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The Sciences

What big money for physicists means

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanAugust 3, 2012 10:53 AM

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9 Scientists Receive a New Physics Prize:

Several of the winners said they hoped that the new prize, with its large cash award, would help raise recognition of physics and draw more students into the field. “It’ll be great to have this sort of showcase for what’s going on in the subject every year,” Dr. Arkani-Hamed said. ... Dr. Guth agreed. “I do think prizes like this help put across to the public that fundamental physics is important, and it’s not just heavyweight boxing that’s worthy of prizes,” he said. But he was going to warn his students not to get the wrong idea. “Certainly, it’s still not a great idea to go into physics for the money,” he said.

I doubt anyone will go into physics to get this prize. Rather, the importance here is what this teaches society in terms of what is valuable and worthy of praise in our culture. It is a question of values, not incentives and utils. The difference between Athens in the 5th century BC and Constantinople in the 6th century AD is not a matter of material conditions. The empire which Constantinople could mobilize dwarfed the Delian League headed by Athens. But the Athenians had different values than the early Byzantines. Aside from Justinian and Theodora, arguably the most famous individual from this period in Constantinople is the general, Belisarius. In contrast, Alcibiades ranks somewhat lower in the high society of Athens.

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