The Age Of Big Science

Virginia Hughes reviews the latest talk over Big Science projects like the BRAIN Initiative (explained above) and other research efforts characterized by “big budgets, big lists of participating institutions, big press coverage, and big pronouncements”:

It’s worth talking about why Big Science is popular and why it has the potential, at least, to do good. It’s hot partly because of the global economic crisis. Federal agencies (in the U.S. and many other countries) are giving out fewer and fewer grants to individual scientists. Big Science, though, is more resilient to cutbacks because its big teams can create a lobbying force, and make their pitch directly to legislators and the popular press. …

Others point out, though, that the most famous successes in Big Science — the Human Genome project, the moon landing, the Manhattan Project — were essentially engineering projects, not basic discoveries. Take the Large Hadron Collider, an enormous particle collider that the European Organization for Nuclear Research built over 10 years in order to find the elusive Higgs particle. “It tested a hypothesis rather than developing it,” Matthews writes …. “Recall that it was Peter Higgs — a single creative scientist — whose theory ‘discovered’ the Higgs boson.”