issue of course is that an individual with that level of training and that skill level in almost any other useful subject will be trained much much more. Look at medics, accountants, solicitors... Then one has the option of doing private indiustrial type research, this is fine but does not necessarily allow the freedom of university research - this option pays more (not a vast amount) and has some security. The third option is you ditch your science. Go into finance, law or the likes - the salaries now take off.

So many scientists have the option of doing science and being financially strapped or doing something else and making plenty of money. In a country where living costs/housing etc are increasingly rapidly, is it surprising that the most intelligent within the society recognise this and take steps to provide for themselves? So if sciences are to do in any way well, it must be made moderately attractive to do it. At the moment, only the most hardcore will stick with it.

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One of the problems physics faces (and some other science) is that it's reached a limit whereby any further real progress is incredibly expensive (multi-billion pound projects) for progress that is more incremental than grounbreaking. That makes it poor value for money in many eyes, and they've probably got a point.

That is a good point.

The exception I believe is energy production. The market hides the true future cost of energy now, thus making it appear that inventing and implementing future energy production mechanisms is uneconomic. The trouble is, that by the time it does become economic, it might be too late to make the steps necessary. What is hidden at the moment is that the true cost of supplying 6 billion people with the energy needed for what is considered a comfortable life has yet to be met, by for example a monumentally large fusion program. It is hidden by the good luck that at the moment we can substitute comparatively easy means of generating energy in the form of fossil fuels that we can squeeze out of the ground ready-made and set fire to. Once these have gone, or become too polluting, then the real cost will have to be met.

The sad truth is that many of the policy makers and the general public that vote them in don't understand some very basic but important truths about energy production, and as such, are actually incapable not only of making sensible decisions about this matter, but are also incapable of listening to the correct advice.

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I work within physics and see the problems only too clearly. As others have stated, there really is rather limited interest in scientists doing science. On the other hand, there is rather a large demand for logically trained individuals outside of their area of expertise. Take for example an individual with a doctorate in physics. Within the first years following full qualification they could work in scientific research in a university and take home a salary approximately equal to the national average. The first issue of course is that an individual with that level of training and that skill level in almost any other useful subject will be trained much much more. Look at medics, accountants, solicitors... Then one has the option of doing private indiustrial type research, this is fine but does not necessarily allow the freedom of university research - this option pays more (not a vast amount) and has some security. The third option is you ditch your science. Go into finance, law or the likes - the salaries now take off.

So many scientists have the option of doing science and being financially strapped or doing something else and making plenty of money. In a country where living costs/housing etc are increasingly rapidly, is it surprising that the most intelligent within the society recognise this and take steps to provide for themselves? So if sciences are to do in any way well, it must be made moderately attractive to do it. At the moment, only the most hardcore will stick with it.

Excellent post.

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One of the problems physics faces (and some other science) is that it's reached a limit whereby any further real progress is incredibly expensive (multi-billion pound projects) for progress that is more incremental than grounbreaking. That makes it poor value for money in many eyes, and they've probably got a point.

What point?

It is shameful that you put money in the same discussion with solving the misteries of the Universe!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

LHC and future expereiments will help a lot in understanding the NATURE!

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http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/new...2084783,00.html

Less physics departments, more intelligent design in schools.

Phoney

The path we are walking down really is disturbing. At secondary school level, there seems to be the ridiculous belief that faith/religous schools somehow are (in part) the future of schooling. Faith is the antithesis of progress, and hinders (some might say destroys) the development of enquiring minds.

I worked in a physics department in a UK university for 6 years. Physics is an expensive subject to teach, and I remember that the department used to make a loss from each student it taught. Many members of staff left for better wages or to continue their research overseas, where they were paid well, were appreciated and working life wasn't a daily struggle for funding. My boss, with a lifetime of experience in the university and a genuine love of physics, told me that if he was my age, he wouldn't stay in education/research as it was (quote) "not the job it was".

It is desperately sad. There is a real danger that all the accumulated knowledge in these departments will not be passed down to the next generation of physicists. As a country, we will regret this.

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What point?

It is shameful that you put money in the same discussion with solving the misteries of the Universe!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

LHC and future expereiments will help a lot in understanding the NATURE!

Easy on the exclamations fella.

It's not shameful at all that money is in the same discussion as physics experiments. They have to be paid for, and they're not worth doing at *any cost*. Lets face it, all a lot of these experiments are doing are satsifying egos. They haven't now, nor are they likely to ever have any practical application.

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On a positive note, closing departments are causing a skills shortage in some areas of science. In my field, the salaries have increased accordingly from "really terrible" to "not so bad" and it is very easy to find work.

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Easy on the exclamations fella.

It's not shameful at all that money is in the same discussion as physics experiments. They have to be paid for, and they're not worth doing at *any cost*. Lets face it, all a lot of these experiments are doing are satsifying egos. They haven't now, nor are they likely to ever have any practical application.

