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How much money has been invested in ST & LQG

  1. Dec 2, 2006 #1
    My documentary--how many $$$ have been invested in ST & LQG?

    As part of my documentary I am looking at how many $$$ have been invested in ST & LQG.

    Does anyone have any ballpark figures?

    How much total has been invested in ST?

    How much total has been invested in LQG?

    Where can I find this information?

    Thanks so much for your time!

    Ballpark estimates or precise amounts would both be great!!
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 2, 2006 #2


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  4. Dec 2, 2006 #3
    Thanks--I just emailed all these contacts, asking;

    Hello there,

    I am currently working on a documentary on cutting-edge physics, and I was wondering the following--"How many total NSF dollars have been invested in String Theory and Loop Quantum Gravity?"

    Where might I be able to find this information? Ballpark estimates and/or precise numbers would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!

    I would be happy to visit your office for an interview, at your convenience of course!


    Barry I. Schneider bschneid@nsf.gov (703) 292-7383 1015 N
    Beverly Berger bberger@nsf.gov (703) 292-7372 1015 N
    Fred Cooper fcooper@nsf.gov (703) 292-7380
    Earle Lomon elomon@nsf.gov (703) 292-7382 1015 N
    Bradley D. Keister bkeister@nsf.gov (703) 292-7377 1015 N
    Sara Huff shuff@nsf.gov (703) 292-7345 1015 N
    Ramona Winkelbauer rwinkelb@nsf.gov (703) 292-7390 1015 N

    I will let you know the second I hear back!
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2006
  5. Dec 2, 2006 #4
    Preliminary numbers show that NSF has invested $186,477,067 into String Theory projects since 1976:


    Avergaing for inflation this would be well over $200,000,000 .

    When one factors in matching funds--both tax and tuition dollars, university labs, offices,benefits, salaries, admnistrative costs, and more, this could easily double.

    So not counting LQG, ST has received around half a billion dollars with nothing to show for itself in the way of physics.

    And then, one must also ask; if all the fudning is going to ST--if ST is, as Peter Woit says, "the only game in town," then perhaps the half billion dollars has hurt physics.

    Perhaps the vast funding is the reason that physics has made absolutely no advances in the past thirty years, as Smolin says in his book THE TROUBLE WITH PHYSICS: THE RISE OF STRING THEORY, THE FALL OF SCIENCE, AND WHAT COMES NEXT.


    The documentary will be a fun one to shoot! If anyone knows an ST who wants to be interviewed, please let me know!
  6. Dec 2, 2006 #5


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    I don't believe that "nothing to show for itself" is a valid description. At the very least, we've pursued the glimmer of hope far beyond the horizon, and invented entirely new branches of mathematics along the way. Even if string theory is a dead end, that determination is not a failure; any knowledge is valuable knowledge, even if it's only knowledge about what cannot be correct.

    Besides... big numbers are only meaningful when compared to other big numbers. For example, compare that half a billion dollars, invested over thirty years, to the expenses incurred by the US in the last couple of years in Iraq. Tell me which you think is a more worthwhile pursuit.

    - Warren
  7. Dec 2, 2006 #6


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    I agree, if Iraq had never happened we could have afforded to be wrong dozens of times. So much money and we only got one wrong out of it.
  8. Dec 3, 2006 #7
    Well, the question is whether you would be so indulgent in case you predicted some other project to be misguided given that that those people would eventually come to similar conclusions. Or is your back-up that ``mass hysteria'' sweeps the individual responsability under the carpet ?
  9. Dec 3, 2006 #8
    Where did you get this from?
  10. Dec 3, 2006 #9
    You know, that sounds to me like a stupendously tiny investment in something as important as the search for QG.

    I think someone should take this number to Bill Gates and suggest that he donate, oh, 25 billion dollars (over the next 20 years, say) to theoretical physics research. Sounds crazy, right? But pitch it like this: 25 billion dollars would effectively crank up the search for QG by some 50-fold (if the half a billion dollar figure is anywhere accurate). So think about the impact that the discovery of GR+QM had on mankind via new technology (computers, nuclear energy, medical imaging ...) -- call it, what, one-quarter of the GNP of the US alone? (one quarter = over three trillion a year). Then give a conservative estimate that the discovery of QG will have only one-tenth that impact: ie, 300 billion per year. (Or alternatively, assume a conservative 10 percent probability that the discovery of QG will have at least the same impact as the discovery of GR+QM.) So by these conservative estimates, 25 billion investment over 20 years would eventually have an expected ANNUAL return of 300 billion. ANd who knows, maybe we'd come up with an alternative to oil in the process ...

