Biggest Scientific Boondoggle Yet
By Staff News & Analysis - May 12, 2010

In what is billed to be the largest scientific instrument ever built, scientists plan to use three spacecraft flying three million miles apart to fire laser beams at each other across the emptiness of space in a bid to finally prove whether a theory proposed by Albert Einstein is correct. Physicists hope the ambitious mission will allow them to prove the existence of gravitational waves – a phenomenon predicted in Einstein's famous theory of general relativity and the last piece of his theory still to be proved correct, reports the Telegraph. The three spacecraft will be put into orbits at a distance of 5 million kilometres from one another, connected only by a laser beam that will measure their positions accurate to 40 millionths of a millionth of a metre. The mission, a collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency, will use three spacecraft flying in formation while orbiting the sun, with each housing floating cubes of gold platinum. – Times of India

Dominant Social Theme: Science costs billions in the modern era.

Free-Market Analysis: We are always shocked by NASA's profligacy and the way it goes about spending billions. It's not far behind the Pentagon in that regard. And we guess the European Space Agency shares similar characteristics. We suppose that this announcement is a way for NASA to reclaim some relevancy after cuts in its budget and various manned-space programs. But isn't all this Big Science getting a little out of hand. Here's some more from the article:

Laser beams fired between the spacecraft will then be used to measure minute changes in the distance between each of the cubes, caused by the weak waves of gravity that ripple out from catastrophic events in deep space.

Einstein's theory of general relativity predicted that when large objects such as black holes collide, ripples in space and time flow outwards. These ripples are called gravitational waves. A panel of international experts have now set out a detailed plan for the mission and how it can be used to reveal new insights about the universe around us.

Professor Jim Hough, an expert on gravitational waves at Glasgow University and a member of the committee that drew up the plans, said: "Gravitational waves are the last piece of Einstein's theory of general relativity that has still to be proved correct. … They are produced when massive objects like black holes or collapsed stars accelerate through space, perhaps because they're being pulled towards another object with greater gravitational pull like a massive black hole. Unfortunately we haven't been able to detect them yet because they are very weak. However, the new tests we are working on have great potential to allow detection."

Big Science, like Big Pharma and Big Finance in the West just seems to get bigger and bigger. We've already commented several times about the disease of bigness in Western science, especially physics in such analyses as "CERN Rises – The Boondoggle Expands." One thing we're certain of: If the scientists proposing these programs had to pay for them out of their own pockets, they'd never see the light of day.

From our point of view, of course, these vast boondoggles are power elite dominant social themes. They may not be fear-based but they have a very important purpose in mind, which is to reinforce the idea that science is beyond the average person and only the state has the power and authority to provide the necessary resources in the modern era. Again, from our point of view, this is an economic and sociopolitical statement (metaphorically speaking) and is thus only tangentially related to science.

How is it an economic statement? This sort of bigness takes direct aim at the Misesian free-market thinking that has spawned the wonderful concept of Human Action – the idea that individuals acting freely can care for themselves and on occasion do great things, even understand the universe. This sort of subterranean dialogue is part and parcel of the power elite's endless attempts to mitigate this magnificent concept and whittle away at the confidence that people feel in pursuing intellectual endeavors on their own.

The infection of bigness can be seen in the costly dramas and ballets that are provided over public TV and in the sports spectacles that are provided to occupy people as well. The subterranean message is always that all endeavors of any cultural and intellectual quality can only be generated by immense expenditures and hundreds of "professionals" working together.

In fact, so many scientific achievements have been generated by single individuals. Albert Einstein himself is said to have come up with the Theory of Relatively while working as a patent clerk. Isaac Newton came up with his great gravitational concepts while sitting under an apple tree. The modern personal computer was invented in a garage. Such scientific breakthroughs, in fact, are usually generated by individuals because in science as in art what is important is clarity of thought and an almost mystical connection to inspiration. One clear-headed individual is worth thousands of average muddled thinkers.

After Thoughts

We're not sure this ludicrous experiment will ever launch, but even if it doesn't the idea of it and its general over-the-top expense has made the point once more that the power elite would want to make – that the era of individual science is long past us and that the future of research is Big Science, the bigger the better. But as we can see from other such promotions of bigness (the EU comes to mind) bigness is not always best.

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