tv Book Discussion on Big Science CSPAN September 6, 2015 5:15pm-6:08pm EDT
next, pulitzer prize-winning journalist michael hiltzik recalls when the federal got got involved in scientific and technological endeavors. [inaudible conversations] >> good evening, everyone. we are going to get started. my name is candace. i work with the events here at politics and pros. prose. we have a lot of events coming up. i encourage you to grab a print calendar, sign up for our e-mail list at the information desk and look online for events in
september. as for tonight's -- first thing is check again to make sure your cell phones are on silent or off so that doesn't disrupt or time here. we'll have an hour-long event, half the time presentation from our speaker, and then half the time for questions. we have a microphone over here. if you wouldn't mind directing your question to that mic. we are recording, c-span is here, and it helps us catch your question on the recording. and then afterwards we'll have a signing. we'll form a line going down the aisle. and signing will happen right up fr ont here. the books are for purchase behind the register if you haven't gotten one already. then once we're all finished, before we form the signing line, if you would fold 'your chairs and set them against the
elves, that would be helpleful. now mates pressure to sew michael hiltzik, and hisook, "big science." this is a story of man who ushered in a new era in science, moving away from the quote-unquote small science of individuals in labs through million dollar projects such as the cyclotron that lawrence won a nobel prize for in 1959, or billion dollar project today such as a collider. some projects have led science in direction of looking to governments and big, private wealth for advancement. this shifts and now is con ticketed, mate way for developments that were very large for their time. some might say there were some that were even tragic, big science is a timery read as we
reflect on the dropping of the atomic bomb in japan. that decision is still debated today, whether or not it was nose ends end the war. and in mr. hiltzik's book we read about controversy as well with the new scientific elite wading through the political fallout that followed world war ii. mr. hiltzik began his journalism career in buffalo, new york, went on there to write extensively for "los angeles times" and won the pulitzer prize for the articles he wrote on corruption and bribes in the music industry. a couple of his previous books include colossus, hoover dam and the making of the american century, and the new deal, a modern history. so, please help me in welcoming michael hiltzik to politics and prose. [applause]
>> thanks to all of you for joing me tonight to take maybe an hour's respite from presidential politics to talk about science and big science and its achievements and limitations, and as candace eluded to, this is an especially pertinent subject tonight, i think, because we find ourselves sandwiched between these two rather tragic anniversaries. as i'm sure you have been reading, yesterday, august 6th , was the 70th 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing bombing bombing of hiroshima. sunday is the neaves of the bombing of nagasaki. i want to approach these events in a different way, for they were so fundmentally connected
with the work of ernest orlando lawrence, the physicist at the center of the book, and the paradigm of scientific research he pioneered. and we'll see how his work launched a new phase in the relationship between scientists and society because of how it led to scientists placing in humankind's hands the tools of it own destruction. so, let's begin we talking about the man himself, who was ernest lawrence. well, the short answer is that during his lifetime, from 1901 to 1958, he was the most famous american-born scientist in the country. in 1937, he appeared on the cover of "time magazine," that all-purpose valition of international celebrity back dung the prehistoric era we took of today as the age of print. and the 1939, as a professor at
berkeley he received the nobel prize in physics, the first scientist from an american public university to win the prize, and if you have been on the berkeley campus you might understand there are parking spots edition designated nl. this is a perk that nobel laureates at berkeley get, and in california that's worth a lot. all this for the son of a norwegian american family born in the small town of canton, south dakota so he came from they heartland and grew up with the 20 them century. the source of his renown was his inspired invention, the cyclotron. a device tt could bombard the atomic nucleus with energies that his fellow physicists could only dream of the name of elucidating the mystery's the subatomic world. but his overarching legacy was a few way of doing science. we call it big science.
