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Austria To Pull Out of CERN 168

Posted by kdawson
from the matter-of-concern dept.
andre.david notes an AFP report that Austria has announced its intention to withdraw from CERN, citing budget concerns, adding: "Austrian particle physicists are not happy with this. From HEPHY, the Austrian Institute for High Energy Physics: 'All of a surprise Johannes Hahn... announced that he wants to terminate the Austrian membership at CERN... This [would] affect spin-off projects like the planned cancer treatment center MedAustron... which is dependent on collaborating with CERN... Strangely enough this intention just arrives at a time where scientists are about to harvest the fruits of LHC...' Will other countries follow suit?" "Austria is pulling out of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Science Minister Johannes Hahn announced Thursday, citing budget concerns. The €20M ($26.9M) yearly membership in CERN... makes up 70 percent of the money available in Austria for participation in international institutes and could be better used to fund other European projects, he said. Hahn said he hoped Austria could find 'a new kind of cooperation' with CERN and described Vienna's withdrawal from the project as a 'pause,' noting that some 30 states were already working together with the Geneva-based centre without being members. The newly-available funds will now allow Austria to take part in new European projects, boost its participation in old ones as well as help the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), the country's main organization funding research."
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Austria To Pull Out of CERN

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  • not surprised (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 08, 2009 @10:39AM (#27876461)

    There is no biology here, so no diseases to cure so in the minds of the ignorant it is wasted money. I'm not surprised but definitely annoyed.

    Science for science sake is worth while no matter the cost or the expect benefit. The US stimulated its economy by a factor of 10 more then what it put into landing on the moon. One of people who help the British economy the most was a guy named Michel Faraday who thought his discovery of electrical induction was neat but useless. And that isn't even touch on things we take for granted every day, i.e. transiters and LCDs to name only two.

  • by foobsr (693224) on Friday May 08, 2009 @10:55AM (#27876625) Homepage Journal
    Bank rescue ~90-billion-Euro: big worthy [topnews.in] chunk

    CERN Euro 20M: too small a particle to care for

    As we can learn, big mountains do not help much to gain perspective.

    CC.
  • *coff* (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Friday May 08, 2009 @11:02AM (#27876685) Homepage

    > Strangely enough this intention just arrives at a time where scientists are about to harvest the fruits of LHC.

    Uhhh, which are what, exactly? The mass of the Higgs? Yeah, that's worth 16 billion.

    Can anyone name a single discovery in HEP in the last 25 years that has led to a practical improvement of anything whatsoever? The only thing HEP has generated is paper.

    Still waiting for my top-quark amplifier...

    > Science for science sake is worth while no matter the cost or the expect benefit

    I call BS. Demonstration please, using the example above.

    > The US stimulated its economy by a factor of 10 more then what it put into landing on the moon

    No it didn't. If you look at this claim, made by NASA of course, the reality of it comes crashing down. They include things that had absolutely nothing to do with the space missions, including Tang and Velcro. The primary direct outcome was engineering

    > transiters and LCDs to name only two

    Transist_o_rs were invented as part of a very focused and practical development program at Bell Labs, which you can read about in "Crystal Fire". The key advance was discovered by accident. They had to develop the theory of how they worked as part of the program.

    LCDs were developed over a period stretching about 100 years, all of it experimental up to the 1960s, when it became a major practical development effort. There's very little pure science involved. The wiki article covers it fairly well.

    Don't get me wrong, there's been a lot of purely theoretical research that makes it into everyday life. Quantum is a good example. But in the VAST majority of cases the science was discovered as a part of basic research and had to wait on the theory. There's many, many products in daily use today that we still have no idea how they work.

    Maury

  • Re:*coff* (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Red Flayer (890720) on Friday May 08, 2009 @11:26AM (#27876923) Journal

    Can anyone name a single discovery in HEP in the last 25 years that has led to a practical improvement of anything whatsoever? The only thing HEP has generated is paper.

    Why so short-sighted? Why is it so important that something pay off tangibly within 25 years? Some of the great strides in medication today are applications of HEP-ph of the 30s and 50s that we continue to refine. Who knows what the future holds?

    That's the great thing about knowledge. Sometimes the quest for knowledge is the most important part; sometimes the Answers are the important part; sometimes incidental discoveries are the most important part. But we'll never know unless we go for it.

  • by DesScorp (410532) <DesScorp@NOSpam.Gmail.com> on Friday May 08, 2009 @11:34AM (#27877045) Homepage Journal

    "Science for science sake is worth while no matter the cost or the expect benefit."

