The Economist on Simon van der Meer

Simon van der MeerI am not really a big fan of the Economist. I enjoy the incredibly wide range of its political reporting (nowhere else will I read anything, unfortunately, about Azerbaijan or Ecuador). I don’t always agree with their undying faith in deregulation and the magic of markets. I like free markets, too, but to make these beliefs a quasi-religious tenet is stupid*.  But my bigger complaint is that everything is seen through the lens of economics, including politics and arts. As my friend V. often pointed out, the Economist is the magazine where they write about a study on the effect of happiness on your earnings, and not the other way around. Now, this may seem like a ludicrous complaint – the thing is named the Economist after all. And it is. I am not saying there shouldn’t be any news source with that perspective. But all I’m saying is because this is the case, the Economist isn’t my preferred news source. So I don’t really read it.

But I used to live in a house with a subscription, and so whenever I see someone reading the Economist, I always ask: who died this week? I am not being morbid; simply, the Economist’s obituaries are by far the best thing about the magazine. Unfortunately they hide them behind a paywall after a while, but for now you can still read the obituary of Nobel-winning Dutch physicist Simon van der Meer. It ends with this meditation that really gets at why experimental physics is so much more attractive for me than theoretical physics is**:

In the end, physics is an empirical science. It needs clever experiments; and such experiments need nifty devices. Without them, many beautiful theories would be merely that—beautiful. It is only thanks to tinkerers like Simon van der Meer that some of them also turn out to be true.

*My favourite rant about this topic: Thomas Frank’s The God that Sucked

** other than the fact I have a chance of understanding it sometimes

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