capital intensive, multidisciplinary research in which teams of tens or hundreds or thousands of researchers worked together, with funding from foundations, governments, and industry. big science is all around us today. high-level research funded by the nih and national science foundation which received nearly $40 billion a year in government appropriations. that big science. the effort to put man on the moon to send probes into the farthest reaches of he solar system, that's big science. the human genome project was a $3 billion exercise in big science that helped to launch not only new fields of study but also new industries. solving climate change, we won't be able to do that without big science. the large head dron collider is
the epit me today of a big science device. it's the latest generation of the first cyclotron that ernest lawrence invent more than eight decades ago. his first cyclotron cost less than 1 didn't in material and fit in the pam -- palm of its hand. its off spring occupies a tunnel 17-miles in circumfriend, buried in on swiss and french countryside and costing $7 billion. you can see the evolution of this paradigm that started in his lab in berkeley. the central theme of my book and i hope of our conversation this evening once we open the floor to all of you to ask questions, and to discuss, is that big science raises as many questions about human coined's thirst for knowledge as it answers. one of the most important aspects of this method of research that we're still grappling with, 70 years on, is
that it did give scientists and society access to forces of truly destructive power, forces that we found very hard, to the wi hope not impossible to control. one of the first physicists to warn of the implications of then sea change in the way we do research was lawrence's own colleague on the manhattan project, james franc, german physicist, also a nobel laureate, who, two months before the first atomic bomb depp detonated over japan, observed the age was already past in which, as he put it, scientists could disclaim direct responsibility for the use to which mankind has put their disinterested discoveries. the reason, frank said issue that's what big science brought about was fraught with infinitely greater dangers than were all the inventions of the past put together.
but we need to talk about not merely what we bring to big scienc but the resources we devote to the quest. he -- how to wake the monumental high parole file efforts to put a human being on mars or discover the nest particle against the necessity of fighting cancer or paying for drugs against hepatitis or mountain pel clear -- multiple sclerosis sees. so all of this factors into what makes lauren such an increasing personality and that bring dib issue trying personality, and that brings us to the invention that made his name. it was 1929. he had recently joined the university of berkeley and is in jibbings was at a crossroads. the older generation, scientist like ernest rutherford and marie
currie had been probing the atom county nucleus with the tools nature gave them. waves from radio active minerals like radium, husbanded by the thimbleful. thatten racing figured another the structure of the atom, discovered x-rays and radio activity but had done about as much as they could with nature's gifts and to go further, science would need probes of much higher energies to delve deeper into the nucleus with more precision and these could only be achieved by applying human ingenuity. it was rutherford who threw down the challenge for the new geration, calling for an apparatus that could deliver a projectile of ten million electron volts, yet be safely accommodated in a medium sized room. well, scientist all of the world took up the challenge but discovered when you load an
operates with 10 million-volts, what happens is you blow up the apparatus. think of trying to fire a mortar shell out of a cannon made of cardboard, so laboratories filled up with shards of splinter glass. one group of intrepid germ yap researches strung a cable between two alpine peaks to capture lightning and did but in the process one of this was blasted off the mountain to his death and that ended that. so one night in berkeley, e. nest lawrence had a brainstorm. what if you don't put the voltage on to the apparatus itself but build it inincrementally on the projectile. if you start with a proton, with 100-volts, give is a 100-volt jolt. now is has energy of 200-volts and another jolt and it's 300 and so on and so on. now, ainear accelerator
designed to keep delivering jolts by a sequence of synchroniz electrode wld have to be a mile in length to achieve the desired energies. certainly not fitting into rutherford's comfortably sized room. so here comes the second part of lawrence's brainstorm. he knows that a charged particle traversing a magnetic field will follow a curved path. so apply a magnetic field to your proton and you can bend it into a spiral, allowing it to get repeated jolts from just a singlelectrode. and that's the essence of the cyclotron boiled down to its simplest terms, but after enough revolutionouts have a particle that can carry a million volts, 10 men, ion a hundred million or a blion and all you have to do is aim it at a target and let it go. the possibilities are limitless and all could fit into a medium sized room. at least the first cyclotrons
