Seems I need to correct the overbroad use of scientific jargon by a nonscientist (i.e., me).
I completely agree that scientific research has brought about monumental changes in technology, including many items used daily by most American civilians and by the Armed Forces. However, is the best means of carrying out research through endeavors such as the topic of this thread: trying to determine the age of the universe? Such studies are drivel, in my view.
Although the thread describes a study of a study from a scientist at Canadian university, my objection generally is to forced taxpayer funding of such research here.
Absent the discipline of the free market, research pursuits can tend towards mere intellectual curiosity, rather than towards the satisfaction of tangible needs, be they military or economic. Who's more efficient: tenured professorial types, or profit-motivated entrepreneurs?
True, peripheral discoveries can result from indirect means--by looking for A, you discover method B of observing A, thus enabling the development of product C. Why not cut out the middleman and work directly towards developing product C?
Last September, many of us learned that the world was not as safe as we had thought it was--and will not be for many years to come. If we are distracted by endeavors of the mind that fail to strengthen or protect our freedom, we are weakened as a people. Our adversaries, though educationally and technologically inferior, have well-funded allies who can purchase the tools of future terror--even though they haven't the minds to discover them.
Because there is a vast universe of C out there that cannot even be imagined until we know about A. Suppose you'd asked Ben Franklin about the practical applications of his experiments into the nature of electricity? There is no possibility that he could even have scratched the surface of what we use it for now. He only wanted to satisfy his curiosity about the way the world works. It's the same thing with the quantum physics that dominates modern technology: that grew out of a bunch of guys trying to figure out how to calculate the spectral lines of the elements. Without basic research, applied research is forced to work in the incredibly narrow box of what we happen to know already. That's not good enough.
Last September, many of us learned that the world was not as safe as we had thought it was--and will not be for many years to come. If we are distracted by endeavors of the mind that fail to strengthen or protect our freedom, we are weakened as a people.
If we are distracted from our endeavors of the mind by our all-consuming preoccupation with protecting ourselves, we are weakened as a people. "It has nothing to do with defending our country, except to make it worth defending." -- E. O. Lawrence
Profit-motivated entrepreneurs are good at making money (usually.) They haven't shown much ability at making original scientific discoveries. The drug companies are pretty good at funding some research but it's very narrowly focused. One problem for privately funded research is that it tends not to be shared with others who might use it. Companies really keep things hidden. Even university researchers are not allowed to publish in some fields if privately funded.
The government has the money to sponsor more types of research, but the government isn't very good at allocating resources (too much research money is allocated for political reasons). Generally government-sponsored research is widely shared. The Europeans believe that private companies should fund development and directed research but the government should fund basic research. It's not clear how this works in practice.
One problem is that funding a $1,000,000 project is unlikely pay off. On the other hand, funding 1000 $1,000,000 projects with interproject feedback is likely to pay off the entier $1,000,000,000.
That's called "applied research" and can only be done AFTER somebody has done the pure research to discover the underlying principles that product "C" will be based upon.
As "Physicist" has already pointed out, there are vast areas that would never be delved into if all we did was applied research. Pure basic scientific research is a necessary condition for long-term applied research and development.
The trouble is that basic scientific research usually doesn't have a quick "pay-back" time. For this reason, private entrepreneurs are usually loathe to spend much money of basic pure research -- the payback time is just too long compared to applied R & D.
Personally, I do NOT support the idea of having government control the funding of scientific research. I think government ought to get out of the business of funding research, education, social programs, corporate welfare, and most other things it currently has it's fingers in. The rub is that with our tax rates where they are, few people can afford to be philanthropists and fund basic scientific research. When our taxes were much lower, this was exactly how great scientific research was funded; by rich guys who wanted their name on some big-assed telescope, for example. (most of the big telescopes at major US observatories built prior to WWII have somebody's name tacked on the front of it. The "Hooker" 100" telescope at Mt. Wilson is one example; it isn't named after a Civil War general. Some guy named "Hooker" put up a large bucket of money to help build the mirror for that telescope (the world's largest BTW, until Palomar came on line with it's 200" "Hale" telescope around 1948), and in return his name is stuck in front of it for all time.)
So, in conclusion, if we can get rid of the socialist parasites in politics, cut government spending and hence taxes to a fraction of their current levels, we can return to privately funded basic scientific research, which should make both of us happy.