    I doubt anyone has pitched that to Gates; but I wonder what he would say?
  11. Dec 3, 2006 #10


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    I agree.. I really don't think 500 million dollars, invested over 30 years, is anything more than a trifling amount of money.

    - Warren
  12. Dec 3, 2006 #11

    I happen to live next to a neighborhood where the people are on the streets.

    They have little shelter to speak of--no food, and threadbare clothes.

    As part of my documentary, I would like to fly you out here to tell them that half a billion dollars is not a lot of money.

    In Peter Woit's wonderful book, NOT EVEN WRONG," he writes,

    "A superstring theorist looking for a pleasant place to sepnd a week or so at someone else's expense will in most years have a choice of thirty or so conferences, many in exoitic locations. In 2002, for example, among the most difficult and prestigous to arrange options was a summer workshop in Aspen, but during the year, other possible destinations were Santa Brabara, Chile, Trieste, Genoa, the Black Sae, Corsica, Paris, Berlin, Vancouver, Seoul, Chuna, and many others, including Baku in Azerbaijan."

    now I would like to offer you an opportunity to educate the homeless as to why funding exotic trips for String Theorists is more important than food and shelter.

    I know that these threads may be deleted. I have already heard back from NSF, and I am saving all the data.
  13. Dec 3, 2006 #12

    So you assume that if that half billion wasnt spent on string theory it would have somehow helped those homeless people?:confused:

    What about the 400 billion defense budget? or the 300 or so billion spent on the iraq war.

    Why are you targeting a worthwhile scientific endeavor and ignoring much bigger money drains?
  14. Dec 3, 2006 #13


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    You gotta love these silly arguments about such-and-such dollars being better used for homeless people instead of for other things. People make these kinds of arguments all the time, and they're just heartstring-tuggers with no real substance. You're just trying to manipulate peoples' thoughts with guilt, and it's a transparent and pathetic practice.

    The truth is that, really, throwing money at homeless people is not going to fix their problems -- not in this generation, much less in future generations. The truth is that, at least in the US, far more than $16 million per year is spent on the homeless already. The truth is that $500 million invested in, say, computer or transportation technology has the potential to create literally hundreds of thousands of jobs. (Think of the Wright Brothers. Think of Babbage. Think of Ford.) The truth is that if the $500 million had led directly to an entirely new physical theory, and thus new technologies of incalculable value, you would not be here right now saying it was a misuse of funds. You'd be a cheerleader of the first order, just on the other side of the fence.

    You're emotionally invested in this too heavily to make rational arguments. Sorry, but you're trying to tell us that some people are homeless, and thus we shouldn't fund pure science research -- and that's just dumb on more levels than I can count.

    - Warren
  15. Dec 3, 2006 #14

    D H

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    Multiplying the $200 million by a factor of 2.5 to get $500 million is bogus.

    The NSF money paid for labs, offices, benefits, salaries, administrative costs, etc. I have worked on several research projects over the years. A chunk of the grant money went to G&A (general and accounting?), after which it paid for salaries and equipment. The only times that hasn't happened is when the R&D was internally funded. I strongly suspect universities are even stingier than corporations when it comes to dishing out IR&D monies. After all, getting other organizations to pay for research is the main business of universities. Paying for it themselves is blasphemy.

    $200 million over thirty years is less than $10 million per year. Maybe $200 million is a bit light, so call it $10 million per year. The government wastes that much money in a heartbeat.
  16. Dec 3, 2006 #15
    By the sounds of it, you're extremely biased. Yes, of course $500 million is a lot of money to you or me or a homeless person. VERY few people would consider that much money 'chump change'.