could. well, lawrence knows he is on to something. very next day he is seen bounding across the berkeley campus, button holing friends and colleagues to declare, i'm going to be famous. and so he was. and the next decade, his invention proved to be a spectacularly useful and flexible machine. the team he assembled in beeley discovered scores of new isotopes, carbon 14, which we know of as the key to carbon dating was discovered through the cyclotron. other isotopes became the foundation of the new science of nuclear medicine, the sources of new cures, and new therapeutic processes we still use today. and then came the new elements, heavier then uranium, elements which had never been seen in their natural state, element 93, named neptunium, and then element 49, named of what was
thought be the next planet in the solar system, pluto, called plutonium. and every discovery opened, and lawrence responded by designing new cyclotrons, each one big examiner more powerful and much more expensive than the last. and soon every university that aspired to the first rank of research institutions wted its own cyclotron and lawrence was happy to oblige, sding his associates into the world to show themow to do it, freely sharin his own designs, all in the name of expanding what became known as lawrence's cyclotron empire. but it wasn't onlyis real scientific accomplishments that made him famous but hi personality. so perfect for a country striving to emerge from the shadow of european scientific tradition. he was useful and engaging so very different from the popular image of the mad scientist, locked away in his lab, wild
haired and foreign and a little bit strange. ernest lawence was sober, business-like, very down to earth, midwestern, went about the three-piece suits. the new republic's bed for visit evidence and described hem us a a amazing lie easy to talk and completely american as apple pie. and then as i said i 1939, lawrence won the nobel prize for the cyclotron. but he demonstrated more than inspired scientific techniques. he showed great managerial technique. he showed that when you needed to raise millions of dollars to build your machine, you had to have the genius of an entrepreneur, a ringmaster, a ceo. you had to raise money from university presidents, foundation boards, industrial executives and government
officials by serving their own goals without compromising your own too much. for scientist this was a new religion and ernest lawrence was its profit. the 1939 nobel prizes were the last to be awarded until the war clouds over europe began to dissipate four years later. so now we come to the central event in lawrence's career. the manhattan project would validate the big science paradigm. the atomic bomb could not have been invented bay solitary fit cyst using hand-made equipment. required an investment of billions of dollars, armies of scientists and technicians, laboratories built on an industrial scale. the manhattan project was the first great big science program and it proved how powerful an approach this could be while hinting at how hard its results might be to control.
now, many you've no doubt know at least the outlines of the making of the atomic bomb. the efforting with albert einstein's letter to franklin roosevelt in august 1939, actually written by the hungarian physicist leo and signed by einstein, observing the recent discovery of nuclear fission implied that bombs could be constructed from fissionable rain -- uranium and warning nazi germ my might also be working on the problem and that fear brought physicists together to make sure we would get the bomb first. lawrence and big science would play a paramount role in that effort. the cyclotron was an essential component in the research leading to the bomb. lawrence converted his newest cyclotron, a behemoth, still being build in a ravine above the berkeley campus, into a
device to enrich natural uranium to bomb grade by concentratings isotope, uranium 235. then he design and supervises the construction of the industrial plant to manufacture the enriched product in a rural district in tennessee known as oak ridge. and that plant would produce every atom of the uranium for the bomb dropped on hiroshima. he gave a long associate priority time on the berkeley cyclotrons to isolate plutonium which was the core of the bomb that destroyed nothing saki, and when the head of the manhattan project came around looking for someone to head up the actual design of the bomb, at the lab that became los alamos,ern neace' lawrence nominated his friend, jay report oppenheimer and got him the job.
but now we must turn to the moral dimension of this work. not only lawrence's role but big science's role in war. something that still the subject of debate today, 70 years later, as you can tell i think just by reading the papers in the last week. the study of history, you know, is an exercise in looking at events through the eyes of them pea who lived. the but also applying the perspective of the decades sometimes a century. this exercise is especially complicated with nuclear weapons because we're so familiar with their consequences. we know the toll in lives from the bombings of hiroshima and nagasaki. the thousands, a toll the builders of the bombs could only guess at and probably underestimated the figures.
