false dichotomies

Sheril over at the Intersection commits a fallacy.

Worse than that, she undermines the rationale for all science in the progress.

In a post over at the Intersection, Sheril makes a variation on an old argument - the "why spend money on space when there is so much that needs doing here on Earth".

Or, specifically: "All I'm saying is, just perhaps--for the time being--we might be better off spending the kind of figures currently invested in large scale BIG 'what if?' projects on more proximate concerns...

My exuberance over the possibility of an eventual planetary census is tempered as this week I'm hearing about university cuts to every budget and program possible...

...in a climate of limited budgets, I'd rather see funding for more immediate global concerns like improving agricultural yield, preparing for climate change, and mitigating the impacts of ocean acidification. And no, it's not comparing apples and oranges. It's dollars and a collective future. A glance at the number of digits in NOAA's budget and you'll understand what I'm getting at..."

This is so wrong, particularly when the stimulus bill has just boosted science across the board, except for NASA space science, and particularly the NOAA; and on top of that all the science agencies, again except NASA space science, are penciled in for significant increases in the next couple of years.

Yes, Kepler is a speculative mission, and at $600M it may seem a lot, but cutting it would mostly hit university budgets at this stage. It is already built, the aerospace companies and contractors already got that bit - the MODA - Mission Operations and Data Analysis - are done by scientific civil servants at NASA centers and by university scientists.

Secondly, it is a planet finder.
The extrasolar planet discoveries are driving a renaissance in planetary science - there is data on atmospheres, reasons to speculate about oceans, a broadening of parameter space beyond the Earth forcing rethinking of fundamentals and increasing all understanding.
In much the same way that studies of the solar system planets in previous decades drove Earth science. They stimulated new thinking, broader thinking, different ways and techniques for looking at things.

Further, don't compare the Kepler budget with the NOAA budget - which incidentally just got $600M as a single year stimulus - I won't even suggest comparing it to the NIH budget.
Note that within NASA Space Science is one of four divisions within the Science Directorate - the other are "Earth-Sun", "Planetary Science" and "Earth Science" - NASA spends a couple of billion a year looking down or at th Sun already. And all of the science stimulus for NASA was earmarked for accelerating climate and Earth science.

The absolutely worst thing to do when times are hard is to cut off the seeds for the long term discoveries. It takes a lot of time to recreate even small teams of expertise that have been bult up.
It is not a zero-sum game, and it is not a matter of budget balancing, precious little budget is being balanced now and this spending is better than most.

Kepler is 1% of the quarterly loss just announced by AIG.
Which is de facto owned and subsidised by the US government, which assumed this cost with no vote or debate.
I think we can afford Kepler. Its cost is not even in the roundoff error.

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I agree entirely with you here. I also found it interesting that Sherils suggested alternative spending just happened to be oceanography and climate change - exactly the fields in which she works! A pure coincidence, I presume.
Anyway lets try comparing some alternative spending to that of the truly large science projects of modern times. How about the Large Hadron Collider - about 6 billion cost - we'd get ten of them for the AIG bailout.
Or perhaps 23 entire human genome projects.
The only comparable spending in modern science research is the Apollo Program - we'd need two AIG bailouts to cover that - although we'd get 7 full Apollo programs from the major 700 billion bailout plan.
I have no objection to money being allocated to climate change research even though I personally find it of less importance compared to medical research but as scientist I appreciate the importance of basic research. It is the unintended consequences of basic research that have always proven the most important in the long run. When stealth bombers cost 1.2 billion dollars each I think a few hard questions need to be put to that grant applicant by the appropriate peer review committee.

Exactly. After all, what has physics ever done for us eh? Stupid people getting all excited about stars and other useless nonsense.

I'm condensed matter myself (you know, the stuff that's always useful) but making an issue over the pittance that basic research gets is idiotic.