When I came across people who questioned the utility of Large Hadron Collider experiment, of investing 8 billion dollars in it and of humans trying to control Nature by being curious, I was inspired to research on the topic and to write a post on my blog expressing my view. I remember in school, the first chapter in science textbook was about scientific method and various steps in it, namely, Ask a Question, Do Background Research, Construct a Hypothesis, Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment, Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion and Communicate Your Results. Science doesn’t work like instant noodles. Many researches are carried out without knowing what is one looking for and along the way a new discovery is made. But in today’s world which demands instant results of its efforts, many people are asking “How’s the view from the top?” whereas the scientists at CERN have just started climbing the stairs. I quote someone’s reply in a forum discussing the same topic.
Science does not work as in the movies. In our time and age scientists can’t just come up with something new and suddenly revolutionize our whole understanding of the universe. We move forward by uncovering small pieces of information about stuff so trivial it might seem like a complete waste of time, but when these observations accumulate we will by time suddenly find ourself possessing knowledge which allow us to do things we couldn’t even have imagined when we started. A complete Standard Model (which the LHC will help create) would bring us that much closer to achieving the Theory of everything. For example the world wide web was invented in CERN in 1989. At the time it was only a way for scientists to access documents from different computers around the world but we all know what it has evolved into today.
Prof. Brian Cox of CERN cites a very good example of Quantum mechanics when asked about application of the Big Bang experiment in daily life.
Quantum mechanics was developed to maturity as a theory during the 1920s and by 1947 we had the first transistor. It is often said, I think with some justification, that it is extremely unlikely that transistors could have been developed without the quantum theory. Perhaps we are on the verge of a similar leap when we deepen our understanding of the sub-atomic world once again at LHC – who knows!
Taking more examples, when Hertz was doing calculations to prove the existence of electromagnetic waves or when Fermi was bombarding uranium with neutrons or when Fleming was cultivating bacteria in petri dishes or when Mendel was cross breeding pea plants or when Pythagoras was playing with some numbers or when Galileo was throwing objects from the Leaning Tower of Pisa or when Marie Curie was processing pitchblende or when Antony van Leeuwenhoek was grinding lenses and observing stuff under them, people at that time would have questioned the point or usefulness of it all. But they all were proved wrong in due time. Time and faith..thats what we should give to any research. If we can place our faith in politicians year after year then why not scientists?
About the safety issue of the LHC experiment, I would again quote Prof. Brian Cox’s reply as he is the right person to say anything on this.
It is, of course, essential that all scientific research at the frontiers of knowledge, from genetics to particle physics, is subjected to the most rigorous scrutiny to ensure that our voyages into the unknown do not result in unforeseen, perhaps dangerous outcomes. CERN, and indeed all research establishments, do this routinely and to the satisfaction of their host governments. In the case of the LHC, a report in plain English is available here.
I think the media should behave more responsibly and show more scientific temperament than spread unnecessary rumors and panic among people leading to some untoward incidents. People just need a trigger for their fear of death to overshadow rational thinking. As for the investments, if the financially strong 20 member states of Europe are willing to spend so much on a research and have the unity to build such a huge structure across borders, Indians have no right to object as they are also investing 140 crores in making a movie when 30 crore Indians are below poverty line. Moreover the cost of Beijing Olympics held recently is estimated to be £20bn. It had cost 5 billion dollars to build the nuclear bombs used in WW II. Its a matter of, shall we say, priorities?
Lastly, curiosity to gain knowledge and the instinct to control with the help of that knowledge is something innate to every species. The only difference is the intelligence level and opposable thumbs I guess!! Without human curiosity, there would have been no fire, crops, vaccines, machines, electricity, computer, Internet…the list is endless. Without the urge to control, there would have been no storm warning systems, or eradication of small pox or contraceptive methods; a few of endless examples.