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Every major economy runs particle colliders, which consume huge amount of resources, billions € (not including the cost of education and time of highly qualified personell). There are many articles writing about "new physics", but as far as I searched, in the last 50 years they produced nothing to generate any noticeable profit.

State budgets include something like science support, but there are many scientific projects that would bring real profit, i.e. the Skylon project receiving tens of millions €, some 1% of the colliders'.

From the economic perspective, how would you explain the existence of particle colliders?

Edit Just found a video that explains corruption mechanism in case of fusion power to get funding The interesting part starts at 5:51 - albeit the economic warnings were defined in advance by STOLA, later they were ignored by officials: are there economic reasons for this?

Maybe it is similar effect like publish or perish scientific paradigm, forcing scientists to publish an article even when they know that the data produces nothing useful - just because they want to get funded?

I'd like to know if similar antipatterns apply to CERN and other particle colliders and if not what is the actual business model and if corruption is inherent part of it or not.

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  • $\begingroup$ Scientific research spending is widely accepted to positively contribute to economic growth. Trying to divine which research will net a return and at what magnitude is a vanity project. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Jul 10, 2022 at 20:58

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The problem with this question is that we most likely do not yet have the data to answer this. A historical example may help. At the beginning of the 19th century, electricity was a curiosity. Only in 1820, Hans Christian Ørsted discovered empirically that an electrical conductor through which current passed created a magnetic field. Ørsted, who made other such discoveries while experimenting with electricity, had no explanation for the relationship between electricity and magnetism.

However, by 1950 electricity was already indispensable for the development of the economy and existing technologies. Much more so today. But in 1820 it was very difficult to predict how important these experiments would be for the technological and economic future of mankind.

It is not clear that particle colliders will have an effect similar to that of elasticity, this is only an analogy, but it may well be that unexpected applications for the technology of the future will arise: some of the first electronic circuits were developed by physicists who tried to count particles in primitive particle colliders, and this technology collaterally generated entire sectors of economic activity.

Given the uncertainty about the economic value of innovations that may arise from particle colliders, it is difficult to decide whether the current level of investment is low, adequate or excessive.

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    $\begingroup$ Well, I see that you have your own answer to the question and that anything said will not invalidate your answer. Surely, and we agree on this, from an economic point of view there are investments that have a much lower Internal rate of return (which does not mean that their Net present value is necessarily higher). The problem is that we simply do NOT have data of the necessary quality to know how much benefit these new technologies would bring or how likely they are to be useful in the next 100 years. $\endgroup$
    – Davius
    Jul 7, 2022 at 21:39
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    $\begingroup$ It is actually a question why it contradicts the rule of risk-profit balance. The explanation "we don't have enough data" means "it is a very risky investment". I just find "maybe we can use it somehow" explanation not good enough for such a huge investments. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Turoň
    Jul 7, 2022 at 21:53
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    $\begingroup$ Of course there is a reason: it is not an economic issue, just like the space program in the 1960s and many other issues, the reasons behind these investments seem to be extra-economic without a doubt. $\endgroup$
    – Davius
    Jul 7, 2022 at 21:58
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    $\begingroup$ In the 1960 the ideology could be behind this, but it seems to me that today the money is stronger factor than before. Maybe there is something like monopolistic behavior? I could speculate that physicists just seized the market in times where theoretical physics were popular due to atomic bombs, so they have strong lobby today where the grants go, not letting concurrent projects to grow? If so, the explanation could be economic after all, but I can't see any evidence for this. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Turoň
    Jul 7, 2022 at 22:12
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    $\begingroup$ In the 1960 the ideology could be behind this, but it seems to me that today the money is stronger factor than before.... Maybe. Or maybe not? This seems like this is an empirical question about comparative political economy and not one with a very obvious answer; how do you know which of these factors is more powerful, or whether or not there is some third political factor that might explain decision-making apart from either (1) considerations of ideological conflict or (2) considerations of monetary return? What source would you refer to to figure this out one way or the other? $\endgroup$ Jul 8, 2022 at 19:14
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The catchy answer to your questions runs as follows:

If you finance a particle accelerator and get unlucky, all you get is the discovery of the Higgs boson. If you are lucky they will invent the World Wide Web.

So your research that they produced nothing profitable is incomplete. Note that not everything useful that comes out of a particle accelerator is a particle.

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  • $\begingroup$ World Wide Web was not in their business plan and it was developed (sponsored) by DARPA, so this is pure marketing trick, no economical merit. I mean every investor should be interested WHEN and WHAT will be the output of research, how much uncertainity and how big profit. CERN simply doesn't answer this. I just found a video questioning research of fusion power from similar perspective here $\endgroup$
    – Jan Turoň
    Jul 8, 2022 at 10:18
  • $\begingroup$ @JanTuroň If you write a business plan on how to be profitable beforehand, what you are doing is not research but at most product development. These are two fundamentally different things. DARPA was involved with the invention of the internet, not the same things as the WWW, read the link. It is true that fusion power hasn't produced any profit yet, but the potential economic benefit from a working fusion power plant would easily dwarf the cost of all research into that area. $\endgroup$
    – quarague
    Jul 8, 2022 at 17:39

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