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Sunday, April 24, 2005

Little Big Science

Thanks to SW for this link to comments by a minor media mogul concerning (Air) America's energy independence future. SW rightly pointed out that talk of hybrids won't necessarily solve anything. But the quote that got me thinking:
Sheldon Drobny (co-founder of Air America Radio): ... Today, it is practically impossible to fund anything that advances true science because there are simply very few vested economic interests in the advancement of science unless there are tangible military or economic purposes. If we cannot get funding for technology that “just” advances man’s knowledge, how can any of us expect oil-producing countries around the world to promote alternative energy?
I also basically agree with this but would add the caveat that a few "big science" projects still get funded without miltary or economic purposes. In the physics community, the highest profile projects certainly involve big efforts to meet some economic or military need, essentially drowning out science-for-science projects. Moreover, having received the American Institute of Physics weekly email newsletter for nearly 15 years now, I can't remember ever seeing any worthy announcements of scientific funding for smaller projects. Invariably, AIP announcements always relate to DOE pseudo-pork funding for fusion science at places like Livermore and Los Alamos labs (pseudo-pork tastes just like pork when a project fails). And indignation from the email editors usually comes about when funding levels start to decrease or some "big science" project gets cancelled.

I believe that phycisists may want to start treating "little science" with the same respect as its big brother. Unfortunately, the little science projects rarely work to solely advance man's knowledge. So when the Department of Energy decides to fund a big tokomak or super-collider they can always rationalize their decision by saying: "as we try to unlock the secrets of the atom". Hypothetical "little science" projects of energy efficiency will probably never pretend to generate the cachet of a mission to the moon -- but I still think it can generate significant dividends. This may result in the kind of results that Drobny thinks will result from consumer choices alone, but that we surely will not achieve without some help from the smarty-pants out there.

Today Air America Radio's Laura Flanders dedicated a full hour to talking to a couple of business people on how their companies adapt to a more energy conscious environment. The owner of a "100% green" Wisconsin coffee shop chain said without much irony that neither conservatives or liberals have exclusive rights to proclaiming and then solving the end of oil. Instead, he said essentially that they have to work it out together in a bipartisan manner. In principle, maybe yes, but practically speaking, only the liberal media outlets talk much about this stuff. Let me count those who will not: Powerline, Hugh Hewitt, Laura Ingraham, Bill Bennett, Michael Medved, Dennis Prager, etc ad nauseum. If anyone ever sees the energy depletion topic mentioned in any of these religious right zones let me know. So far, my ears record a big nada.


Professor Blogger Kevin Jackson said...

Hey, great blog! Sounds like you need commercial coffee maker.

I love coffee and did a keyword search on commercial coffee maker and came up with your site. The association was close, anyway. Take care! Dave

8:07 AM  

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