we know of the horrific, long-term suffering of the civilian survivors of the cities unlike anything experienced by any other survivors of warfare in history. and we know the cloud that civilization has lived under for 70 years because of the decision made in the 1940s to unleash the destructive capacity of the atomic nucleus. and we know natz eu sunday actually never did have a working atomic bomb program. the scientists who stayed behind in germ germany got the physics wrong and determined it could not be built and didn't try. but the allies didn't know that until of the war was over. now, don't mean that we shouldn't judge the scientists of the manhattan project at all. only that we should temper our judgment but why they thought they knew. they thought they were building a weapon that could shorten the war and maybe even save lives. they thought they were in a race
with a homicidal maniac, bent on world domination. they were focused on the emergency of the immediate present. germany's surrender in 1945 changed the calculus but not the momentum of this effort. unlike germany, japan was not widely feared as a potential nuclear threat, and its regime was not seen as fixed on world domination, maybe regional domination. but by then, the bombs were nearly complete, the impulse to use them was very strong. in fact the planes were already ready on the island, point at japan. the final debate among scientists and military and political leaders before hiroshima was over whether dropping the bombs on unsuspting japanese was truly necessary or whether a demonstration over a desert or an unpopulate pacific atoll could christopher a sufficiently
compelling message to the japanese regime. the record tells us that the last holdout against dropping the bombs was lawrence himself, but that eventually he, too acknowledged the risk of a dud was too great and that a demonstration that didn't demonstrate anything would be worse than no demonstration at all. historians have debated ever since. in fact we still debate today whether the bombing of japan was truly necessary to secure surrender, but there can be no question really that most of the people directly involved in the decision accepted the assumption that it was. ma of the big scientists who developed the atom bomb would eventually reconsider their role. some, like cronk, had begun thinking even before the first bomb dropped, about how to manage the political and social implications of the technology they had helped to invent. many would work to promote the
cause of international control over nuclear technology, recognizing that what big science had unleashed could be managed safely only through a new conception of geopolitics and a new style of diplomacy. many others would work to develop nuclear power and other peaceful technologies, perhaps in the hopes of expiating the moral qualms and doubts that hiroshima and nagasaki brought them. ernest lawrence was not among them. intro specifics was not his strong suit, and henrys friend robert oppenheimer declared that through the atomic bomb program physicists had come to know sin, he responded rather angrily that nothing about his work caused him to know sin. and that was still true in the 1950s when lawrence became the nation's most credible scientific promoter of the hydrogen bomb. a weapon that many of his
colleagues viewed as nothing but a genocidal device and even the pentagon acknowledged could never be used in a military campaign but only as a weapon of psychological terror. for many layrsons, the protect of the hydrogen bomb fueled fear that big science had moved into the disquieting mode of, if it can be done, it will be done, and it should be done. science's capabilities had begun to exceed the ability of our social and political institutions to manage them. this showed the flaws of lawrence's paradigm of big science, which was built on unquestioning conviction that science was capablef meeting the greatest technical challenges as long as scientists were joined together in pursuit of a shared goal as they had been during the manhattan project. he never apologized for his work
on the h-bomb or the a-bomb. to him, both programs were necessary for national security and he never looked back. indeed, he established a brand new lab at livermore, california, to advance research into thermonuclear weapons. but because he died in 1958, we don't really know what he would have made of the nuclear world that big science had helped to create, as it reached its fear. extent. his widow, molly, thought he would have been aghast at the extent of nuclear proliferati and in the 1980s she was so appalled at livermore's role in the arms race she petitioned congress to take her husband's name off the lab he founded. well, congress turned her down and to this day it's known as the lawrence livermore national laboratory. what we can say, however, is that the history of big science tells us that science itself can't -- seen as good or evil.
ernest lawrence's new a paradigm of scientific researches given us isotopies and diagnostic techniques that save lives, put men on the moon and allowed to us explore the outermost planets and peer deeply into the subatomic world. it may provide us yet with weapons against climate change, even as itself given us the tool to destroy ourselves. just before open the floor for questions i'd like to leave you with one last topic to debate and that's whether, after 70 yee me a hey reached the economic and political limits of big science. the reason that the large collider is the biggest accelerator in the worldings that the united states abandoned its own parallel project, the super conducting, super collider in 1990s mostly bus the budget had grown so huge.
almost since the inception, the costs of big science has prompted its critics to ask whether it can get too expensive, whether it leads to us value monumental scientific effort that bring in more money and more publicity, more than programs that could have a more direct relevance to our daily lives. big science has helped make our universities great, but it also s helped to turn our professors. >> president eisenhower in his military complex speech foresaw how science was changing. today he said the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists and laboratories. partly because of the huge costs
involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. the prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by federal employment, project allocation and he power of my is -- power of money is ever present and gravely to be regarded. in light of the world we live in today it can only be struck by the foresight of these prophetic words. now that said, one thing i think we can be confident about is that the human thirst for knowledge is never quenched and that it served by big science at its best. if we want an illustration of that, just consider the excitement felt not only by astronomers but members of the general public about the extraordinary photographs of pluto that came in the last few weeks from the new horizon spacecraft after its nine-year,
$300 million voyage to the limits of the solar system. so, yes, ernest lawrence's genius gave us new access to knowledge, but as is true with almost everything, that gain came at a cost. he helped us to learn a lot, but he also gives a lot more to think about, and with that, i thank you for listening and i'm ready to take questions. [applause] ...
