Public interest

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  • #1
wolram
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I think string theory and quantum loop theory are the instigators in destroying public interest in cosmology, pop articles promised so much ,but nothing emerged, i also think that funding of cosmology projects will decline with diminishing results, it is no fault of the scientist, just bad luck that nothing (earth shattering) is coming from the millions spent.
 

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  • #2
wolram
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Oh, and the demise of GPB may have put the cap on public interest, your long shot predictions may have sealed any advancement in cosmology, good work guys.
 
  • #3
cristo
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There are a couple things I don't understand in your post: firstly, why should popular science dictate actual science? And secondly, I don't see a declining public interest in Cosmology: there are way more popular books on the subject now than, say, thirty years ago.
 
  • #4
wolram
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There are a couple things I don't understand in your post: firstly, why should popular science dictate actual science? And secondly, I don't see a declining public interest in Cosmology: there are way more popular books on the subject now than, say, thirty years ago.

May be you live in thought space, come down to reality space, diminishing returns equals less funding, popular books do not increase funding for essential research, interest in cosmology will decline if fantastic unsupported theories abound, the public needs a fact or two to keep an interest.
 
  • #5
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Oh and i bet most book sales are to universities and libraries, not the general public, stuck on shelves unread, (by the general public), can any one give a break down??
 
  • #6
Nabeshin
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Yeah, I probably agree with this. When all these books and publicity came out about string theory and everything it sparked a lot of interest, but now in the wake of that people probably don't take cosmology very seriously.
 
  • #7
cristo
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Yeah, I probably agree with this.
Does that mean you agree, or you don't? :confused:
When all these books and publicity came out about string theory and everything it sparked a lot of interest, but now in the wake of that people probably don't take cosmology very seriously.
What do you mean by "take cosmology very seriously"; are you saying that because, in your opinion, the interest in cosmology by the general public has recently dwindled people are now saying that cosmology is not a genuine science? Do you have any evidence for this, or is it just what you speculate?
 
  • #8
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I think string theory and quantum loop theory are the instigators in destroying public interest in cosmology, pop articles promised so much ,but nothing emerged, i also think that funding of cosmology projects will decline with diminishing results, it is no fault of the scientist, just bad luck that nothing (earth shattering) is coming from the millions spent.

Wolram. It seems every now and then you post something negative about the state of cosmology. It’s getting a little tiring, especially when your conclusions don’t appear to be very sound.

How about looking at it from another perspective, and seeing that it’s not speculative theories, lack of public interest or throwing more money at it, but a significantly greater challenge making more earth shattering discoveries.

Wasn’t 98 a big year for cosmology?
Wasn’t 64 a big year for cosmology?

Next year we have Planck going up, won’t we see some big things come from that?, not to mention the LHC.

Have some patience, the future looks far from worsening.
 
  • #9
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Does that mean you agree, or you don't? :confused:

What do you mean by "take cosmology very seriously"; are you saying that because, in your opinion, the interest in cosmology by the general public has recently dwindled people are now saying that cosmology is not a genuine science? Do you have any evidence for this, or is it just what you speculate?

I assume he means people don't want to expend their money or time on cosmology. Isn't that the most likely meaning? Why do you think otherwise?

I take cosmology very seriously.
 
  • #10
Wallace
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Sales of popular books /= research funding. There is plenty of money in areas of research that no one in the general public has ever heard of. Contrary to popular opinion, research funding is not determined by popular opinion or politicians. The total amount of funding a country gives to research is obviously affected by politicians, but whether it goes to string theory, cosmology satellites, cancer research, semi-conductor fabrications etc etc etc is determined by expert communities. This is true in effectively all major research countries.
 
  • #11
Nabeshin
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I assume he means people don't want to expend their money or time on cosmology. Isn't that the most likely meaning? Why do you think otherwise?

I take cosmology very seriously.

