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Quote from a physicist

  1. Nov 14, 2008 #1
    Hi all,

    I'm trying to find the exact quote that I remember reading about a couple years ago. It was by some physicist who went in front of Congress (can't remember if it was the House or senate) and was asked why Congress should spend $200 million (I may be incorrect on the figure) to build a new particle accelerator. For some reason I remember the article claiming it was from the 1950s or 60s maybe. The physicist in effect responds by equating physics to the arts, and asks why we fund the arts; and replies by claiming it creates national pride. Of course much more eloquently.


    Nevermind I found it. If anyone's interested....

    In 1969, the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy held a hearing at which the physicist Robert Wilson was called to testify. Wilson, who had served as the chief of experimental nuclear physics for the Manhattan Project, was at that point the head of CERN’s main rival, Fermilab, and in charge of $250 million that Congress had recently allocated for the lab to build a new collider. Senator John Pastore, of Rhode Island, wanted to know the rationale behind a government expenditure of that size. Did the collider have anything to do with promoting “the security of the country”?

    WILSON: No sir, I don’t believe so.
    PASTORE: Nothing at all?
    WILSON: Nothing at all.
    PASTORE: It has no value in that respect?
    WILSON: It only has to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. . . . It has to do with are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about. . . . It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to make it worth defending.

    Asked to explain how their work, supported by public funds, contributes to the public good, particle physicists often cite Wilson, or offer some variation on his non-answer answer: the search for knowledge cannot be justified on other grounds; its value, like the particles under study, is irreducible.

    Last edited: Nov 14, 2008
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  3. Nov 14, 2008 #2

    Ivan Seeking

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    Frankly, I could care less if physicists get the warm and fuzzies. I want results! I just don't expect them in my lifetime.
  4. Nov 14, 2008 #3
    I second that notion!
  5. Nov 14, 2008 #4


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    Similair to Faraday's quote to Gladstone about if electricity will be of any use.
    “Why, sir, there is every possibility that you will soon be able to tax it!
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