This Month’s Question Diversity and Competitiveness
For an article it planned to publish, the San Jose Mercury News, in California, set out to obtain data on the race and gender of the employees at 15 Silicon Valley companies through a U.S. Freedom of Information Act request. Nine of the firms agreed to share the information, saying they had nothing to hide. The other six refused. Apple, Applied Materials, Google, Oracle, and Yahoo convinced federal regulators who collect and release the data that disclosure in the newspaper could cause the companies economic harm by revealing their business strategies to competitors. The sixth company, Hewlett-Packard, fought the release and lost.
Should the companies be forced to release their demographics? How important is diversity to the competitiveness of a company?
Respond to this question by e-mail or regular mail. Space may not permit publication of all responses, but we’ll try to draw a representative sample. Responses will appear in the September issue of The Institute and may be edited for brevity. Suggestions for questions are welcome.
Responses to March's Question When Particles Collide
The Large Hadron Collider was turned back on in November after breaking down 14 months earlier, and it quickly recorded its first proton—proton collision. The LHC was developed to search for new particles and properties of nature by colliding two counter-rotating proton beams. Supporters say the collider could help scientists answer some of the most fundamental physics questions and might even explain how the world began. But critics say building the US $10 billion machine is a waste of time and money. It might even be dangerous, they add, because it could create tiny black holes, although physicists have refuted that idea. Other critics say the laws of nature will prevent the collider from making any breakthroughs.
Do you think the LHC is a worthwhile scientific endeavor? Will it help answer important questions about the nature of our universe?
A Reasonable Idea
Because the cost of the LHC is shared among many countries and the majority of physicists feel it will yield useful information, I think the LHC is reasonably valuable for the money. I don’t believe there’s any danger of black holes; many physicists have already considered and rejected that. It’s also a fact that very high energy cosmic rays have not created black holes, or if they have, the black holes have vanished before we could find them. Life is full of risks, which we should undertake as long as they are reasonable.
It’s often true that the most successful experiments deliver unexpected—even unintended—results. In the case of the LHC, the worry seems to be that black holes could be formed and destroy all or parts of Earth. On the other hand, doing nothing will bring us no new knowledge. I’m for getting the LHC up to its design specs and seeing what results can be obtained—expected, unexpected, intended, unintended, whatever. Let the results speak to whether it was worth the cost.
William L. Schultz
It’s a Waste
The LHC is a massive waste of money that could be much better spent on improving the lives of people around the world. This is science creating its own idol for knowledge’s sake.
Answers to Basics
The LHC will help us understand the most fundamental physical laws of our world. We do not yet understand at the most basic level how gravity is related to nuclear and electromagnetic forces, whether our understanding of how matter acquires mass is correct, or whether there are supersymmetric counterparts to familiar particles such as the electron. The LHC experiments are the logical next steps in answering those questions.
Of secondary importance are the tangible benefits we gain from curiosity-driven research. Complicated physics projects such as the LHC drive developments in electronics, computer science, and other areas. Many of the hundreds of students who receive their technical training working on these projects will go on to develop products with widespread benefits based on what they have learned. Let’s not forget that the Internet was initially conceived as a tool to share papers about particle physics among researchers.
Could Be Worse
I’d rather see humanity go down in a black hole during its quest for science than see it destroy itself with nuclear weapons, which have already cost far more than $10 billion.
Garching bei München, Germany
Hard to Believe
I have heard several superstitious theories as to why the collider will fail. One claims that people from the future who think it might destroy the world are preventing the LHC from working. That’s why they sent a time-traveling bird to stop it. [Last year a bird dropped bread on a section of LHC’s outdoor machinery, eventually leading to significant overheating in parts of the accelerator.]
Despite such theories, the LHC succeeded with its first collision, which I think is enough to refute the theory of a time-traveling bird. I hope that after results are analyzed, scientists can tell us whether their theories of the so-called God particle are true, which can clarify the mysterious nature of gravity.
Pooyan Sakian Dezfuli
Building bigger and better particle colliders just doesn’t make economic sense. We can do a lot with $10 billion that would be far more productive than sending protons around a glorified roller coaster. The dangers of creating mini black holes are probably minimal, but the benefits of achieving significant breakthroughs are also minimal. One day we’ll discover we need a supercollider larger than Earth to achieve meaningful results. Until then, any significant breakthroughs are better left to particle theory.
Michael B. Meiner
Highland Park, N.J.