It does indeed make sense that a fair proportion of physics research should be target driven, and be able to show, at inception, some hope of a practical application. This kind of research is pleasing for those in the treasury working on their spreadsheets, and they can probably show some kind of return on their "investment".

Problem is, not all research is like this. Often breakthroughs occur in expected areas with completely unforeseen applications. The much vaunted example is the guy that invented the laser (maiman). There were no applications envisaged for lasers at the time, hence the much used saying that "lasers are a solution looking for a problem".

It is not easy to measure the return from scientific research, especially as many breakthroughs build on previous research, often in completely unrelated areas. Plus, forgive my naivety, but I hope we are something more than a collective of money making individuals, and that progress and understanding do have some, non-financial, value in society.

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They have to be paid for, and they're not worth doing at *any cost*. Lets face it, all a lot of these experiments are doing are satsifying egos. They haven't now, nor are they likely to ever have any practical application.

This is a very ignorant claim.

Do you know what LHC or future ILC are supposed to discover? MOney should not be an issue for such crucial experiments.

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It does indeed make sense that a fair proportion of physics research should be target driven, and be able to show, at inception, some hope of a practical application. This kind of research is pleasing for those in the treasury working on their spreadsheets, and they can probably show some kind of return on their "investment".

Problem is, not all research is like this. Often breakthroughs occur in expected areas with completely unforeseen applications. The much vaunted example is the guy that invented the laser (maiman). There were no applications envisaged for lasers at the time, hence the much used saying that "lasers are a solution looking for a problem".

It is not easy to measure the return from scientific research, especially as many breakthroughs build on previous research, often in completely unrelated areas. Plus, forgive my naivety, but I hope we are something more than a collective of money making individuals, and that progress and understanding do have some, non-financial, value in society.

I agree completely, I'm a big believer in 'blue skies' research and I believe firmly that it has a place in the research portfolio.

The problem is how much we want, or need to spend on it. It seems that with large scale, high energy physics we're well past the point of diminishing returns; pumping in more and more to find out less and less. IMO we could spend the tens of billions that these projects suck up in improving pay, conditions and 'blue sckies' funding for academics in general.

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One of the problems physics faces (and some other science) is that it's reached a limit whereby any further real progress is incredibly expensive (multi-billion pound projects) for progress that is more incremental than grounbreaking. That makes it poor value for money in many eyes, and they've probably got a point.

I do not entirely disagree. Physics is not cheap, but much can be done on rather reasonable budgets. Projects like the LHC are really blue skies, what we learn from it will take a long time to be used in the real world but without it we will eventually get to the stage of engineering having caught up and having no further to go. ITER is (in my view) no longer a pure research project, it is a proof of principle which is entirely different. Synchrotron facilities are rather important for many reasons which most normal people will never realise - yes they cost a lot, but they have thousands of users and thousands of projects carried out, calculate the cost per project and it becomes less significant. Particle accelerators in general as well as generalised sources for ionising radiation are critically important in many ways - medicine being a rather significant one. Even these however are not multi billion dollars - millions perhaps, not billions.

As for whether the research is ground breaking, well this depends on your point of view. Many of the things one might call ground breaking have stemmed from rather lowly origins. The public expects computers to follow Moore's Law - it is darned easy to say and darned difficult to do. I believe we are down to 13nm technology and the lithography requirements are simply staggering. Someone who does not know about it simply cannot comprehend the complexity of the 'incremental' advances here - yet without these advances the general public would complain. Look at TVs, we are a long way pas 10 inch black and white CRTs - the steps from there have been evolutionary but compare those TVs with todays and it is revolutionary in so many senses. Communications - physics is underpinning the technologies we use - these are technologies we simply could not live without. Beyond all of this there are also revolutions - people just dont really appreciate it. Obtaining controlled fusion was a revolutionary break through. Treating cancer with heavy ions was a revolutionary break through... the revolutions are there if you know where to look. However without intermediate evolutions, the revolutions will never happer.

The real problem is that physics can really only attract attention with big projects. The public does not understand the slightest details so need big shiny machines to interest them. Physics knows this - there is no point trying to bring your half million EPSRC project to nationwide attention because the nation does not care and is not interested. Bring them the LHC and interest is suddenly aroused. It is a lose lose situation. The public is only interested in big projects but is critical because of the cost. Explain the lesser projects which realistically offer much more immediate value and the public goes to sleep. How does one win?

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This is a very ignorant claim.

Do you know what LHC or future ILC are supposed to discover? MOney should not be an issue for such crucial experiments.

Yes it should. Of course it should. Money is an issue when it comes to everyday life and death in the NHS, it's an issue when it comes to feeding our children, it's an issue when deciding everything and anything. Physics is no exception.

