• John
  • Felde
  • University of Maryland
  • USA

Latest Posts

  • USLHC
  • USLHC
  • USA

  • James
  • Doherty
  • Open University
  • United Kingdom

Latest Posts

  • Andrea
  • Signori
  • Nikhef
  • Netherlands

Latest Posts

  • CERN
  • Geneva
  • Switzerland

Latest Posts

  • Aidan
  • Randle-Conde
  • Université Libre de Bruxelles
  • Belgium

Latest Posts

  • TRIUMF
  • Vancouver, BC
  • Canada

Latest Posts

  • Laura
  • Gladstone
  • MIT
  • USA

Latest Posts

  • Steven
  • Goldfarb
  • University of Michigan

Latest Posts

  • Fermilab
  • Batavia, IL
  • USA

Latest Posts

  • Seth
  • Zenz
  • Imperial College London
  • UK

Latest Posts

  • Nhan
  • Tran
  • Fermilab
  • USA

Latest Posts

  • Alex
  • Millar
  • University of Melbourne
  • Australia

Latest Posts

  • Ken
  • Bloom
  • USLHC
  • USA

Latest Posts

Seth Zenz | Imperial College London | UK

View Blog | Read Bio

Why I’m Not Signing Petitions on Austrian Science Policy

For background, see Peter’s entry here: S.O.S. (i.e. Save Austrian Science)

Since the announcement that Austria plans to leave CERN, I’ve seen a number of invitations to sign the petition asking the Austrian government to reconsider. Everyone I know who’s discussed the subject has said the same thing: the Austrian government is making a grave and shortsighted mistake.   I’m not particularly well informed on the background or details, and particle physicists do like to be collegial, so I feel odd disagreeing publicly; however, I would like to make the case that the decision is less black-and-white than many seem to think it, and that it’s not really my place to intervene any which way in the decision.

The latter argument, that I shouldn’t sign the petition, seems to be an easy case to make by analogy from an American perspective. The policies of the United States are made by the elected representatives of the American people, and in particular U.S. science policy ought to be made by those representatives with the advice of American scientists. If a Senator or Representative received a petition that was signed mostly by foreigners, even well-informed foreigners, I imagine that he or she would disregard it.  Frankly, I think that’s the right thing to do; while we can often take our instinct to “go it alone” too far, most Americans want their government to make decisions based on their interests rather than agglomerated international opinion. Why would we expect the Austrian government to make decisions any differently? In order to remain in CERN, the Austrian government must be convinced that it’s good for Austrian science to spend the money, and it’s Austrian scientists who are in the best position to make that case.

My personal opinion is that leaving CERN is indeed a bad idea for Austria — they are casting aside their long-term involvement in Europe’s greatest scientific endeavor, and that’s not something that will be easily restored — but the question is complex.  Certainly it’s bad news for Austrian particle physicists: their participation and opportunities at CERN will certainly be curtailed.  However, I doubt it will be eliminated; like the United States and other observers, their citizens and universities will likely continue to participate in CERN on an experiment-by-experiment basis.  They may not be able to send very many summer students or fellows to CERN anymore, but they can still fund their own summer programs at CERN (as America has) and send their scientists to work here.  The Austrian government has what seems to be a sensible argument for why it’s good for Austrian science to withdraw — given their limited resources, the CERN contribution uses about 70% of their budget for international science collaboration, and they propose to spend that money on other projects.

Could withdrawing from CERN really be beneficial for Austrian science as a whole?  I have no idea, and I doubt that all Austrian scientists will agree.  But they should make their case, and then Austria should decide the question on its own — without worrying about my signature on a petition.

Share