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Lawrence Krauss - The LHC, going to Mars, and -

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Studying the fundamental structure of the universe won't replace studying climate change and other
important areas as has been suggested recently. Lawrence Krauss says sending people to Mars is
crazy as so much of the venture is spent on keeping the astronauts alive rather than from doing
science. Too little of the US presidential campaign mentions science, says Krauss, considering its
importance.

Robyn Williams: So the LHC and CERN duly opened to enormous fanfare and now it's shut again. The
big collider in Geneva is on hold, no God particles like the Higgs Boson until next year at the
earliest. What does Professor Lawrence Krauss from Arizona State University think of this
embarrassment?

Lawrence Krauss: Well, it's unfortunate but in the grand scheme of things it's just two months, and
it's such a complex machine, probably the most complex machine humans have ever created, so it
would have been very surprising if there weren't a few problems. Happily it doesn't threaten
anyone, and it's unfortunate for us scientists because we'd really like to get on with the answer,
but I think we can wait another few months.

Robyn Williams: When it is working, is it just one experiment? In other words, you find the Higgs
Boson, you have a party and that's it, it's over?

Lawrence Krauss: No. And, by the way, it will delay it a little longer because something people
don't realise I think is that what determines when it's running is the cost of electricity in
Geneva. So in fact they have to shut it down during the winter a lot of the time because the cost
of electricity is too great. But to get back to it, no, there's a lot more than one experiment.
It's opening a new window on the universe and we don't know what's going to be seen there. There
are, first of all, four major devices designed to look at different aspects of the fundamental
structure of matter, but the likelihood that we'll just see a Higgs Boson and go home is just
almost zero. It's much more likely that we will see things we never expected that will change our
picture of the fundamental structure of the universe and perhaps affect our understanding of the
origin and ultimate fate of the universe.

Robyn Williams: But for an experiment that is looking for the Higgs Boson, if they do a run and
they see something that looks like the aftermath of such a beast...because you don't actually see
the Boson, it's not sitting there saying 'Hi, you've found me, it's me, I'm coming out', what you
see is a sign of its having been there for incredibly small amounts of time. Is that something that
then means you shut down that experiment or do you keep doing it again?

Lawrence Krauss: If we are lucky enough to see the residue of the Higgs Boson early on, there's
still a host of questions we need to understand because in fact it would be surprising and very
disappointing if we just saw the Higgs Boson because if it's the only thing that's there then the
theory is very, very strange. We can't really understand why it would be there and nothing else. In
fact we're talking about a whole new symmetry of nature called super symmetry. So the very first
thing you want to learn about is the properties of the Higgs Boson because it's probably
responsible for giving mass to you and I and everything in the universe. But we also want to
understand why it's there and not somewhere else, why we can see it at the LHC, and those questions
involve a host of open puzzles, including why the universe is made of matter and not antimatter and
other fascinating issues.

Robyn Williams: Last week in The Science Show Dr David King, who was the chief scientist in Britain
and is now the head of a major school in Oxford, said that the world is facing such difficult
straits with environmental problems, with climate and so forth, that we should invest what we've
got in tackling them rather than billions of bucks on things like the LHC. What do you say to him?

Lawrence Krauss: I don't think it's either/or. It may seem like a lot of money, but I have to say,
in my own country we spend more than a billion dollars a day on a war in Iraq that we shouldn't be
in. Ten billion dollars spent over a decade is just not going to bankrupt the United States or
England or Australia. I think it's very important that we tackle the important pressing social and
technological issues like climate change, it's vitally important, but studying the fundamental
structure of the universe is not ultimately going to get in the way. And, moreover, you never know.
That's the key point.

Science at its best is done by planting many seeds, and you never know where the important results
are going to come that are ultimately going to have technological implications. So I think it's
really disingenuous to argue that somehow the LHC is stopping us from solving the problems of
global warming or inventing new energy sources. First of all, the amount of time, energy and money
that's going to be involved in those things is huge and it dwarfs really the amount we spend on
fundamental studies in particle physics or astrophysics. So I think it really is disingenuous to
suggest it's either/or.

Similar arguments have been made through history. In the 1960s I remember people were saying we
shouldn't go to the Moon because we have so many problems to solve. I generally think the thing
that gets in the way of solving problems is not the money we spend on fundamental research.

Robyn Williams: Would you go to Mars though now?

Lawrence Krauss: Right now? Well, I have some commitments!

Robyn Williams: Well, there is a limited science budget in every country, and that's a big one and
it doesn't necessarily have clear results that benefit science.

