The failure of 'Big' Science and
its consequences in the 21st Century
The Pharaoh walked at a brisk pace through the
corridor of the royal palace followed by his advisor who struggled to
keep up. The advisor moved with a staggered gate, his shoulders hunched
over, his eyes wet with tears. Mucus flowed from his nose, but he dared
not sniffle. Nor was he in a state of mind to hastily wipe it away.
Cool darkened corridors gave way to the brilliant lit inner palace court
where the sun beat down upon the gathering of twenty loin clothed men,
their bodies prostrate on the ground, their voices a low, sobbing moan.
"Master architect! Stand up!" The Pharaoh commanded.
A middle-aged figure in the forefront painfully rose from the hot
limestone and stood bowed in shame. His pallor was a sickly white and
his breathing was labored.
For what seemed an eternity, the Pharaoh stared unbelieving at them, his
mouth agape. He seemed reluctant to advance the moment, as if by
delaying, the disaster would remain a deniable falsehood.
Finally he spoke.
"Master architect - tell me it is not true."
"My lord..." The master architect faltered, unable to find eloquent
words for this disastrous occasion, he finally blurted out,
"...It is true, Sire."
The Pharaoh was numb with shock. The sides of the Meidum
Pyramid had collapsed. Its angle had been too steep, the project
too ambitious. Twenty five years of resources, grueling labor and the
work of a generation had collapsed in seconds. Worst of all, their quest
for immortality was irrevocably lost. They had failed.
When I was a teenager - that would be back in the mid
sixties - our science teacher would occasionally bring us into the
assembly hall and show movies on an old projector. Not the kind of stuff
that kids my age particularly wanted to see, but we nonetheless sat and
idly watched documentaries heralding the wonders of a new scientific
age; an age that was right 'round the corner. Although I must confess
to have slept through or forgotten the majority of the content, I
remember a particular documentary movie reel which related to the coming
age of controlled nuclear fusion.
Men in white lab coats and clipboards would expound to those of us who
were on the receiving end of the magnificent strides being made in this
field. I remember taking it all in; I believed them - and why not? Men
were sending Mankind to the moon. I could rest in the comfort of my teenagehood knowing that they
would forge the path and I could expect controlled nuclear
fusion sometime in the foreseeable future. Unlimited free energy
available to all who could flick an on/off switch.
I believed them, politicians believed them. Throughout the following decades, the main
bulk of our world's energy research resources went into pushing the boundary
of knowledge ever forward.
It cost plenty, but that was OK; I was in my twenties now but still
didn't really know much about the subject matter. Neither did those who
Our species was gambling its precious resources on a one shot deal -
controlled nuclear fusion. Our species was at
the height of its fossil fuel civilization and we desperately needed
something to supplant that resource when it ran out.
This was our ticket
to the stars!
The men in the
white coats were coming to take us away; we had little doubt that they
would succeed in their quest.
|"...Once we set sail to catch
a star - we had to fail it was to far..."
Excerpt from a 'Cream' song, (1960's)
But they didn't create the fusion
reactors that were to be our energy prayers of the next century.
The great experimental fusion reactors into which billions of
research dollars had been poured were a bust, the result being that our
species has quite possibly lost its bid for the stars - and and with it a sustained
"Well," you might say, "At least the men of science tried their best."
There you have it.
Our species might soon make that unified sigh of evolutionary resignation
and prepare to disembark onto the sea of evolutionary oblivion; the lot of
every earthbound species to date.
A shrug. No one is to blame.
Oh, but not so fast!
Before our species heads into that dark night, I
surely want to express my anger. Someone is to blame for this disastrous
failure and I want to point fingers. I want to place the blame where it
It was the scientific men in white lab coats with the clipboards. That's
right - the blame can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the Science fusion community!
In order to create sustained nuclear
fusion, one needs a comprehensive understanding of the nature of plasma
- the fourth state of matter - something that our boys in white coats did
not take the time to bother with.
The scientists cheated; essentially, they broke with their credo and followed an unscientific path.
Initially, they thought they could treat the high temperatures of the plasma state as
if it followed the laws of
gasses, which it does not. Rather than taking
their time and launching a plethora of smaller research programs to
understand the basic nature of the plasma, they - in their supreme arrogance -
pushed ahead and squandered our precious resources on a giant technology
that did not work.
Catering to the needs of the so-called fusion researchers, the lion's
share of their all-consuming project strangled less sexy, yet - as it has
turned out -
indispensable plasma research which should have been the groundwork for
substantial fusion research.
All we have to show for the outlay on this 'Big Science' is a
graveyard of giant fusion reactors that yielded results so scant that they
are way out of proportion to the resources that were expended on them.
Little of consequence has been gleaned from this science debacle, because
- it is not science.
The controlled fusion research of
century is akin to a gathering of blind men building a cage to catch an
animal they had never seen.
Given the magnitude of the stakes - the
survival of our civilization, and possibly our species - it is not an
exaggeration to state that this waste is a
betrayal of scientific principals leading to a travesty of epic
proportions; an act of unforgivable treachery
perpetrated upon our species.
In a less benign civilization, those responsible - and their families -
would have to forfeit their lives for a crime of this magnitude.
However, unlike the sudden collapse of the Meidum Pyramid, our
civilization's disaster is unfolding silently and over a period of decades,
its gradual, unspectacular failure completely escaping public attention.
I doubt if politicians will ever again have the confidence to shell out
the vast amounts of monies for such projects, even - sadly - if the
groundwork is completed before they venture to build another research
Consequently, as far as I can see, all that's left to pin ones hopes on,
are the amateurs tinkering away in their garages. These folks have come
through in the past; we can only hope that they will carry the torch to
the future, because right now - at this juncture - they really are all that's left.
Riddle of the Pyramids" By Kurt Mendelsson, Sphere Books,1974