2008 is Looking Bleak

By JoAnne Hewett | December 19, 2007 3:26 pm

The news from Capitol Hill this week is terrible. Congress has finally passed an omnibus spending bill for Fiscal Year 2008 – this is a bundled package of 11 appropriations bills that fund the operation of our government. The House of Representatives passed the bill on Monday, the Senate on Tuesday, and now it is being prepared for the President’s signature. We have been under a continuing resolution since 1 October, 2007, which is the start of FY08, and had been welcoming the end of the stand-off between Congress and the President so we would have an actual budget for the year. That was last week. This week, we wish we could be funded via a continuing resolution all year long, just like last year.

In short, this omnibus spending bill is at best disappointing, and at worst a total disaster, for science funding in the US. Overall, the research agencies all received a meager increase in their budgets (roughly 1% for NIH, 2% for NSF, 3% for NASA, and 2% for the DOE). That’s disappointing because these increases don’t keep up with inflation, are far, far short of the Administration’s request and the American Competitiveness Initiative, and won’t support all the scientific projects in the pipeline.

The disaster occurs in two specific areas, Fusion Energy Sciences and High Energy Physics, which are targeted for deep, roughly 10%, cuts. The cut in fusion research comes about because the bill provides zero funding for the US contribution to ITER. Let me remind you that ITER is the large international fusion reactor that is currently being constructed in France and is funded by international treaty. The US has signed that treaty and was set to contribute roughly $160 M this year. Apparently Congress just doesn’t understand that there are serious ramifications in backing out of an international treaty. Even one dedicated solely to science projects. This jeopardizes future international projects and provides yet further proof that the US is not a reliable partner. I imagine that the DOE Office of Science will find a way, somehow, to restore funding to ITER.

For High Energy Physics, well, the situation is dire, and I am not exaggerating. The numbers are:

  • FY07 current operating budget is $751.8M
  • The Bush Administration’s request for FY08 was $782.3 M.
  • The final bill (with the mandatory rescission) provides $688.3 M
  • This is a reduction of $63.5 M from FY07 and $94 M from the President’s FY08 request. The language specifically targets NovA (a neutrino facility under construction at Fermilab) and the International Linear Collider:

    Within funding for Proton Accelerator-Based Physics, no funds are provided for the NOvA activity in Tevatron Complex Improvements. Within Advanced Technology R&D, in the current constrained environment and without a Critical Decision 0 by the
    Department, only $15,000,000 is provided for International Linear Collider R&D and $5,455,000 for Superconducting RF R&D.

    Since we are already 3 months into FY08, we’ve already spent this much on the ILC and have put money into NOvA.

    So, WTF do we do? Even though the $63.5/94 M shortfall is targeted at projects, it’s important to recall that most of this money is spent on salaries. Not equipment or fancy gizmos, but people. Basically, there are two extreme choices on how to handle the shortfall: shut down all of our operating facilities now, today (yesterday would have been better) and halt science output from the US, or fire $63.5 M worth of people. Don’t ask me how you accomplish the latter. The final solution will clearly be a mix of the two. The young physicists, grad students and post-docs, will be hurt the most as funding for those positions will dry up first. Next come the folks who work at National Labs. We’re going to have to start a discussion about closing and consolidating labs.

    It will take a little bit for the DOE, lab directors, project managers, advisory panels, etc to formulate a plan, but no matter what they decide, the consequences of this budget shortfall will be drastic and will be felt for years to come. Our science output will be reduced and we will lose good people with valuable talents.

    Oh, and just so folks can calibrate, the countries in the European Union spend about $2 B/year on High Energy Physics, roughly $1 B for CERN, and another billion in individual grants. Germany alone has just infused its total science funding with an additional $2 B Euros. The US continues to fall further and further behind.

    CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Politics
    • Hans Henrik Knuden

      Just a question to these bleak numbers coming from congress from a European, how much private money is spent on research in the states? To be fair you have to compare the entire amount spent on basic research and almost no private money are used in Europe while private universities across the pond make a significant contribution to a range of projects (but maybe not ITER and NOvA)…

    • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress Peter Woit


      I don’t think US private universities directly contribute a great deal of money to scientific research, generally expecting it to be funded by outside sources (with the university taking a cut of the funding as it comes in as “indirect costs”). They do sometimes provide “start-up” money for new faculty as well as small amounts of other research funding, and indirectly support research by providing teaching jobs for researchers and graduate students.