    That's nice and all, and true, but it still ignores fiscal realities. This kind of research is expensive, and there's an economic slump going on right now. What should the Austrian government cancel to pay for this research? Roads? Schools?

    Its easy to tell them to keep up the good work, when you're not footing the bill.

  • Isolationism (Score:3, Insightful)

    by A beautiful mind (821714) on Friday May 08, 2009 @11:41AM (#27877115)
    I guess this has nothing to do with the fact that right-wing parties in Austria have won a large share [nytimes.com] of votes in recent elections, furthering the already prevalent mindset of isolationism that is present in Austria.

    It is a telling fact that the 20M budget for CERN is outstandingly tiny compared to the 3.4 billion EUR science budget Austria has.
  • Re:That's ok... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Friday May 08, 2009 @11:45AM (#27877165) Journal

    And maybe Austria has the sense to stay within budgets? Yeah, I want to see science funded well. However, I don't want to see nations spending themselves into oblivion. My country has spent the last eight years spending recklessly, and isn't showing signs of stopping. Right now, my country pays enough on the interest of its debt to pay for a cern project EVERY SINGLE WEEK.

    Think about that for a minute. It boggles my mind. But debt kills. Austria dropping cern is sad. But if it is for balancing a budget in a rough time, then so be it.

  • Re:That's ok... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by digitalunity (19107) <digitalunity.yahoo@com> on Friday May 08, 2009 @11:46AM (#27877175) Homepage

    Fundamental science is good, but the LHC is a huge and expensive project. By my calculations, they have about $38 million annually to spend on projects of this nature. That's a drop in the bucket compared to the overall cost of the LHC, so the international community is unlikely to really feel a large effect.

    That $27 million they have to spend now could be put to much better use domestically or on smaller scale projects.

  • Re:not surprised (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Man On Pink Corner (1089867) on Friday May 08, 2009 @11:53AM (#27877243)

    It's been difficult to really calculate such, especially compared to alternatives such as *direct* funding of technology research.

    Direct funding of directionless research has a pretty terrible record by any metric you can think of. NASA spent about $25B total on the Apollo project, which yielded numerous useful spinoff technologies and companies, inspired countless numbers of engineering and science students, and put men on the moon. Microsoft spends roughly [seattlepi.com] $6-$7B per year on their in-house research budget, which has yielded, well, let's see, Microsoft Bob(tm) and Songsmith.

    Admittedly I'm comparing 1960s dollars with current dollars, but still... Bill, just give the money to NASA, for Chrissake.

    Even when you're talking about pie-in-the-sky "pure research," people don't tend to appreciate the amount of tangible technology that comes out of those efforts. If you need to do some leading-edge photonic RF work, the papers you read are from NRAO. If you're working on next-gen MRI machines, you're probably interested in superconducting magnet tech developed for accelerators. There are any number of other cases where things you use every day came from applications you wouldn't have cared about at the time.

  • Re:not surprised (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Bakkster (1529253) <Bakkster@man.gmail@com> on Friday May 08, 2009 @11:54AM (#27877259)

    Science for science sake is worth while no matter the cost or the expect benefit.

    Fortunately, it sounds like Austria plans to take this money (70% of its international science budget) and put it towards multiple other projects. It's still going to be going toward science, just different science.

  • Re:*coff* (Score:4, Insightful)

    by habig (12787) on Friday May 08, 2009 @12:07PM (#27877433) Homepage

    Can anyone name a single discovery in HEP in the last 25 years that has led to a practical improvement of anything whatsoever? The only thing HEP has generated is paper.

    Still waiting for my top-quark amplifier...

    25 years is pretty short-term here. How long was it after Franklin defining charge and Thomson discovering electrons was it before you got your run-of-the-mill electron-based amplifier? And lightning bolts were much more obviously potentially practical things to be investigating.

    Will ignore the obvious comment that without HEP in general and CERN in particular we wouldn't be writing this in html, as that was pretty tangential to the whole process :)

  • Re:Isolationism (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 08, 2009 @12:40PM (#27877975)

    I guess this has nothing to do with the fact that right-wing parties in Austria have won a large share [nytimes.com] of votes in recent elections, furthering the already prevalent mindset of isolationism that is present in Austria.

    It's unlikely for several reasons.

    For one the right-wing parties are not in government. This decision to quit CERN has been made by the socialist party and the people's party (they are a party for the middle class).
    Second Austria entered the ESO (European Southern Observatory) only a couple of months ago, so there doesn't seem to be a prevailent mindset of isolationism.

