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Steve Nahn | USLHC | USA

View Blog | Read Bio

What I want for Christmas is …

Ok, stepping up to the soap box here, but I am pretty miffed. I’ll warn you that this is off the top of my head, but I think the sense is correct, although the literalist lawyers will probably take me apart. Be nice to get some comments, even if they are on fire.

In a political year, when noone in congress wants to get blamed for shutting down the government less they lose their cushy post next November, the “future” takes a beating at the hands of the “now”. It’s the Omnibus Bill that congress just passed, and most representatives probably don’t even realize it but it is a disaster for science across the board and a catastrophe for High Energy Physics in particular. So much for the promises of the Competitive Initiative where a bunch of leaders from Science and Industry told the Government that America had better invest in basic research if it didn’t want to get left behind. These guys call this bill a

step backward. … The President and Congress, for all their stated support this year for making basic research in the physical sciences and engineering a top budget priority, ended up essentially cutting, or flat-funding, key science agencies.

Earlier Congress responded to the Initiative with the COMPETES Act earlier, but again, apparently rhetoric without teeth. Lots of talk about investing in America’s future through basic research, but in the end, meager increases or cuts.

Does John Q. Public care? Not now, but later, maybe 10-20 years later, when

  • the research at ITER gives the participating countries a shot at fusion, and it is asked, why not the US, look back to this budget when the government cut us out of the program.
  • we’ve learned what we can from the LHC and are now making new discoveries at the ILC, and you ask, how come the US doesn’t have a major accelerator facility? look back to this budget when the programs at NoVa project and ILC research and development were sacrificed.
  • There’s an “all hands” meeting at Fermilab today, where the director will try to lay out a plan to weather the storm. No idea what he’ll say, but to make a sports analogy, if you don’t keep playing, your skills get rusty, and you no longer are able to compete. What would you say if a country made a bid to host an international facility, but doesn’t have a government that can make good on its promises for support (not to mention the paranoia driven hassle at Immigration/Security – you think it is bad for Americans traveling in this country, try traveling with an accent).

I cannot necessarily argue that science should receive the top priority in the face of some of the suffering that goes on in our country, but on the flip side there is a huge amount of money that deserves lesser priority as well. Japan is a nation where basic research is valued at the highest level. Now look at your TV, your car, your DVD player.
What does America make? Lately, “culture”. That’s our export. So what do we need science for? Bill Foster, now running for congress is a former Fermilab High Energy physicist but before that started Electronic Theatre Controls because he was a college physicist interested in control devices, and figured out how to use microprocessors to control light and sound equipment. The business blossomed into a worldwide enterprise, lighting major theatres and productions all over the world. Have a look at the some of their stuff. Not a bad return for an early investment in basic research.

Well, enough ranting. If I am only writing to fellow scientists, I am preaching to a choir, but if there are non-scientists who love science (whether or not it’s because of Walter Lewin) now would be a time to ask your representatives if they even know what is going on.

What I want for Christmas is a country that invests in science and discovery.

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