      Anyway, that’s what I’ve seen in math and physics, the situation may be different in other sciences.

    • Nico

      “I imagine that the DOE Office of Science will find a way, somehow, to restore funding to ITER”

      That could be prohibited by Congress, especially since Congress zeroed that line explicitly. But if permission is given which office will it come from OFES? That would destroy the US domestic program making a US contribution to ITER pointless. From HEP? This is an office already reeling and now clearly without sufficient political clout. If there were a special supplemental funding bill then both Fusion and HEP could be helped, but without the Administration clamoring for it, it isn’t likely.

      The Dems and the Reps are already enjoying finger pointing too much

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/john John

      Private (and public) universities tend to be the recipients of DOE funding, matching some of the government funding with support for their research groups. But to build large accelerators and experiments at the national labs, we have never really gotten private funding in particle physics from corporations or donors, except for a few named professorships.

    • http://kea-monad.blogspot.com Kea

      Don’t ask me how you accomplish the latter. Easy – just fire them.

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    • European Citizen

      Ah, the European union and money. Did you know that the auditors refused to sign off the bloc’s financial accounts – for the 13th year in a row?

    • Another European Citizen

      And who audits the US financial accounts again?

    • eric gisse

      Isn’t that just fucking peachy?

      I’m convinced the US is digging its’ grave with harsh immigration policies that make the country hostile to foreign talent as well as the continuing anti-science climate that manifests in general attitude and reduced funding.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/john John

      Kea, does this science mean nothing to you?

    • Jordag

      I think Bush needs a science advisor. Someone to plainly tell him: “YOU CAN’T CUT BACK ON FUNDING! YOU WILL REGRET THIS!”

    • Jason M. Hendler

      Again … yeesh!

      I worked in the defense industry, when we “received” our piece dividend, watching more than 1/2 of my collegues lose their jobs, so forgive me if I am not as sympathetic to your plight, as you would prefer.

      The US does have an incredible amount of private funding in R&D, and enterprises like Virgin Galactic and other private space programs are actually picking up slack from something as esoteric as NASA, so all I can say is get your butts in gear, and determine how you might be a contributor to the goals of a VC startup.

    • Tumbledried

      I was under the impression that a great deal of capital was spent in the US by private companies on general R & D, such as Intel, Microsoft, Google, various famous biotech startups and also a large number of companies working on commercialising nanotech. So certainly even if public funds are drying up I think the output from various parts of the commercial sector, however short term oriented it may be, is not to be sniffed at. There are some very smart people working for these companies. Or have I got the wrong picture?

      Certainly the idea that US long term competitiveness should be supported by private spending does seem slightly silly, particularly considering that a large part of the taxes collected comes from profits due to precisely such innovation, and that the focus of commercial research tends to be focused on immediate or short term advantage.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/john John

      Jason, you have got to be joking. Do you think the guys who invented quantum mechanics back in the 1920s would (or should) have gotten a dime from venture capital? There is no money to be made on this research in the next fiscal quarter, sorry!

      Fundamental research in the physical sciences is the rock bed foundation of our nation’s scientific and technological culture. The physicists who teach at our universities train thousands of young minds who go on to make the great advances in engineering, medicine, and industry. These cuts mean that there will be less of that in the future. That’s the choice our leaders have made for us.

      A huge portion of our nation’s (and the world’s) economy stems from basic, curiosity driven research in physics. It takes many decades for the discoveries to become technology. Private funding is not the answer.

    • David Miller

      To Tumbledried, Jason and others,

      The HEP and astroparticle physics communities receive no money in the way that you are thinking. There are no huge donations like you see in astronomy (usually for telescopes) or in biotech or medicine. The money simply has to come from the government.]

      A much more depressing realization is that I am either going to have to quit this field after I get my PhD or move to Canada or Europe to continue my research. I love what I do, and I have seen so much that makes me want to continue. And I don’t mean to be arrogant, but I have a lot to contribute…all young scientists do, but I won’t be doing it in this country. All across Europe I see support being given to young people from institutions and governments both small and large. Some of my best collaborators have been from countries that most Americans wouldn’t even be able to point out on a map. These are nations that have a clear perspective on the importance of science for humanity, and for some reason, the US does not.

      I wanted to cry when I first read about this…as to me it signals the beginning of the end.