Kind of. I should say that I haven't gone out and polled people on cosmology but this is just the impression I get. Because a lot of popular cosmology books (for most people, the only subject matter they will ever know) deal with things that are primarily metaphysics, in the public eye it can lose its position as a genuine science. Not suggesting any implications of this, just that it seems to be true.
 
  • #12
cristo
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Because a lot of popular cosmology books (for most people, the only subject matter they will ever know) deal with things that are primarily metaphysics.
Which popular Cosmology books are these?
 
  • #13
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The problem with cosmology is that it assumes a whole lot of stuff. The general public is going to go wow really, how do you know that? All they get in response is a bunch of mumbo jumbo that doesn't make any sense at all to them which is mostly all hypothetical. That leaves them in the position of either putting their blind faith into the matter, or to dedicate their lives to learning cosmology.

I think people prefer science that they can observe for themselves rather than just taking some peoples word for it.
 
  • #14
cristo
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The problem with cosmology is that it assumes a whole lot of stuff.
What does modern Cosmology assume?
The general public is going to go wow really, how do you know that? All they get in response is a bunch of mumbo jumbo that doesn't make any sense at all to them which is mostly all hypothetical. That leaves them in the position of either putting their blind faith into the matter, or to dedicate their lives to learning cosmology.
This is something that really grinds my gears: why should it make sense to them? I don't expect someone to teach me, a layperson, how to perform brain surgery, and even if someone did write a popular science book on the topic, would you let me operate on your brain after reading it? The point is that there is only so much that one can popularise; there becomes a point in any technical discipline at which one must sit down and get their hands dirty.

I think people prefer science that they can observe for themselves rather than just taking some peoples word for it.
Fine, but then they shouldn't feel to need to complain about those that they can't comprehend!!
 
  • #15
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What does modern Cosmology assume?

This is something that really grinds my gears: why should it make sense to them? I don't expect someone to teach me, a layperson, how to perform brain surgery, and even if someone did write a popular science book on the topic, would you let me operate on your brain after reading it? The point is that there is only so much that one can popularise; there becomes a point in any technical discipline at which one must sit down and get their hands dirty.


Fine, but then they shouldn't feel to need to complain about those that they can't comprehend!!

Cosmology assumes Big Bang.

Brain surgery can be observed, and people can see proof that it can work. Also even if they decided to dedicate their lives to cosmology, they would never be able to prove Big Bang because it cannot be observed and it cannot be tested.

I'm just saying, why should the public be interested in it when it offers nothing to them.
 
  • #16
cristo
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Cosmology assumes Big Bang.
The current model of Cosmology is the big bang model, which simply says that the universe was, at one time in the past, a lot smaller and a lot denser than it is today. This has a huge amount of evidence to back it up. Cosmologists don't just make these crazy models that have nothing to do with the real world (well, most don't anyway)-- they are constantly looking for more data to either give the model a firmer base, or to disprove it.

I'm just saying, why should the public be interested in it when it offers nothing to them.
But that's why the general public don't really care about physics, not specifically Cosmology.
 
  • #17
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But that's why the general public don't really care about physics, not specifically Cosmology.

Astronomy offers a lot because they deal with what we observe and that is much more real to us. Physics in general offers inventions and advances that are definitive. Nuclear and particle physics offer advancement observation and experimentation as well as energy. Engineers make stuff and invent things that we use and or observe. General Relativity helps us with space missions and GPS.

My point is that public interest is always going to mainly be stronger in areas that are more tangible and realistic to people.
 
  • #18
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The current model of Cosmology is the big bang model, which simply says that the universe was, at one time in the past, a lot smaller and a lot denser than it is today. This has a huge amount of evidence to back it up. Cosmologists don't just make these crazy models that have nothing to do with the real world (well, most don't anyway)-- they are constantly looking for more data to either give the model a firmer base, or to disprove it.

