When Particles Collide

What do you think about the Large Hadron Collider?

8 March 2010
mp Photo: Michael Hoch/CERN

The Large Hadron Collider was turned back on in November after breaking down in September 2008, 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 may even explain how the world began. But critics believe building the US $10 billion machine is a waste of time and money. They also think it might even be dangerous because it could create tiny black holes where the particles smash together, 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?

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 June issue of The Institute and may be edited Responses to Question
The Exclusivity Dilemma

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is investigating whether exclusive contracts between cellphone makers and carriers are helpful or harmful to innovation. One such example is the arrangement for AT&T to be the exclusive carrier for Apple’s iPhone in the United States. Many iPhone users complain about AT&T’s service but love the iPhone and can’t switch to another carrier. In France and other countries, however, the iPhone can be used with a number of carriers. Critics of exclusive contracts argue that they inhibit innovation and are unfair to consumers. But some wireless carriers say such deals promote innovation by inspiring cellphone makers to develop imaginative products.

Do you think exclusive cellphone contracts inhibit or promote innovation? Are they fair to consumers?


Exclusivity Serves No One

There are several reasons why exclusivity contracts are unfair to consumers and should be banned. First, such contracts divert technology companies’ resources. Rather than focusing on real innovation, they instead work on finding ways to duplicate a new feature without infringing on a competitor’s patent or trademark. As a result, there are fewer innovations and higher costs for the company. However, this is not the most serious problem with such contracts.

The contracts are unfair to consumers because they tie them to a product or a service. This was the issue that led to the breakup of the original AT&T years ago. The company used its natural monopoly of local service to tie customers to their telephones and their long-distance service.

Another way in which the contracts are unfair is that the list price of the innovative phones is inflated because they cannot be purchased elsewhere.

Finally, there are gaps in the service coverage of all service providers, and consumers should be able to select from the services available in the areas where they spend most of their phone time.

Alex Schneider
Addison, Ill.


Monopolies Are Unfair

The consumer should be able to use a particular cellular device on any mobile phone network. Exclusive contracts are a monopoly, and I am shocked that the U.S. government has not stepped up to prohibit these cartels.

Joe Goldstein
Waitsfield, Vt.


Openness Needed

If the spirit of free and open-source initiatives is to spread further, we should not allow such selfishness as exclusive cellphone contracts to be imposed on consumers. I see no logical reason why people should be forced to use the service provider that comes bundled with the phone they buy. Such a business strategy mocks consumer rights. Institutions and industries that pioneer technological advancements should have responsibility for the advancement of innovation, and that should be given more priority than financial gains.

Sharath P. Satheesh
Kerala, India


Generation Gap

First, I want to applaud AT&T for having the foresight to allow Apple free rein in the creation of the iPhone—which I understand other carriers would not allow. That, of course, was in exchange for exclusivity rights. However, it is now past time to allow the iPhone technology to evolve further with other carriers, as well as to push AT&T to catch up in the 3G-to-4G evolution.

Joseph T. Cioletti


Caveman Contracts

Exclusive contracts reduce the need for competition and slow the pace of innovation so that providers can limit their capital investment without losing business to others. Compared with the rest of the world, the United States is in the Stone Age.

Jane E. Nordholt
Los Alamos, Calif.


Faulty Assertions

It’s clear that the United States is far behind much of the world in the cost and use of cellular technology. This regrettable fact is driven by restrictive marketing arrangements; the assignment of wireless coverage areas to specific carriers, which restricts competition and service availability; and questionable billing practices for phone calls and text messages.

The argument that exclusive marketing arrangements between wireless providers and cellphone manufacturers somehow encourage technology development is completely bogus. It makes no sense that shrinking the size of the cellphone marketing pool would encourage manufacturers to spend their money to develop a better product.

Resal A. Craven
Kingman, Ariz.


Inspiration for Hackers

The main innovation I see that came from the iPhone’s nasty closed policy is how to jailbreak it. Here, Apple smacks of monopoly, a stench familiar to its competitor Microsoft.

Jonathan Scott
Hamilton, New Zealand

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