    The reasons are most likely fiscal as the summary suggests. The majority (70%) of the research money for international projects goes to CERN. While the research done there is impressive for the money spent it seems to offer not much payback in terms of scientific archievement that can be directly linked to Austria, which would be important for the government in order to justify the project. In comparison to that the 3 Million for the ESO offer far better returns.

    While the particle physicists will surely be hit hard by that decision it offers opportunities for cooperations in other areas. I am sure the scientists in other disciplines will be glad for that.
    Another thing is that everything that has to do with nuclear research is highly suspect to the general population in austria, mainly due to misconceptions about the danger and pollution that nuclear power plants cause, which might also have influenced this decision.

    Personally I would like austria to continue funding CERN, but the fiscal realities today don't really allow for the expension of the research budget that would be needed to do that and still diversify austrias involvement in international projects.

  • Re:*coff* (Score:3, Insightful)

    by key.aaron (1422339) on Friday May 08, 2009 @01:09PM (#27878385)

    Thing is the point of the LHC isn't really to find the Higgs boson (the God particle name really is oversensationalized). For most physicists the existence of the Higgs boson is a foregone conclusion. When they see the experimental proof it will be little more than a hmm, well looky there, what we knew all along is true.

    The true purpose of the LHC is to uncover the unknown by probing energy ranges that have never been seen before. The LHC will payoff when they find a result that they have no idea how to explain which will push for new physics.

    All of these things may or may not have a direct practical application. When they started building accelerators they had no clue that it would later be used for cancer treatments. Does that mean that just because practical benefit is not immediately obvious that pushing the boundaries of experimentation is a waste of money?

    I think not.

    Disclaimer: IAAP (in training, no Ph.D. yet) and have studied with a professor that is directly involved in the LHC.

  • It's OK (Score:3, Insightful)

    by daem0n1x (748565) on Friday May 08, 2009 @01:24PM (#27878613)

    They need the money for more useful purposes, like bail out banks that will give bonuses to their executives, that will spend them in whores, champagne and expensive cars. This will get the economy running, again.

    Who the fuck needs science and technology? Nothing like getting our priorities right.

  • Re:*coff* (Score:4, Insightful)

    by smaddox (928261) on Friday May 08, 2009 @01:31PM (#27878709)

    Show me "many, many products in daily use today that we still have no idea how they work" and I will show you many, many engineers that, in order to design that product, consulted thousands of research papers that were funded directly as basic research, or relied on the understanding brought by basic research. Just because you don't understand how something works doesn't mean there isn't someone out there who does.

    Basic research is behind everything you enjoy in your modern life. Those accidents made during "very focused and practical development" would not have led to anything if basic research had not laid the foundation for understanding. Imagine trying to design transistors without knowing anything about atoms, electrons, and quantum mechanics. It would be impossible.

    Just because you are too shortsighted to see the benefits of the LHC to future humanity doesn't mean they don't exist.

  • Re:*coff* (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mzs (595629) on Friday May 08, 2009 @02:51PM (#27880041)

    I'm am not sure I am parsing you correctly but PET and MRI are direct benefits of from HEP research. The positron part of PET is pretty clear. The high gauss magnets in MRI are direct descendants of the powerful magnets used to steer and focus beams in HEP.

    Also the detectors used in things like nuclear stress tests are descendant on HEP track detectors.

    That is just medicine and over the past 25 years. In the last five or so, it is actually becoming feasible to detect neutrinos in a facility the size of four or so semi trailers. The application being detecting nuclear materials (read bombs) in ports. (Enough material will stop the neutrons, nothing stops the neutrinos.) Expect to hear about that publicly in the next ten years or so.

    Also HEP needs lots of amps, in the last 25 years the electric grid has adopted technology pioneered at CERN and Fermilab to make long range utility transmission lines more efficient.

    Then there are is all the technology that was driven by HEP that you take for granted today. First supercomputers, then big fast clusters. Also fast huge data storage and retrieval, first tape based, now disk based. How about gate arrays? HEP needed that and drove it in the beginning. How about PCI? Fermilab was one of the early members since it needed an alternative to the old IP standard. High speed digitizers are now used in many applications outside of HEP, at first labs made their own and licensed the tech to the companies that manufacture them now. That continues to this day where labs make ever faster digitizers that eventually get used in industry.

    Even color NTSC TV is a descendant of tech at Fermilab. At first there were many competing proposals, but eventually simple scheme employed for the monitors there became the accepted standard.

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