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Burton DeWilde | USLHC | USA

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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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