    • f15mos

      Isn’t that a consequence of Democratic majorities in Senate and the House? It is pathetic that most of the scientists vote for democrats. Meanwhile this is democrats who cut spending on science in favor of populist pet projects. Recall Clinton who closed SSC? And it is not Bush to blame for 94 million cut this year.

    • http://disorderedcosmos.blogspot.com Chanda

      And here I was wondering whether my decision to apply for permanent residence in Canada was a stupid one …

    • http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com Neil B..

      #16 is interesting, since we are used to thinking of Republicans now as being anti-science etc. Now the Democrats are “in control” (not realy, of course, considering the new realities of needing the 60 votes for anything much…) I wonder, what happened?

    • http://lablemminglounge.blogspot.com Lab Lemming

      >The young physicists, grad students and post-docs, will be hurt the most as funding for those positions will dry up first.

      Wouldn’t it be more cost-effective to sack senior directors and administrators who command a higher salary?

    • http://kea-monad.blogspot.com Kea

      John, I never said I liked the idea of such a budget cut. I just don’t think it’s very surprising, and if people lose their jobs, well, that’s life, folks.

    • http://tony5m17h.net Tony Smith

      JoAnne, there is not much point in bemoaning who-done-it about how this budget to into its present shape.

      What USA HEP needs is a sensible lobbying campaign in a tough environment. For example, the real estate people and the hedge fund people etc will be out to get huge taxpayer bailouts real soon, and they have tons of lobbying money and are in direct competition with any other spending, including HEP.

      Fortunately for HEP, 2008 is a USA presidential election year.
      For a start, look at the Popular Mechanics rating of candidates on science/education. It gives a positive check-mark to:

      Democrats Clinton, Edwards, Obama, Richardson

      Republicans Giuliani, Romney, Thompson

      Somebody on the HEP committees needs to contact each of those campaigns to determine whether the Popular Mechanics check-mark might translate into HEP support.

      Bear in mind that Clinton is from Chicago, and Obama is a Chicago-based Senator.

      Also bear in mind that Romney is based in Massachusetts, and might listen to Boston-area physicsts,
      that Clinton and Giuliani have New York constitutencies, and might listen to New York-area physicists.

      Also bear in mind that a lot of the hedge-fund people who will be asking for mammoth bailout money have physics backgrounds, and they might be persuaded to let HEP tag along on their lobbying efforts since the total HEP price tag will only be in the billions or tens of billions, much smalller than the hundreds of billion or trillions that the hedge fund bailouts will probably total.

      The basic case you could present to all these candidates/interests would be that if the USA suffers a reverse brain-drain, it could eventually result in the end of the USA world-wide hegemony, with extreme social, financial, and political consequences. All the above candidates/interests are smart enough to understand that, and if HEP can ride along with a small fraction of the hedge-fund bailout money, USA HEP will probably be quite well off.

      Tony Smith

    • Ellipsis

      Move to a Canadian university. I did. Some countries actually have a future ahead of them.

    • David Miller

      Hi Tony,

      A lobbying campaign would be a HUGE help to the HEP community. But I think one reason why it hasn’t been done to the extent that the private sector does it is simply money. Not only do we not have as much, but consider that most of it comes from the government and is therefore almost always under tight control. To fund a lobbying trip to Washington would essentially amount to asking Congress for money to ask Congress for money. Certainly it happens, but I am doubtful that with the current system it will be able to occur on the scale we need or to accomplish something close to what the hedge-fund people can, to use your example.

    • John

      #22 Canada first withdrew it’s ITER site proposal and then from ITER altogether because of lack of federal funds supporting fusion research. That doesn’t bode well for future commitments to basic research from the Canadian federal government.

    • http://tony5m17h.net Tony Smith

      David Miller said “… To fund a lobbying trip to Washington would essentially amount to asking Congress for money to ask Congress for money. …”.

      Doesn’t anyone in HEP have friends in any of the political campaigns mentioned ?

      Doesn’t anyone in HEP have friends from grad school – postdoc days who are now active in hedge funds ?

      Can’t any such people contact their friends and try to get them on board ?

      Example for presidential politics:

      Hi, how is Obama’s campaign going ? There is a crisis in HEP that he needs to know about, as it could have long-term effects on the USA and near-term effects on some of his Illinois constituents. We would be happy to work together to help him and us, too.

