science and poverty

Last week I attended a talk by Prof Peter Quinn titled ‘An overview of modern astronomy and our quest to find the dawn of creation’. It was great to see Peter in action having listened to him on my computer for several weeks during the creation of a storyboard for a video. Face to a voice and all that.

Although I was by now familiar with the content, the questions from the audience (secondary school science teachers) were the most interesting. Peter finished his talk with information about the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). Being that there is much interest in the project as Australia has been shortlisted as one of the two sites identified as potential locations for the SKA.

The question that I have thought the most about was comparing the number of dollars to be spent on science versus that on solving world poverty. The teacher that posed the question asked how do we resolve the amount of money spent on the SKA when $X can address poverty. He also recounted that at another event he attended an audience member had symbolically shown a bowl of rice to question the cost of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

Peter I thought effectively addressed the question, but there is still no answer. In Australia 1.5% of GDP is spent on science. That’s every little bit of science research you can think of including the SKA. Globally, the average spent on science is 2.0% of GDP.

So I think the question of solving world poverty would be better addressed to the people that handle 98% of GDP given that a piece of a larger pie is that much greater. Also, I don’t think you can skimp on science to solve world poverty, and 1.5% of GDP is already too little for science.


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