Another thing is that Big Bang isn't honest to the public as to what it is. Firstly the name bib bang implies that the universe was created in the event of a "big bang". Also it is a gray area as top wether that is what the theory really means. Then you say it was just smaller and denser. Does that mean their was a big bang that created the universe or not? Is it just that when you actually delve into cosmology you realize that it simply amounts to observation indicating and expanding universe? Where does that leave the public who was told that cosmology tells us of the birth of the universe.
 
  • #19
Kurdt
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The problem with cosmology is that it assumes a whole lot of stuff. The general public is going to go wow really, how do you know that? All they get in response is a bunch of mumbo jumbo that doesn't make any sense at all to them which is mostly all hypothetical. That leaves them in the position of either putting their blind faith into the matter, or to dedicate their lives to learning cosmology.

I think people prefer science that they can observe for themselves rather than just taking some peoples word for it.

Thats hilariously ironic when most of the general population, put heir blind faith into other things. :rolleyes:

The problem with demanding evidence for each new advance in understanding a theory is that it is going to become more and more difficult to obtain that data. Take for example certain parts of string theory that predict a violation of the equivalence principle. We need first to design equipment that can detect the acceleration of a test mass relative to another to within fractions of the width of an atom. That takes a lot of developmental research time before the experiment can even begin. In that time theorists can and will have made many many more predictions at levels that are currently out of reach to experimentalists.

Like others have mentioned, funding is not determined by public opinion of a subject. Whether the public take a dim view of scientists or not is of little concern to most scientists in terms of research but perhaps in terms of their own personal feelings. Some scientists take a lot of lambasting from the general public for no good reason.
 
  • #20
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Thats hilariously ironic when most of the general population, put heir blind faith into other things. :rolleyes:

That may be true, but also it is ironic that most people who put blind faith into things don't read much non-fiction anyways. So even those who do put their blind faith into cosmology probably don't read cosmology books.
 
  • #21
marcus
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Another thing is that Big Bang isn't honest to the public as to what it is. Firstly the name bib bang implies that the universe was created in the event of a "big bang". Also it is a gray area as top wether that is what the theory really means. Then you say it was just smaller and denser. Does that mean their was a big bang that created the universe or not? Is it just that when you actually delve into cosmology you realize that it simply amounts to observation indicating and expanding universe? Where does that leave the public who was told that cosmology tells us of the birth of the universe.

I can't tell if you are just complaining about various aspects of life, or complaining and trying to attach the blame to someone.

Or whether you are actually proposing that we do something.

========================
if you are just complaining then the whole thing doesn't mean much but we can still try to respond. "big bang" was a name given by Fred Hoyle who didn't like the expanding model of cosmology. The name caught on with journalists and the public. Too bad.

In scientific literature they don't talk about "big bang theory". The phrase big bang is typically just used to designate the start of expansion. Increasingly models go back in time before the big bang moment. In such models the big bang does not correspond to birth or creation (or other poetic ideas) it is just a step along the way. Cosmology's job is to describe the evolution of the universe as best we can, not to explain why it exists.

Tough luck for the public if they got the wrong idea. Sorry about that.

Do you feel you have to blame someone for this? Whom are you going to blame? Stephen Hawking? Brian Greene? The Pope? I think they are just trying to sell books or doing their job as best they can. If you want, blame a naive public with its craving for a Creation Story.
===================

It would be more interesting if you had something to propose. If you see a problem, then what should we do? What should we write our congressmen about and ask them to do? What books should we buy to give our children? Do you see a problem that we can take some specific action about?

===================

I'm not sure there is a problem. Astronomy research is on a roll. Discoveries are piling in fast. Funding is booming.
And for very good reasons. Astronomy/astrophysics and observational cosmology are in a hugely productive historical period.

Returns on investment here are way out of proportion with the average for normal periods of science.

It has to do with new instruments observing new parts of the spectrum. And with large coordinated arrays.

It could be argued that there isn't any problem here and there isn't anything we should be doing to correct the situation because it is going just fine already.

