All hands on deck

Isn't it about time for a major reorganisation of research effort? 

"Everybody" (with any sense) agrees we need to address the Climate Problem with the greatest possible urgency. But we don't. In particular I would have expected a large number of working researchers of many different kinds to down tools and demand to be offered tasks appropriate to the Great Problem.

In this spirit in 2008 I sent the following letter to the New Scientist :



February 2008

To whom it may concern

I am gratified to learn that many thousands of scientists from all over your planet are seeking to confirm my existence. As you will know from your quantum theory, entities such as myself are not unaffected by the process of being ‘observed’. But we do not mind; in fact in our own funny way we rather enjoy it.

You would expect me therefore to applaud the progress of the Large Hadron Collider. But I do not. On the contrary, I fear that the situation in which your species now finds itself calls for a radical re-ordering of research priorities.  This is not a time for exploration of the very large or the very small, but for strenuous effort to prevent the kinds of irreversible changes to your planetary conditions that would render fundamental physics on the required scale impossible in the future. I would therefore like to say, with the utmost solemnity, Do not look for me now. Get your climate and your basic ways of living sorted out, and when the dust has settled have another go in, say, a century’s time. What’s the hurry?  I have been around for 13 billion years, and I’ll certainly be here in another hundred, when I look forward to what I am sure will turn out to be a long and fruitful conversation with the human race.

Yours eternally

The Higgs Boson



The letter was not published, or even acknowledged. Subsequently I had a chance to pose a similar question to Sir Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society, after a stirring talk about the threats of climate change (it was recorded and broadcast on Radio 4). Surely (I asked him) if it's as bad as you say, a huge proportion of present research is inappropriately targeted?  He was visibly horrified at the suggestion, that pure research should be actively curtailed or redirected.

Is he right, or am I?