Adam has started replying to the points I made in my previous post: Hunting for Logical Fallacies in a Pod Delusion report.
In summary, last week, Adam submitted a Pod Delusion report critical of the funding of particle physics. I spotted a number of Logical Fallacies in that report (and in the comments about the report) and blogged about them.
Adam’s excellent suggestion (it’s well worth reading this comment) was that we discuss the points one by one.
His first response is regarding a False Dilemma logical fallacy, which, in the report, went something like:
- Either we can fund particle physics, or we can fund other, useful stuff.
- We must fund the other, useful stuff
- So, we can’t fund the particle physics.
To keep the discussion in one place (otherwise the original comment thread could become unwieldy), I’ve reproduced his comment here:
OK, here goes then. Let’s start with the “economic false dilemma” fallacy.
You make a perfectly reasonable point, which is that if we stopped spending money on the LHC, it wouldn’t necessarily get spent on one of the examples I’ve given as being more worthy. It might get spent on something like bigger duck houses for MPs. However, what I’m arguing is that we stop spending money on the LHC and spend it on something more worthy, not simply that we stop spending money on the LHC and then hope for the best. So I don’t think that point invalidates my argument.
What is true, however, is that every pound we spend on the LHC is one pound less that we have to spend on other things. So, on the assumption that the total pot of money for doing sciencey things is constant (and of course that is an assumption, as it would also be possible to increase the total pot, which I suspect we’d both welcome, although I don’t think it’s likely to happen in real life any time soon), funding the LHC means less money for other sciencey things.
Where I think I did fall down a bit in my piece (and if you’ve been following the discussion on the PD website you’ll see that Quackonomics picked me up on this) is that I failed to make a clear distinction between spending money on research and spending money on other worthy things that don’t need any research, merely putting resources behind some existing knowledge. An example of the latter would be polio eradication. We already know how to do it, so no research is needed. We just need to get out there and vaccinate all those troublesome little disease hot spots.
So, it might be a reasonable assumption that money not spent on the LHC could be spent on other kinds of research (eg developing a malaria vaccine), but it’s probably less reasonable to assume it will be spent on non-research things like eradicating polio, because that would put it into a completely different budget.
Nonetheless, if we think of the LHC as part of total government spending, then there is no real reason why any money not spent on it couldn’t be put into anything else we like, which might include polio eradication.
So, in summary, I don’t think I’m guilty of a logical fallacy here. I would be if I were saying “let’s just stop spending money on the LHC and see what happens”, but that’s not the argument I’m making.
Over to you…
So, as Adam requests…over to you.