The Cost of Knowledge

So it wasn’t long ago that one Sir David King (former president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science) was speaking rather vociferously about how we have spent too much on the LHC. While I certainly agree with his cause that we should be spending more on global climate and overpopulation issues, I don’t think that diverting money away from physics is really the right course of action. Part of me has to wonder if he was one of the key players in that drastic budget cut to physics a few months ago. Frankly, £80 million seems almost trivial in the context of the rest of this entry…

The thing is, the LHC has in total (that is, over the last 25 years) cost between €3.2b and €6.4b. Which is a maximum of £5.03 billion or (seeing as all the listings I’ve read quote values in US dollars) $9.2 billion. 9.2 billion dollars shared over roughly 50 countries (though I don’t know the proportions involved). Now, take that figure out of context, and yes, it does sound rather a lot.

Though let’s look at it this way. The UK is only the 79th largest country in the world by area and the 22nd largest by population. Why then, does the UK have the 2nd largest military expenditure in the world? Yes that’s right, after the US, we are the second best at blowing stuff up. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in 2007 we spent $59.7 billion. For a nation our size, that’s just preposterous! In fact, of the global expenditure of $1.34 trillion, that’s about 5%. These numbers are, quite literally, astronomical. Trust me. I’m an astronomer.

So Sir David King, and any other critics — before you pour cold water over the achievements of physics, perhaps you should criticise the UK’s disproportionately high military budget first.

For the record as well, per capita we’re only the 37th biggest CO2 producer in the world. I don’t think we’re doing that badly…

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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