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Melissa Franklin is the first woman ever to achieve tenure in the Harvard physics department. She is an experimental particle physicist who has been working on the Collider Detector at[…]

Supercolliders are expensive to build and maintain, slow to get going, become obsolete as soon as a new one is built, and are shooting for discoveries that even physicists are unsure of. So why should taxpayers foot the bill? Particle physicist Melissa Franklin makes the case.

Question: Why should citizens be footing the bill for these expensive machines?

Melissa Franklin: So one of the great things about civilization is that there’s a whole bunch of different people. All the different people are curious about different things and somehow if they all follow their own curiosity in some way, great stuff happens. That’s sort of what’s happened so far. I mean, if you’re in a civilization where you are able to support people doing that, and then you feel happier to be in it. I mean, when I read about something, whether it’s art, or Biology, or Sociology, if I read about something interesting and I realize that some humans actually spent their whole life doing that and that we supported them doing it, I feel like that’s the pinnacle of civilization, that’s the best. One of the reasons we fund these experiments is because we want to live in a world where people find stuff out. Imagine if you funded nothing in science and you never found anything out. How depressing that would be. I don’t know actually, how depressing would that be? That would be pretty depressing. Our imagine a world which nobody could write books, or yeah, I think the reason to fund things, and of course you can’t argue that any stupid thing you should fund, but I think there are a whole lot of people that are interested in doing something and it makes sense and they worked on it for years. It’s reasonable to fund it I think if you can. I mean there’s some people who believe that you should only fund things that make people’s lives longer. But that seems ridiculous. How about making people’s lives better? How about making people happier to be alive because they can read cool stuff in the New York Times, or whatever, wherever, in Science. So people somehow are moralistic about the length of people’s lives rather than the quality of life, rather than the standard of living. So, I think by me doing particle physics, it raises everybody’s standard of living. That’s boy – maybe I should be quoted that way. I mean I think I do though.

Recorded on: October 21, 2009