=======================

I think there MAY be some problems over next door in particle physics-----collider stuff---high energy physics (HEP). It might have to do with something simple, like maybe there are just too many HEP theorists and HEP phenomenologists. And there could be a problem of what to do with the more average or mediocre bulk of them. My impression is that many of the really smart ones have already gotten out and found new stuff to work on. But that is just my impression and I could be wrong. If there is a problem, I stress IF there is a problem, it might have repercussions for astronomy because it is next door. Problems at the neighbors are always worrisome. there could for instance sometime be a boatload of emigrees requiring assimilation. But that is very uncertain. I am not sure that there is a real problem here either.
 
  • #24
Nabeshin
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I suggest you read one of the better popular science books, then, if you don't want to be overwhelmed with metaphysics: try Big Bang by Simon Singh.

It's not a matter of what I'm reading, simply of what's out there for other people to read. Not everyone is going to pick up the best books on cosmology, or have the time to read several and get a broad overview of the topic from several points of view.
 
  • #25
cristo
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It's not a matter of what I'm reading, simply of what's out there for other people to read. Not everyone is going to pick up the best books on cosmology, or have the time to read several and get a broad overview of the topic from several points of view.

Ok, I've lost where you're going with your argument now. You started off by saying that you don't take Cosmology seriously, then gave a link to some books that you say are primarily metaphysics. But.. these books are not talking about mainstream Cosmology, they are models derived from string theory. We're here talking about the standard model of Cosmology, aren't we, and so we should surely cite books on that topic?

Anyway, I don't think this line of discussion is going anywhere.

I also should state that I agree with what marcus has said above; if popular science gives people the wrong impression of real science, then we're sorry, but there are some things that cannot be put into laymans language and still remain precise.
 
  • #26
Nabeshin
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Ok, I've lost where you're going with your argument now. You started off by saying that you don't take Cosmology seriously, then gave a link to some books that you say are primarily metaphysics. But.. these books are not talking about mainstream Cosmology, they are models derived from string theory. We're here talking about the standard model of Cosmology, aren't we, and so we should surely cite books on that topic?

Anyway, I don't think this line of discussion is going anywhere.

I also should state that I agree with what marcus has said above; if popular science gives people the wrong impression of real science, then we're sorry, but there are some things that cannot be put into laymans language and still remain precise.

Ah, here we go. I wasn't aware we were only talking about the standard model of cosmology, so I apologize.
 
  • #27
marcus
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Yeah, I probably agree with this. When all these books and publicity came out about string theory and everything it sparked a lot of interest, but now in the wake of that people probably don't take cosmology very seriously.

You may be pointing out a real danger to science, and something we should consider how to cope with.

String theory was hyped to the public, roughly in the period 1994-2004, and now seems unable to make good on its promises. To the extent that the public equates string with science as a whole, or is unable to distinguish between string and observational cosmology, for example, we are clearly in trouble.

The string credit crunch could then undermine respect for science and the credibility of other fields like cosmology (if the public somehow gets them confused.) This might not show up immediately but could have a long-term harmful effect.

What is to do about this? Maybe nothing, if you think the problem will take care of itself. On the other hand if the possible erosion of respect and credibility worries you then you might try to emphasize the sharp distinction between real-time observational science on the one hand versus the more speculative flights of fantasy into extra dimensions and the like.

that is just a sample possible reaction. Personally I can't say if the danger is to be taken seriously or not, and what if anything there is to do about it. Perhaps one could write to PBS and NOVA and urge them to show TV serials of hard science where new telescopes are seeing new stuff/measuring new numbers etc and leave out the more fluffy speculation---- the series by Kaku and by Brian Greene may have done longterm harm to science cred and that kind of thing could be avoided in future.
 
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  • #28
Wallace
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  • #29
Kurdt
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The problem is the public crave the speculation over the hard proved science and numbers and for obvious reasons, but when the wild speculation doesn't bear fruit they are up in arms. Its a very dangerous double edged sword.
 