Lawrence Krauss: I agree with you, I think this notion of sending humans to Mars is just ridiculous
in the near term. First of all, it's impractical. We don't know how to get them there and have them
survive because of the cosmic rays, but the amount of money required...and it's a 40-year project,
and in fact human exploration of space is really overplayed. I have no problem with it for
adventure, but for a scientific purpose it's useless. The important science that's done is done by
not sending humans into space but by sending un-manned vehicles, the Hubble Space telescope or even
the rovers on Mars, because if you're sending humans into space you have to spend 99.9% of the
budget to get them back alive and leaving a very small percentage to do actual science. So, one
should never justify the human exploration of space on scientific grounds because it really doesn't
provide scientific results that are significant. The reason to explore space is adventure, and I
have nothing against it. In fact I think our long-term future involves space, living in space. But
what we learn by sending humans into space is how to keep humans alive in space and we basically
don't learn anything else.

Robyn Williams: Huge questions; climate, space, our future; how much are these being debated in the
presidential election in the United States?

Lawrence Krauss: Not enough. And as you know I've been spending a lot of time trying to get
questions of substance, and by that I mean questions related to science and technology debate, and
it's not for parochial reasons. If you think about all the major issues facing the next president;
economic innovation, climate change, energy, national security; they all have a scientific and
technical component and they haven't been discussed. So we have been trying to get a debate among
presidential candidates. That's been unsuccessful. But just a week or two ago I'm very excited that
we did get both of the major candidates to answer 14 questions on science and technology, to give
their responses, and you can go to www.sciencedebate2008.com and see their answers, and just today
we put on a vote...you can vote to see who gave the best answers.

Robyn Williams: Let's take them individually. What about McCain? What's his stance on science and
the broader questions involved?

Lawrence Krauss: You know, the interesting thing is that McCain on the whole in the past has been
both a supporter of science and also a supporter, importantly, of scientific integrity which is
something that's been lacking in the Bush administration. He's spoken out against censoring
information and appointing incompetent people onto review panels. Interestingly enough he's
moderated his talk, as he has in almost everything during this election, and I've been a little
disappointed by that because he seems to be backing off on a number of areas.

If you read his responses they're reasonably good but they're mostly...well, he finesses issues of
climate change, for example, which he says we need to address but he never actually agrees therein
that human industrial output has already impacted on climate. He says it might. And I suspect he's
under great pressure to step back from the truth, and I of course therefore am disappointed by
that.

He also in some sense has the problem that he has a sidekick now who doesn't believe in global
warming and as far as I know doesn't believe in evolution, and therefore it's going to be
interesting to see how he can balance trying to pretend or trying to be upfront about the
scientific issues and have as a vice-presidential candidate someone who clearly denies most of
modern science.

Robyn Williams: Well, if she's in the White House denying modern science, won't that have an
impact?

Lawrence Krauss: Well, that depends on what kind of vice-president she is. I'm hoping she won't be.
Policy is made by the president, and so one hopes that in the unfortunate eventuality that John
McCain...we're in Australia so I guess I can say that in the unfortunate eventuality that John
McCain becomes president, one hopes that the campaign rhetoric is just rhetoric to get elected and
he'll revert back to more sensible positions. The big concern of course is his health et cetera. He
has a tradition, I have to say this, of being at least pro-science and more importantly pro
scientific integrity, and one hopes that somehow that tradition will come back.

Obama's positions are much more carefully articulated, at least in the response. But the main thing
is to realise that sound public policy depends upon sound science, and as long as both candidates
recognise that then from the point of view of addressing these important issues it really doesn't
matter who's elected.

Robyn Williams: I see. Back in Arizona, where you come from, you work with an ex-colleague of mine,
Pauline Newman, and Paul Davies who used to be in Australia and comes back very often. What's your
job there at the State University of Arizona setting up a new outfit?

Lawrence Krauss: Yes, I'm very excited to be there with Paul and Pauline as well. I've gone there
to direct something called the Origins Initiative, which is going to be a new university-wide
initiative to explore questions ranging from the origin of the universe to the origins of life, the
origins of humans and cognition and culture. It's going to be both a new research institute and a
new way of trying to teach students as well as reach out to the public and we're going to have an
exciting event next April (which maybe you'll come to, I hope) which will be a meeting of
scientists to talk about these issues, accompanied by a public symposium which will have Stephen
Hawking, Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Craig Venter, Brian Greene, me, and a bunch of other
people talking to the public all in the same day about...

Robyn Williams: No girls?

Lawrence Krauss: Well, in fact we're trying to...that's a good question...we're actually trying to
broaden it and we've asked, for example, Jane Goodall to come and I'm hoping she'll come. We're
trying to broaden and diversity, so stay turned. And in fact we'll have some cultural figures that
may surprise you as well.

Robyn Williams: Like Steven Spielberg, for instance. Name drop heaven. Professor Lawrence Krauss is
at Arizona State University in Phoenix, and his local senator, by the way, is John McCain.