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Burton DeWilde | USLHC | USA

View Blog | Read Bio

Playing Politics with Science

Hi, folks!

As many of you are undoubtedly aware, the U.S. federal government is in the midst of a budget crisis. The prevailing wisdom in Washington is that deficits are out of control and will soon bring America to ruin; therefore, drastic budget cuts are necessary to ensure the nation’s future health and prosperity. Okay. Let’s take for granted that this is true. Let’s also ignore the official policies and recent acts of Congress that fly in the face of fiscal responsibility. We should probably also narrow our vision to the short-term — say, the next two years — to avoid unpleasant long-term realities.

Still with me? :)

This is now: The FY 2011 budget proposed by Republicans and passed in the House of Representatives would cut non-defense discretionary spending by roughly $60 billion compared to current funding levels. Unfortunately, science funding takes a particularly hard hit:

- Environmental Protection Agency: -$1.6 billion

- Department of Energy loans: -$1.4 billion

- Office of Science: -$1.1 billion

- National Institute of Health: -$1 billion

- Energy efficiency and renewable energy: -$899 million

- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: -$755 million

- NASA: -$379 million

- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: -$336 million

- National Institute of Standards and Technology: -$186 million

- National Science Foundation: -$139 million

Now, I am not an economist, but it seems clear that this is absolutely devastating. If the budget proposal is passed as-is, thousands of scientists will be laid off, operation of current experiments will be disrupted, and many new projects simply won’t receive funding. Cutting-edge research will be especially hurt — and yes, dear readers, that includes high-energy physics. (Recall the impending shutdown of Fermilab’s Tevatron, for lack of funding.) A wide swath of American scientific research will be stifled. Since basic research and resulting scientific innovations drive long-term economic growth, this is, at best, a short-sighted attempt at reducing our national debt. At worst, it is a self-destructive travesty of pandering and ineptitude that results when politics and reason become mutually exclusive.

I won’t force my position on this issue, but I will point you to a place where you can work the US budget out for yourself: http://public-consultation.org/exercise/. (See how easy public policy decision-making is when you aren’t beholden to the funders of your previous election campaign?) After that, perhaps you would be inclined to contact your elected officials to let them know what you think about all this: http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml.

By any measure, science is an excellent investment in the long-term success of our nation. It should not be a political punching bag. Make some noise, folks! This is serious.

– Burton


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5 Responses to “Playing Politics with Science”

  1. Dilaton says:

    Dear Burton,

    I`m too a scientist (but not in high-energy physics and not living in the US) and such bad news as You report in this post make me always very sad :-(.

    It`s really bad that the relevant positions to decide how to spend the butged available are never occupied by common-sens people who know what`s important to protect the future in the long-term perspective. And they definitely don`t care a s.. for science …

    Instead the change to gain new insights and to make exciting discoveries in many fields possible due to the knowledge and technology we have to day is at a serious threatening risk to get irreversibly destroyed by narrow minded and near-sighted people sitting in to powerfull positions everywhere in the world.
    Now I have to stop myself …

    I enjoy very much to observe what is going on @ CERN from this blog and other cool physics sites.
    Keep going :-)

  2. Henk says:

    Upsetting information.

    As a Dutchman i have been relieved the austerity measures in Europe have not effected Science to heavily. It is shocking to see the US so massively cutting on Science while keeping such large Military budgets intact. I surely agree this is a mistake for the long run.

    Also because cutting 60Billion on a 1600 Billion US budget gap for 2011 seems insignificant. Large tax increases would do much more but would be devastating for economic growth. Large military cuts would also be needed but especially many US conservatives don`t seem to give an inch.

    The problems in Greece, Ireland and Portugal could still become overwhelming for Europe in the years to come. But then again these 3 nations make up 5% of the European Union while California alone makes up over 12% of the United States. And more US states then California are having big financial problems. Not to forget the Federal government.

    Thankfully while Europe last year had to cut budgets as well it was still able to actually expand on science with large new projects under construction or soon to commence construction. Like the EU hosted ITER Fusion reactor, The soon to be launched Galileo navigation system(Science/Engineering), The European 42 meter telescope, The European XFEL, The European Spallation Source! and many smaller and larger project underway or under consideration like the SuperB project in Italy and the LOFAR project in Holland, the Laser Megajoule in France and the European HiPER Project to name a few.

    Anyway, i certainly hope the US will correct this mistake and get it`s science boosted. It is needed for Economic prosperity in the long run. The Economy will turn around eventually but a Scientific frontier will take a lot longer to rebuild once many of it`s scientists have moved to other places or fields.

    Henk, the Netherlands.

  3. Tim says:

    By saying things like “Recall the impending shutdown of Fermilab’s Tevatron, for lack of funding” you are “playing politics with science.”

    Recall that the upcoming shutdown of the Tevatron is as scheduled, after one extension. There was an attempt to get a second extension to take advantage of stimulus funds, but it was rejected on reasonable grounds. The Tevatron’s cost/benefit now that LHC is up is decreasing rapidly.

    Scientists who are not biased in favor of high energy physics in general and US HEP in particular can rationally come to the conclusion that that money could best be spent elsewhere. Attempting to spin the Tevatron’s scheduled shutdown after an extension as a cut due to “lack of funding” is irresponsible.

    This is a great opportunity for you to learn to retract or revise your remarks once you realize how hypocritical they are.

  4. Burton DeWilde says:

    @Tim: I applaud your fighting spirit. Science needs louder, more passionate voices to defend it from political manipulation — and I strongly urge you to do so.

    That said, I object to your singling out of a brief parenthetical remark that was, both grammatically and thematically, beside the point. Since the budget has not (yet) passed, I was unable to provide specific examples of experiments affected by these proposed cuts, and instead merely referenced a recent example of a premier high-energy physics experiment shutting down for denial of funding. Experiments are often extended so that still greater discoveries may be made; the denied funding simply closed the door on that possibility. This is it. No spin implied, only inferred.

    I should note that a panel of scientists found the physics case sufficiently compelling as to recommend extending the Tevatron’s run an additional three years. I won’t speculate or comment on their possible biases. In general, though, I am inclined to accept the advice of experts over my own; I am not an expert.

    On a final note, the condescension in your comment, particularly your last sentence, weakened an otherwise reasonable argument, however tangential. I stand by my post.

  5. I completely agree with the above poster, he made alot of valid points, especially the first one. Also Admin, ive tried to subscribe to your RSS feed but I am getting an error? I hope you dont mind, but I went ahead and linked to your website through my blog. You dont have to link back to us if you dont want to. Thanks again for the great post! – Brooklyn NY Boxing Gym

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