There are a set of new challenges that we are faced with at the moment around resource shortages on the one hand, and around damage to the global commons on the other, and there is no question in my mind that there is insufficient research going into these areas.
If we look at resource shortages, we’re looking at issues such as energy, water, minerals, and food. These are practical outcomes that are of direct consequence to the survivability of our civilisation going forward.
We have got a wonderful new set of challenges for science and technology, and in my view, we have to refocus a lot more public funds into developing exciting new innovations to take us through this.
My position is that research into areas such as astronomy and particle physics is very interesting and is important because often this type of work attracts bright young people into careers in science and technology.
So there is a very good argument for funding what is intellectually interesting and challenging but may not have practical outcomes from the research.
In other words, it’s a question of priority.
Theoretical physics colleagues of mine have been teaching about the Higgs boson for many, many decades and now we have an experimental confirmation and we have added a bit of detail to our knowledge of the Higgs boson as a result – if indeed it is the Higgs boson that is being looked at.
As far as I know, directly from the result of the research into particle physics at these very high energies there has been no useful outcome for society from that research directly.
Maybe indirectly – and everyone quotes the World Wide Web – but if we look at the actual discoveries of particle physics over that last 50 years, there are no direct outcomes.
There has been a lack of funding for finding answers to the practical problems we face because of two things – one is myopia. We tend to be very good at dealing with a problem that is sitting right on our desks at this point in time rather than worrying about the next 10-20 years.
But the second is perhaps more important – inertia. Human beings tend to have, for very good reason, inertia built into them from the education system.