      Hi, how is Romney’s campaign going ? … similar stuff for all other candidates.


      Example for hedge fund folks:

      Hi, how are things in the hedge funds nowadays ? I know y’all might need some short-term help and that there is some political opposition to bailing out rich folks like hedge funds, but maybe you could tie your efforts in with our need for a little (compared to your dollar needs) long-term help that might be crucial for the USA maintaining a lead in science. We would be happy to work together, and you could show that you are working to help the USA not only in the short-term, but also for the good of the USA in the long-term. ….

      If the HEP physics folks don’t want to go to such a minimal effort out of their own time, maybe they deserve to win a Darwin award and see their field die.

      Tony Smith

    • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/blog Peter Woit

      What I don’t understand here is that as far as I could tell this year, the HEP community did a good job of making their case: the White House proposed budget for HEP was quite healthy, and the Congressional committees debated the issue and ended up voting for good budget increases. Then, all of a sudden, at the last minute, through some process that is completely mysterious to me, involving no public discussion and, as far as I can tell, no consultation with leading scientists, someone decided to whack HEP with this huge budget cut, with news of it only getting out when it was too late to do anything about it. How did that happen? This seems to be a much more specific problem than the larger issue of how the public feels about particle physics research, which I’d guess is not much different than it has felt about this any year of the past 20.

    • jcv

      You need to look for funding outside government. The fact that the science industry talking here on this blog is upset about the amount of money they have indicates they need to do what the rest of us have to do when we don’t have enough money: got get another source. That fact that this is hard does not stop others, so it should be very doable for the folks talking on this blog.

    • skeptic23

      What happened is what always happened:

      The Democrats wanted a large boost across the board to domestic programs. Republicans refused to go along, and Bush threatened to veto the large increase. A compromise was reached reducing the total increase to something enough Republicans would support to make it veto proof.

      The Democrats had to therefore cut spending from their initial budget, and as per usual they took it from areas that would recieve the smallest public outcry from their traditional voting blocks. Basic scientific research has always and will always be an easy target for cuts because it doesn’t create large campaign contributions and isn’t particularly cared about by most voters.

      The projects which survive are those who have powerful congressmen and senators looking out for them, normally because the project is located in their district or state. Mikulski looks out for STScI and therefore HST and JWST. Byrd looks out for Green Bank, and therefore NRAO. Fermilab, and therefore DoE and a lot of high-energy physics, used to have Hastert, and the cuts you see are likely directly related to him not being a force in the setting the budget anymore.

    • themanwithaplan

      I don’t know what all the fuss is about here. According to capitalism, which we are all taught to worship, scientists, just like everyone else, have to go to the “free marketplace” and get the money.

      Why is there so much cry for a government handout? Go out, and sell yourself for private money. In fact, US funding for research should be cut completely, then we’d be a lot closer to the capitalist ideal.

    • Ellipsis

      #24 — that’s true for fusion — Canada has a large commitment to heavy water fission reactors. In general though, the funding is less prescriptive in terms of fields of research, there is less micromanagement from funding agencies, in my experience.

    • http://mollishka.blogspot.com mollishka

      To add to the cuteness, there were DOE proposals due on Tuesday (the day this bill passed the Senate) … which now probably no one will get money from.

    • K

      This is too depressing for grad student like me and many others working in national labs – pushes me to rethink about making a career in particle physics:(

    • http://www.reciprocalspace.net michael pierce

      It looks like dire news for quite a bit of physical science (and science in general) in the US. According to the Science article, Basic Energy Science gets 1.282 billion, 217 million less than requested.

    • http://aeolist.wordpress.com Ponder Stibbons


      I don’t think we can blame Bush for HEP’s crisis. The Bush Administration requested $782.3 M for HEP for FY 08, an increase over FY07. It was Congress that cut it down to 90% of FY07’s budget.

      My suspicion is that the decline of HEP in the US will continue steadily until (if ever) China decides to build a mega-accelerator.

    • Mike Schuler

      Why did they cut science? It’s due to the enormous cost of war and occupying foreign lands to police the world. The budget cuts are the sign of the inevitable looming recession. Printing more money just causes inflation. We’ve seen it all before (Viet Nam).

      What we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history.

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    • Chris W.


      I assume you’re indulging in a little sarcasm.