    But that's not the right context to be looking at it's value. How much money is invested in other areas of science? Companies like Boeing, Airbus and Lockheed pump many times more money per year than that into R&D. The US military has an annual budget over 1000 times that amount and think of all the dead end projects it has funded over the last 30 years. We could remove the homeless problem from the Western world (and a great deal from the 3rd World) for a couple of dozen trillion dollars, but we 'waste' it on finding new ways to kill one another.

    You could ask "What is the point of any theoretical physics now?", after all, we've got a working description for gravity, so we can go into space (though we still use Newton's equations, they are good enough) and we know the governing equations for the nucleus, who cares what happens in the centre of a black hole or at the big bang? Why spend money on such things? Personally I consider that amazingly defeatist and narrow minded. I think understanding the universe around us is one of the most important and worthwhile things humanity can do. So string theory isn't giving us answers to "Why are we here" and "Is there a God?", do you expect people to get the right answer or immediately to a solution easily? Of course not! String theory HAS provided a great path for understanding new areas of maths and even new areas of physics. So it's not all done and dusted, that doesn't mean the journey to our current state of knowledge hasn't been worthwhile! Sometimes it's not just about the destination, it's also about the path you take!

    If you think string theorists just spend all their time going to exotic conferences and drinking champagne you're an ignorant fool and extremely biased. Speaking as someone who has a professor of engineering for a father and am myself a postgrad in a physics department, lets just say the lives of lecturers are considerably less glamorous than that! Anyone high up in a large multinational corporation will have a MUCH higher salary and most likely do a lot more travelling. Shall we force businesses to give their spare cash to homeless people, like you seem to advocating theoretical physicists do? Look up the average salaries for professors, then look up the average salary for big businesses. You'll see a BIG difference.

    The fact of the matter is $500 million is nothing compared to the funding levels of engineering departments or other parts of physics departments in universities, to say nothing of companies like the aforementioned Boeing or even worse, drug companies like GlasoSmithKline. Or how about the tobacco industry in the US? Or perhaps the oil companies? They have more money, more power and in the case of tobacco are a damn sight worse for people than string theoriests!

    Life isn't perfect and there's plenty of things worse with it than the relatively small theoretical physics community! By the sounds of it, you've an axe to grind and twisting the truth and ignoring facts is the name of the game for you.
  17. Dec 3, 2006 #16

    Hans de Vries

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    The average US citizen could have been drinking one or two extra beer more
    during the last 30 years for that amount of money.....

    Regards, Hans
  18. Dec 3, 2006 #17
    Thanks for the responses,

    Would anyone be willing to back up their words on film?

    The $200 million dollars that the NSF invests is bolstered by far more than $300 million more.

    Think about it--a grant might last for a couple years, and then the physicist, because they were a string theorist with a grant, gets tenure.

    Then, for the rest of their lives, they live on the tax-and tuition dole.

    With salary/benefits/office space costing $100,000+ per year. Over thirty years that is over $3,000,000. Multiply this by 1,000 string theorists, and the monetary cost is over 3 billion, while the scientific cost is the destruction of science and physics. Hence the title,

  19. Dec 3, 2006 #18


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    You know, this summer, ExxonMobil was making a billion dollars a day of pure profit. A billion dollars of profit a day! And you're trying to say that string theorists are the bad guys?

    I think you're a moron, frankly, and I don't think your documentary will fool anyone, regardless of whom you trick into speaking on it.

    - Warren
  20. Dec 3, 2006 #19

    I would love to film an actual string theorist with a portable blackboard walking aorund to homeless people out here, telling them how little $500,000,000 really is.

    Perhaps they could draw a wormhole on the board (the standard picture in every kaku/greene/randall/ book) and thusly prove the existance of extra dimensions--"that is where your money goes!"

    If someone wants to volunteer, that would be great!

    If not, we could hire an actor or actress. Brian Green might do--his sideline career is acting:

  21. Dec 3, 2006 #20


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    And besides, if you're going to include the office expenses, secretaries, clerks, human resource personnel, mail room workers, etc. -- instead of just the string theorists themselves -- you're making another grievous logical error. In that light, each string theorists is giving ten other people a reliable job -- thus working against homelessness and social problems.

    - Warren
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