Ernest Lawrence’s invention of the cyclotron in Berkeley more than eighty years ago did more than introduce a uniquely efficient and effective atom-smasher to the world of high-energy physics; it launched the paradigm of capital-intensive, large-team research known as “Big Science.” The paradigm’s offspring include the Manhattan Project, the moon landings, the Human Genome Project, and research into climate change. But it raises questions about the influence of money on basic research and how society should weigh competing demands for resources among practical social needs and the quest for fundamental knowledge of our natural world.
This article considers major infrastructure spending projects on the table in California (a high-speed rail line connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco, a peripheral canal in the Sacramento Delta, higher education) and compares their funding models to that of the Los Angeles Aqueducts. Whereas William Mulholland convinced Angelenos in 1905 to pay for the aqueduct for the benefit of future residents, modern California voters are more likely to insist infrastructure is paid for with a mix of public and private investment, or solely by its end users. Hiltzik argues California’s leaders could learn from Mulholland, whose foresight, adept campaigning, and willingness to shade the truth benefited millions of people.