versus actualuse. >> i think that was an element of it. i should say i didn't mention mention that lawrence was also the scientist who introduced for the first time in a government panel the idea of a demonstration so he was interested in seeing if that would work. he was basically outvoted by people who thought the demonstration was too risky. the element but he never apologized for was the idea of building the bomb and putting forth these programs making sure
the united kingdom have access to the weapons before its enemies did and could protect themselves. so it forces and consistencies upon us but in this case he ended up acknowledging that there was no alternative to actually dropping the bomb. >> more importantly, you seem to be saying that you thought there was evidence that we are reaching the limits conducting its sort of political failures in the country as evidence of that and yet you could say the reason wasn't very clearly appreciated in the public. >> that is a good point and we can learn a lot of lessons from the feet of the superconducting the liner. at the time time has time has canceled time has canceled the government government already spends $2 billion on it, and the prospect of further expenditures
looked to be limitless and the new congress was coming in and this was a new class that had run on the idea and there was a problem that the physics community itself was of two minds about this. there were many thought it was a big that it was a big product that would suck up resources for a narrow area and would leave other research &-and-sign. i think what that tells us is when you are faced with expenditures of this magnitude, they become a political issue and you have to make sure you do make the case as you say to the public that these are necessary expenditures in the product that will produce outcomes that do benefit society and mankind. that's not always easy to do but
that is what is tasked before scientists don't want to push the these sort of programs ahead. >> in contrast to the previous questioner, i think that you are weak seeing the end of the big science of the military-industrial complex. it was theorized waves of concentration of capital and the last big idea until they were up against the kind of limits that einstein saw in pursuing the speed of light where you can get closer and closer at huge expenditures of effort, capital power that he would never reach
it. and i just wonder whether in reading about things like that engine tnted by a schoolgirl in egypt and has been validated by three national laboratories that we may be seeing a new paradigm that will destroy big science and start people working. >> you could be right. all i can say to that is paradise are often visible in the rearview mirror. and they are hard to spot when you are actually in the midst of them. of course the industry science has been projected into predicted many times in the 60s and 70s and the 70s and again in the '90s and their concerns today are the new
projects of this magnitude are going to be a very hard so. despite the failure, we have found ways to find projects to scientists can come together and support and after all, become lighter is with us and it's the product of consortium of european countries and some funding from the united states. and there were plans to make it bigger and extend its power. so we have these cause for concern and i'm not sure that looking athings real granular way we can say that big science is definitely finished. but we will know more in ten years i suppose. >> getting back to the dropping of the atomic bombs. i think a strong argument can be made that for the first one my
question is about the second one. why did it appen so quickly and was it really necessary and should the united states have waited and a loud the decision make a process to go through? >> you may know that there's an extensive literature on the decision to drop the bomb not only in pure shona is not a sake and the thing i found in this extensive literature is that it doesn't come to a conclusion. i think to really understand not a nagasaki you have to understand the political and military goals. certainly there was a recognition that the geography of not a not a sake was different and there probably was
a designer on desire on the part of the military planning to get a full picture of what the effects would be if this sort of weapon. there might have been concerned that the japanese haven't spoken soon enough and it would finally bring them to the people and as i'm sure you know there's also a school of thought the japanese were on the verge of surrendering to the pending entry of the soviet union into the war was going to do it either. there it was a lot that went into the decision and there's a lot we don't know. there's a lot of thinking that was done on the ground that is really hard to appreciate in hindsight. hindsight is an educational process and i think we are still learning the full dimensions of all of the aspects. >> there are the big organizations you mentioned the
nih. what are some other ones? they put that important research in the and the earth-based diane's underwater would have you. these are all involved in big science in one way or another. >> i'm concerned he might be missing a characteristic that is big science personalities. they need them to be household names but now you need people with political influence to make
these projects have been with the modern big science. >> in my book i do address this question. the generation of the high-profile scientists was exemplified by ernest lawrence, robert oppenheimer. they were very influential in science education of course and the government supervisor of the manhattan project people like that they were sick on the ground in the 1940s and 50s and began to bleed the scene in the 60s and 70s. i think the last personality i can think of that would fill the role was probably james watson and his legacy is the human genome project.