      Actually, a good place to go looking for money for basic research these days might be sovereign wealth funds. I wonder how China, Singapore, Norway, and the UAE might respond to such inquiries. Perhaps funding some American researchers is a bit more interesting than bailing out Citigroup, UBS, and Morgan Stanley.

    • dark-matter

      Informed source says that after some arm twisting by Bush, $94M was diverted from HEP to conduct ‘scientific’ research to prove that Creationism and ID can properly replace the theory of evolution.

      Continued funding to the tune of $1B/day for Iraq War is essential to achieve Bush promise of investing $1T in the Middle East before he leaves office. Such an investment ensures a bright future for the Iraqi people, and Bush legacy is thus secured.

      In the meantime, China has increased its aeronautics and space budget from $35B to $66B for FY08, in preparation for manned moon landing. However, credible sources indicates that basic science funding has always been part of space budget, and about $18B will be invested in HEP in the next ‘few’ years, including development of an advanced accelerator to follow the LHC. China is confident of ‘deep’ cooperation between LHC developers and Chinese physicists to ensure success. Employment in China’s ‘Space’ sector will increase from current level of 225,000 to 450,000, of which about 10% are PhDs.

    • Haelfix

      The situation pisses me off. Both the Britain disaster and this. I suspect a bunch of us are going to be looking for new jobs in the next few years.

      Anyway, this is firmly a Democrat blunder. We all can sympathize with the drive for low taxes and spending cuts, but the problem is they always tend to prioritize the budgets in an idiotic manner, after its all said and done. Dems with their entitlement programs and pet projects, repubs with over the top military expenditures (eg high tech jets, when we are fighting against insurgents with ak47s).

      I do think physics one day will have to reach out to the private sector and donations in a more logical and intuitive way, rather than relying on wishy washy government. Realizing all it takes is one nice big contribution from Bill Gates to fund the entire budget several times over. We really do a terrible, terrible job of PR, and im sure there is a ton of opportunities out there that we pass over.

    • Marc Dubbeldam

      UK particle physics and astronomy are currently being hit by a similar funding crisis (http://www.nature.com/news/2007/071211/full/news.2007.366.html). Is the true cost of the “liberation” of Afghanistan and Iraq finally becoming apparent? Or are we saving up for a non-agressive pre-emptive strike against Iran?

      Peace on Earth and Merry Christmas folks!

    • Mark Palmer

      It appears the American government has started a new war, The War on Science and Technology.

    • lylebot

      Also bear in mind that Romney is based in Massachusetts, and might listen to Boston-area physicsts,

      I wouldn’t count on it. While governor, he vetoed salary increases (and any other concessions, for that matter) for UMass faculty and grad students and proposed cuts in the UMass budget. Of course, I realize UMass is more than its science programs, but I have little doubt that research grants make up the majority of its revenue.

    • f15mos

      well, the only hope for Fermilab – vote for Bill Foster and pray that he is not bitter that his proton driver project was axed just to be resurrected few years later under Project X. Speaking of PR, Fermilab should call it “Project B”.

      If Bill is elected then (according to his web site) he will fight for funding of basic research.

      What still boggles my mind – we speak about so little sums of money compared to $1B/day on Iraq/Afghan wars. Recall they could not find $50M and BTeV was doomed. Even the whole ILC! Bill Gates could build one in his back yard and wouldn’t notice.

      Speaking of hedge funds. James Simons paid BNL electric bill (something like $13M) and BNL director got fired cause DOE thought he made them look bad. Pathetic.

      #28 right to the point. Dems are worse than Reps. Reps. have an agenda and they stick to it. If you managed to get on their agenda, they will not drop you.
      Whereas Dems are always wishy washy. From gay marriage to immigration.

    • Chemicalscum

      What you have to remember is – the cold war is over. Congress is not prepared to fund anything high energy physicists want to do, in the hope it might miraculously produce some new “superweapon” that would give them the edge over the Russians. Now all they want are “smart” bombs with conventional warheads they can drop on lightly armed Arabs and their families and friends. It’s the politics of Empire. You’re in the wrong business.

    • andy.s

      Even though the $63.5/94 M shortfall is targeted at projects, it’s important to recall that most of this money is spent on salaries.

      Gee, I guess a 10% salary cut across the board is too horrible to contemplate.

      You guys make it very hard to be symapthetic.

      There’s a strong undercurrent of entitlement going through these comments. Face it, if you’re going to be permanently dependent on the taxpayers for your operating money, you’re going to have to occasionally put up with getting your budgets cut.

