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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2014

entry arrow8:27 AM | Science and Capitalism

Capitalist short-sightedness. Must everything we do -- especially in pursuit of forming new knowledge -- have profit motive? I'm currently watching the documentary Particle Fever (2014), directed with gusto by Mark Levinson -- which has sadly been left out of the short list of documentaries vying for the Oscar this year -- and this particular scene struck me as the answer to many of our dilemmas. And why unflinching capitalism, which asks how we can profit above all, is the secret problem hindering progress.

The film follows the scientists of the Large Hadron Collider and their search for the Higgs Particle. In one scene, scientist David E. Kaplan is asked this question in a conference: "Let's assume you're successful, and everything comes out okay. What do we gain from it? What's the economic return? How do you justify all this? By the way, I am an economist."

Dr. Kaplan replies: "I don't hold that against you." Much laughter from the conference. Then he goes on: "The question was, what is the financial gain in running an experiment like this, and the discoveries that we will make in this experiment. And it is a very, very simple answer: I have no idea. We have no idea. When radio waves were discovered, they weren't called 'radio waves' because there were no radios. They were discovered as some sort of radiation. Basic science for big breakthroughs needs to occur at a level where you're not asking what is the economic gain, but you are asking: what do we not know, and where can we make progress. So what [is this experiment] good for? Could be nothing -- other than just understanding everything."

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