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In many ways a land-wealth feudal society is the ultimate service sector based society.

If the basis of the wealth of society is making products, and there is moneytary inflation, then people find they are rewarded better for less work in service-sector jobs, even if they create little real product which adds to national production and thus income. Science grew from the hobby of the rich in the 19th century because it had no seemingly immediate practical outcome, to a vital component of manufacturing to keep products, new industries and jobs flowing and production expanding.

In the UK, techincal people are looked down on in enterprises in terms of relative rewards. Many will find it impossible to progress beyond thier techincal role within employment and will not be paid well. As such, demand for aqquiring such skills drops, and the supply side capacity shrinks.

The Roman empire's great technical skills soon disappeared when Constantine greatly expanded the money supply, so that society radically changed into a feudal arrangement of land-wealth, within a generation of such a rich elite - the huge engineering skills - even the process of making concrete - the bedrock of the roman periods great buildings was lost.

In many instances of the rise of a land-wealth based economy decline in the sciences follows, from the huge innovation and sound money economy of the Ming period in China, to the later money inflation of the following Qing period, its innovation stagnation and technological decline, to the money inflation of John Law in France, and the subsiquent land-wealth neo-fuedal state and utter poverty of the 'third estate' and decline later overcome by a revolution.

A historical pattern follows - The manufacturing basis of the economy collapses, with its characteristics of a circular flow of product income and ever rising living standards, dependant on innovation and productivity gains, from increased production.

The service sector side of the economy expands with a fair dose of inflationary money, with real prices rising, and the standard of living falling as the circular flow of income stops, and a rental flow to the monopolists of land and other suppliers of essentials controls capital.

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This is a very ignorant claim.

Do you know what LHC or future ILC are supposed to discover? MOney should not be an issue for such crucial experiments.

At the same time, even though we work at CERN, I cannot even speculate on what real world use we would have if we found the Higgs. It may confirm or deny (it may not) our models, but realistically what do we gain from this? Even finding new physics (be they sparticles or whatever), how is this of use to us?

I am playing Devils advocate because i do believe the research is necessary, but a balance does need to be obtained. Smaller scale projects are just as necessary because we need to keep applications 'up' with blue skies. There would be very little point knowing how the universe works at sub attometre levels if we are unable to make fire....

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At the same time, even though we work at CERN, I cannot even speculate on what real world use we would have if we found the Higgs. It may confirm or deny (it may not) our models, but realistically what do we gain from this? Even finding new physics (be they sparticles or whatever), how is this of use to us?

I am playing Devils advocate because i do believe the research is necessary, but a balance does need to be obtained. Smaller scale projects are just as necessary because we need to keep applications 'up' with blue skies. There would be very little point knowing how the universe works at sub attometre levels if we are unable to make fire....

Well, blue sky theory is String Theory. Particle Physics is not blue sky theory, it is closely related to the real world. I am not an engineer so I cannot judge what the

impact on the economy would make the discovery of HIggs particle or of the squarks or sleptons. But , as you know, we are going to smaller and smaller scales and who knows what the future might bring us?

There is enough money spent on biosciences and pharmaceutical research so smaller scale projects are also funded.

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Plus, forgive my naivety, but I hope we are something more than a collective of money making individuals, and that progress and understanding do have some, non-financial, value in society.

yeah good point, typical HPC forum logic, majority of posters spend their time attacking money making, yet at the suggestion we do something else... oh look thats no good either.

I did a science degree, I just wasnt passionate enough about my subject to make a career out of it. Even if there was more money to be made I dont think that would change - I dont think its easy to pursue an acedemic route if you arent really interested in what you are doing... my mates who stayed on for their PHDs etc just had a natural enjoyment - im not sure you can buy that - not everyone wants to investigate multi atomic wavefunctions, etc, zzzzzzzz!

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Guest Cletus VanDamme
At the same time, even though we work at CERN, I cannot even speculate on what real world use we would have if we found the Higgs. It may confirm or deny (it may not) our models, but realistically what do we gain from this?

I know next to nothing about physics, but I find this really exciting and we gain everything from it.

If the Higgs is found - well, it will have been created via the LHC, will it not? And so does this not put us on the path of being able to manipulate the fundamental nature of matter?

If the Higgs is found, then we are on the way towards realising teleportation, I think.

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I know next to nothing about physics, but I find this really exciting and we gain everything from it.

If the Higgs is found - well, it will have been created via the LHC, will it not? And so does this not put us on the path of being able to manipulate the fundamental nature of matter?

If the Higgs is found, then we are on the way towards realising teleportation, I think.

According to the theorists the Higgs is there waiting to be discovered. The LHC does not create particles as such, it only provides the conditions to "show themselves", as it were.

Sadly the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle puts paid to any dreams of teleportation, sorry :(

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