  • #30
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I can't tell if you are just complaining about various aspects of life, or complaining and trying to attach the blame to someone.

Or whether you are actually proposing that we do something.

========================
if you are just complaining then the whole thing doesn't mean much but we can still try to respond. "big bang" was a name given by Fred Hoyle who didn't like the expanding model of cosmology. The name caught on with journalists and the public. Too bad.

In scientific literature they don't talk about "big bang theory". The phrase big bang is typically just used to designate the start of expansion. Increasingly models go back in time before the big bang moment. In such models the big bang does not correspond to birth or creation (or other poetic ideas) it is just a step along the way. Cosmology's job is to describe the evolution of the universe as best we can, not to explain why it exists.

Tough luck for the public if they got the wrong idea. Sorry about that.

Do you feel you have to blame someone for this? Whom are you going to blame? Stephen Hawking? Brian Greene? The Pope? I think they are just trying to sell books or doing their job as best they can. If you want, blame a naive public with its craving for a Creation Story.
===================

It would be more interesting if you had something to propose. If you see a problem, then what should we do? What should we write our congressmen about and ask them to do? What books should we buy to give our children? Do you see a problem that we can take some specific action about?

===================

I'm not sure there is a problem. Astronomy research is on a roll. Discoveries are piling in fast. Funding is booming.
And for very good reasons. Astronomy/astrophysics and observational cosmology are in a hugely productive historical period.

Returns on investment here are way out of proportion with the average for normal periods of science.

It has to do with new instruments observing new parts of the spectrum. And with large coordinated arrays.

It could be argued that there isn't any problem here and there isn't anything we should be doing to correct the situation because it is going just fine already.

=======================

I think there MAY be some problems over next door in particle physics-----collider stuff---high energy physics (HEP). It might have to do with something simple, like maybe there are just too many HEP theorists and HEP phenomenologists. And there could be a problem of what to do with the more average or mediocre bulk of them. My impression is that many of the really smart ones have already gotten out and found new stuff to work on. But that is just my impression and I could be wrong. If there is a problem, I stress IF there is a problem, it might have repercussions for astronomy because it is next door. Problems at the neighbors are always worrisome. there could for instance sometime be a boatload of emigrees requiring assimilation. But that is very uncertain. I am not sure that there is a real problem here either.

Remember I am just giving my opinion on why cosmology is losing public interest. I have not blamed anyone nor have I been complaining about aspects of life, I am just addressing the OP's question.

If you are asking what I suggest should be done about it(assuming you mean public opinion) then I would say that there isn't much that can be done. Frankly cosmology isn't something that the public shouldn't logically be concerned with. The only way to gain public interest in cosmology is to be dishonest and to pervert cosmology in the public eye being sell outs.

I agree that public interest shouldn't determine funding, for the most part. On the other hand, why should too much funding go into things that have no physical returns and nothing to the people. I mean, people don't read books on brain surgery, but the research is still done in their interest because they may one day need it, so even though it isn't interesting to them, it is in their interest to be done. The same cannot be said about cosmology.

I think that astronomy should get a lot more funding that cosmology because as you said, they are the observers and they use the instruments. Maybe cosmology should be postponed for a couple decades until we have more to work with?
 
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  • #31
marcus
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Remember I am just giving my opinion on why cosmology is losing public interest. ... Frankly cosmology isn't something that the public shouldn't logically be concerned with. The only way to gain public interest in cosmology is to be dishonest ...
I think that astronomy should get a lot more funding that cosmology because as you said, they are the observers and they use the instruments...

We differ both in how we use words and how we see the world.
For me, cosmology is an observational science and an important part of modern astronomy. I didn't say what you seem to think I said, contrasting cosmology with the rest of astronomy.