this goes back to what i said a few minutes ago which is that when you are talking about programs of this magnitude they become political. the issues become political and it is hoped to have individuals that have stature and respect to make the case. i don't know where to point you to today. we can only hope in the name of science that people would merge over time. >> this person over here is a question that you probably want to go to the microphone. >> do you have any idea why we call the early bombs atomic bombs if they are all nuclear
bombs? >> you were asking why the early bombs were known as atomic bombs if they are all nuclear over its true we are just using the nomenclature of the time that was known as the a-bomb. they are all nuclear bombs because they do exploit the energies within the nucleus >> [inaudible] he spent a long career in physics. all i can say is this is the way that the public came to know them and this is the name that we've given them. on a technical level yes it is accurate in that it is imprecise and all we can do as writers,
scientists is try to make sure people understand when we do use these terms. >> i'm a small scientist. [laughter] i'm a social scientist in the healthcare field, which i think today is the new military-industrial complex. you look at the award was made a couple days ago from the department of defense from about 35 other companies and they will tenderly and other project to institute an electronic health record across all the dod facilities and the science that's going to go into that come the science that is maybe foreign to some people in the room and the interoperability and the science of all-time flexing. bees are all areas of today's big science, and the war effort
was a great deal of war related science. we never really had that kind of fever in this country since the second world war. what we have had is this growing health care orientation was taken to get where it is today. and the new science is starting to focus not just how long can you live but how well can the people help you do their jobs. do you have any thoughts on that? >> the idea of bringing together science and technology and the industry was born in of the need to find projects and it has, and it did start another paradigm of
the entrepreneurial science which sounds like a lot of what you're talking about and what we see very much in biotech in physics and chemistry. we probably don't have time tonight to delve into all of the pros and con's of basically the strength towards commercialization of research, but i think you are right we do see it very strongly in healthcare. >> i would be interested in your thoughts on how big science has affected the university educational system both positive and negative. >> there is reason to be
concerned about the impact that big science into some of the aspects of the university i would point out that man that actually claimed the term who at the time was the director of the lab in an article in the science magazine he raised some of these questions and said that we were going to replace syncing with money and that the universities were going to be very vulnerable to this sort of trend. there was the evolution of professors and administrators into fundraisers and impresarios that he was very concerned about that and thought the need to
take on projects that were amenable to publicity and journalism is something that wasn't going to work very well with the academy. so i think we have seen that process continue. when he and into the city came under a pressure to pass in the machine from his financial patron. he tried to resist but he have to agree to do so to protect it from commercial exploitation that he reserved the licenses for academic users but that was the beginning of a long trend. he was concerned about the trend towards patenting discoveries that should belong to the public and he resisted later on more successfully do we certainly have seen that and we have seen because of the entry of the big finance into the university and big science we have seen cases
where discoveries are kept from people's colleagues with much more secrecy, there's much more commercial protection and that is the trend that eisenhower pointed out in his speech in 1963. >> throughout the history of military needs have often driven scientific discoveries and scientific discoveries start to take the use of the military shift to the non- military uses. for the sciences that you described it is much more leasehold and extensive. >> this is another concern that eisenhower pointed out that when you bring together military goals and industrial roles, you
end up - you will end up with something that serves teir goals but not the public interest and he was very concerned about that and that is when you have scientific projects that required patrons when they are industrial patrons they are going to be inclined to focus on the projects that they think of a commercial advantage to themselves in the core businesses and i think one of the concerns that we should have used the shift of the funding of expenses of the big science programs from government towards industry. the government is going to be inclined to fund basic science. we need that. they are just going to follow their nose and take their research areas comes because that is the seed claim really is everything that we end up with
to make our lives better and safer and simpler and healthier. if you look at the figures you will see that the industry is taking on a larger share certainly since the 1970s and a much larger share of america's research overall. and that's going to negatively to end up in the narrow focus that isn't going to do us any good at all. >> thank you all for coming. thanks for the questions. [applause] spin it as a reminder if you need to purchase a book they are behind the register.
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