Friday, July 13, 2012

13/7/2012: CERN and Other 'Alternatives'

There is an interesting debate going on right now in Ireland about our membership in CERN project.

The debate is exemplified by some claiming that Ireland funds 'other' programmes of similar expenditure magnitude and therefore, we can fund CERN membership as well. Here is one example, just for illustrative purposes (not to pick on the specifics, but to illustrate):

This type of an argument is doubtful at lest on 3 fronts: 

  1. It assumes that €20mln on methadone support (other programme) yields lower value 4 money than CERN membership. Which is unproven. I am yet to see a feasibility study for:
    • CERN membership 
    • Methadone support withdrawal
    • Comparative between two actions
  2. It assumes that CERN membership will return 'jobs & science' for Ireland. Which is unproven & not supported by any assessment, as far as I know. I place tremendous value on science, especially on primary science. Primary science is supported by CERN with some promises (note - promises) of applications. However, Ireland has many other, and arguably potentially more pressing needs for financing in science. Perhaps, to support physics and other primary fields relating to CERN, an alternative to CERN membership can be developed via collaborative research or 'partial' (per-project) membership? If we have brilliant ideas to be tested at CERN, surely German or French or UK etc researchers would love to co-author with our physicists on these? If no, something is deeply amiss in the field.
  3. It assumes that we have a choice between supporting methadone dispensing (other spending lines) and supporting CERN. This is only true if the two spending alternatives presented are comparable ones in terms of social and public safety goods and economic returns. I doubt there is any evidence to support this either.
In short, yes, there is plenty of spending waste in Government programmes, including in sciences and public health. No, this does not mean we should simply swap one programme for another because they 'spend similar' amounts. But, yes, we need serious assessments of potential membership in CERN.
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