Cosmology is the part of astronomy where they observe the largescale structure, and measure basic parameters of the universe (like its average density and curvature) and deduce its past and future.
I think there is intense and growing public interest in cosmology.
I think there is growing funding to cosmology (as a branch of observational astronomy) because many of the newest instruments can help us measure the basic parameters and understand the structure of the universe.
Also the newest computer methods, for analyzing data-----to detect dark matter by gravitational lensing----to map largescale structure and compare it with the microwave background map. In other words many of the newest instruments and methods are especially suitable for determining largescale features. The technical deck is stacked in favor of more comprehensive understanding.

Cosmology is an observational part of astronomy which is getting a lot of public interest and is getting a lot of public money and is currently providing a very high scientific return on investment.

So as I see reality, it is pretty much the opposite of what you say. You have a different idea of what it is, you say public is losing interest, you say funding of it should be postponed, you say the public has no business being interested in it, and you say that in order to stimulate interest one would have to tell lies to the public.

AFAICS that is completely out of contact with reality as I know it, at every point.

As for your point about lies. I think ordinary people are apt to be interested in the overall structure of the universe and how it works. Everybody has looked at the night sky and wondered about these things.

There is also the question about why it happens to exist, which is not in the province of cosmology (although fundamental physics may eventually have something to say). I would encourage people not to worry for the moment about why it exists, and to ask questions about how it is shaped and how it works. There is plenty to ask in that department and much that is being discovered. The dishonesty I think is on the part of those who pretend that those sorts of questions are not interesting.
 
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  • #32
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You may be right, and I have no good reason why my opinion is of any value because it is based mostly on why I personally lose interest in cosmology. Your points are well taken. I guess I also didn't use my words right because i was judging cosmology as separate from astronomy. If you call the larger scale astronomy observations and call it cosmology then that is different then how I viewed it. I was pretty much judging cosmology for its theoretical aspects ie. birth evolution scale and such of the universe.
 
  • #33
Kurdt
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As far as I'm concerned funding sucks at the minute.
 
  • #34
marcus
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I'm sorry to hear that, Kurdt. Both that funding sucks and that you cut your hair. You would have had enough for your girlfriend to knit a sweater, or at least several pairs of socks, in case you saved it. That was a great graduation photograph.

I am curious as to what you expect your PhD research to be about, but only if you care to mention it. No one expects you to answer questions like that. Still I'm curious. Anything in the general area of astronomy astrophysics cosmology looks really good to me.

Oh, I remember now! Astronomy funding got cut back recently in the UK! Duh. maybe that's what the subtext is in this thread, what it is all about.
 
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  • #35
marcus
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Now I realize I've been talking overconfidently from a limited perspective. There are doubtless political and funding things going on in the UK that I don't have a clue about.
Part of it is probably connected to the cost of Iraq war and hopefully temporary economic crises. There have been cutbacks in the US in high energy physics, and I understand in the UK cutbacks in astronomy as well as particle physics.

I tend to see all that as temporary. But it could be very serious to a young researcher who is looking for funding right now. So I will try not to minimize the problems.

On a longer timescale, with a broader (global) perspective, I can't help feeling enormously optimistic. Huge new developments all over the world. Chile, Argentina, Australia, Canary Islands, Africa. these big international collaborations like Auger, MAGIC, ESO. arrays of telescopes, space instruments GLAST, Planck...it is impossible to list them all.
A lot of the new development is in the Southern Hemisphere naturally, or in orbit.
New parts of the spectrum---gammaray, Xray, infrared. Imaging cosmic ray and gammaray by the tracks they leave in the atmosphere. Totally new concept telescopes.

Maybe there is a review paper that would save me the trouble of trying to say this. If you know a URL that gives the overview picture of new astronomy, let me know.

And another thing is, so far I don't see serious cuts in the bulk of all this, in spite of the bad economic news and the war budget. If I am missing something please let me know.
Part of it is European funding----like MAGIC and Auger and ESO are somewhat insulated from troubles in the US and UK. Correct me if I'm wrong or just too optimistic.
 
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