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Re: Moon landing Hoax (spinoffs)

Bernard Clayet wrote:

The implication, as I read the Yeends, is the tax paid by Corning will recover
the cost of the moon program. Surely, it would have been cheaper if the
govt. had set out to create a superior cooking utensil material instead of
getting it by accident from the space program.

Are you sure? Just because you set out a research program to find a
better such-and-such does not mean that what you come up with is
really better, or just a marginal improvement on what you already
have. The example most frequently cited of this is the case of
x-rays. Can you imagine that an organized research project in, say,
1890, would have come up with x-rays, as the better way to locate
bullets and other shrapnel in wounds? Much more likely, they would
have come up with a better type probe, that didn't do quite as much
damage as the earlier types did, but because they were "looking under
the street lamp" it is almost certain that they would not have found
x-rays, which, of course were a total surprise to everyone, but which
were being used for just the purpose outlined above within weeks of
having been discovered.

Justifying the space program by claiming spin-offs is, as Gate Keeper (NAS)
says, s*** talk. Again, I was and now am against the moon project -- if I
weren't so non-anti-soviet, I'd have suggested letting them waste their money
on doing it. They did waste a lot in their attempt, but I understand they
stopped when "we" won. That suggests the effort was largely a propaganda
exercise. I have one slight reservation in my condemnation of the project, i.
e. if success led to sufficiently increased productivity, morale, etc., then
one could justify it. However, I doubt if it made more than a few %
difference. The Viet Nam invasion soon overshadowed any effect.

And I suppose you would have been against doing anything so silly as
financing Magelllan's trip around the world, or Cook's explorations
of the Pacific, or Drake's voyages into the Pacific Northwest? Not
all these voyages turn out so well. Certainly Columbus' arrival
pretty much did in the neighborhood for the locals at the time, and
the Aztecs and the Incas didn't fare well at the hands of the
Spaniards. But we don't know those things in the beginning, and if we
wait until we have all the answers, then we will never do anything.

The moon program was not necessarily science-based, although lots of
good science ultimately came out of it. It was an adventure not
unlike the early voyages of exploration (and in terms of then current
GNPs about the same overall cost). The drive to explore the unknown
is deep in the human psyche. We have been doing it ever since the
early humans moved out of the Olduvai Gorge to eventually populate
the rest of the earth. Now that most of the earth has been covered
(we still have a big job to do in exploring the oceans), it is
natural that we move on to space. There may well be better ways to
get the science (like the Hubble Telescope, which I have heard
derided on this list, but which has returned enormous amounts of
truly valuable astrophysical data unavailable from any other source),
but space exploration isn't just about science. It's about the human
adventure. It was probably a mistake for NASA to emphasize how
important the scientific aspects of Apollo were, because that wasn't
the point. JFK caught the mood of the nation when he promised to put
a man on the moon by the end of the 60s. It was a project so large
that probably only the government could ever have done it, and so it
just isn't meaningful to argue that if it was important is would have
been done privately. And besides, all those earlier voyages were done
with the profit motive in mind, and look what happened to the
treasure of the Incas and the Aztecs in the process. Maybe doing it
just for the adventure and for what science can be gleaned is better.
Relying on the profit motive may not be the best way to do it.

Also, I'm not against some big science when there is no alternative, and the
expected scientific result is great. How to quantify? At the same time I'm
saddened to read recently that "we" have dropped even further as measured by
our health. Cuba is reported to have the finest pediatric hospital in the
Western Hemisphere -- They export Doctors; "we" export munitions and
assassins. (They did "export" the solders that were instrumental in winning
the battle of Cuito Cunavale, for which Mandela in a speech at Matanzas
thanked the people of Cuba.)

For better or worse, a nation's health care system has little to do
with science. It is a matter of political will, with a good measure
of political stability thrown in. For better or worse, Cuba has been
politically stable for the past 40 years, and they are in a position
to institute a health care system that seems to me to be the only one
that has a hope of doing the job with any kind of efficiency, a
single-payer system. Hence, their political system enabled them to do
the right thing (which ours has manifestly not been able to do), and
Castro ensured a measure of stability, albeit mostly from the muzzle
of a gun.

How much basic medical research comes out of the Cuban system? My
guess is that it is not much, but that is irrelevant for the
effectiveness of its care delivery system.

If we had the political will and were willing to spend the money to
get it started, we could have a single-payer system that could
deliver effective medical care to everyone, and still have a robust
medical research system. It is a big mistake to link them.

SSC is another area where, at least in part, is was done in by an
effort to make an unreasonable link to practical application arising
from it. The cost, even as it stood when it was cancelled was not
that great. During the years it was developing its cost overruns,
HUD, under its ineffectual secretary in Reagan's cabinet was wasting
more than enough to cover SSCs entire overrun, through mismanagement
and fraud, most of which has gone totally unpunished.

I think the fact of the matter is, that, even if nothing beneficial
comes from it other than the knowledge generated, science is cheap.
Most of the money spent on science is used to buy or build things
that provide employment and income to countless non-scientists, and
almost none of it ends up being dropped on other people whether they
deserve it or not (I say almost, because some scientists do work for
DoD and the weapons industry).

But we could do better in our funding of both science and the arts.
Not nearly enough of it goes to finance work at the truly outer edges
of either field. Scientists have learned that to get a grant they
have to write their proposal almost as if they already knew the
answer they were asking the money to find (but of course, if you
already know the answer, it is no longer science), and artists have
learned that the best way to get funding for their projects is to
keep them firmly within the bounds of the acceptable norms. The
avant-garde stuff just pisses too many people off. So as a result,
much of the money we spend on science and the arts ends up being
wasted, but not in the sense most people think of waste. The waste
comes in when we keep on doing what has been done before. The true
value of public financing of science and the arts comes when the
grants are given to those who are willing to strike off into the
unknown, even if they fail.


Hugh Haskell

(919) 467-7610

Let's face it. People use a Mac because they want to, Windows because they
have to..