    • http://disorderedcosmos.blogspot.com Chanda

      @ Marc:
      I think the “true” cost of “liberating” Afghanistan and Iraq is probably all of the people (Iraqi, Afghani, Canadian and American) who should be alive and aren’t, not our science budget.

      I know what you were trying to say, but I think one should be more careful in using that kind of rhetoric.

      There is no greater price to pay than that of human life.

    • J.F. Moore


      Please name an industry that has implemented a “10% salary cut across the board” to control costs, rather than layoffs. Also note that 10% is year on year, so it’s more like a 14% pay cut in real terms. Then ask anyone with any business experience (or common sense) why it’s not done.

    • Chad

      It is interesting that so many people complain that the wars are costing us money that could be spent on science, when the entitlement programs (particularly Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) consume a far larger fraction of the budget than defense and continually grow significantly faster than inflation.

      Social Security, Defense, Medicare, Medicaid, Interest on the Debt.

      That is more than 90% of the federal budget. Everything else is pocket change. If you want to have any significant impact on overall spending, these five items are the things you must address.

    • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

      What’s done is done. Gotta think of the future.

      CV readers: Send your elected officials a letter, and for FSM’s Noodly sake, VOTE. It actually works, so I hear.

      Way I see it, you’ve got two major problems: Iraq, and this human spaceflight madness. Vote for the folks who will pull the plug on both, and write to your elected officials imploring them to do so. It’s going to take a long time to dig ourselves out of Bushco’s mess, so let’s gird our loins for the long fight, and stick to it. Write. Vote. Do it again and again. Do it right.

      Now I’ll ask for help: What are your favorite private foundations that support good basic physics research?* I’m opening my wallet to the best, and hope others will do so too. I know it won’t make much difference, but it’s something.

      *I’ll pass on Templeton, thanks.

    • Rick

      I don’t see Washington seeing a real need to change what they do. There’s no threat to point them in anopther direction. A complete attitude change on the political front and public opinion may have to wait ’til the Chinese put a colony on the moon. We could hope for a Spuntik-like reaction. Maybe that’s what it will take for an attitude adjustment.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/john John

      Andy S., you apparently joined the crowd with the “tough shit” attitude. Can particle physics sustain a 10% cut this year? Just take it on the chin, fire a few losers, and move on?

      The problem is that since 1993 when the SSC was cancelled by Congress, federal support for the field has been shrinking steadily. In constant dollars, typical university groups are now getting 2/3 of what they were 15 years ago. By a number of measures the field has shrunk by about 30%.

      The dramatic cut this year will simply mean, as I said that less science will get done. When I helped lobby Congress, the OMB, and the OSTP a few years ago they were very straight when I asked “why is particle physics being singled out?”
      They said “you have to tell us what we lose if we don’t fund you”.

      A lot of commenters above would like to see private support for particle physics, as there is in astronomy. So would I. We can name the linear collider the Gates Collider, and as a colleague suggested, the Higgs if docovered can be called the Warren Buffon. Truth be told we have not tried hard to get private funding due to the nature of our projects. But this might change…Mr. Sanford gave a lot for the underground lab n South Dakota.

      But what *do* we lose this year? We lose the opportunity to exploit the long baseline neutrino beam to Minnesota to measure a peculiar parameter of neutrinos, called theta_13. Its value could help sort out the mystery of the mass of neutrinos.

      But the bigger loss in my mind is that of linear collider R&D. Fermilab had laid an excellent foundation to perfect the construction of the superconducting RF cavities upon which the machine is based. This will inevitably further delay, or perhaps indefinitely delay, the advent of the linear collider.

      Next year, though, the LHC will begin cranking up, and within a few months or a year or two we’ll get our firs look at what lies beyond the Standard Model. If we see a Higgs boson, and thereby learn that all spacetime is permeated with this strange field that causes mass, I have little doubt that mankind will explore it with a linear collider, eventually. But perhaps it will be in China, or maybe Europe. The US, after all, has decided they don’t really need to know about this with pressing urgency. The priorities have been made clear: supercomputers and biological research over understaning the nature of matter, energy, space, and time.

    • Nico

      “There’s a strong undercurrent of entitlement going through these comments.”

      The entitlements mentality certainly exists in the folks that will receive the $ 8B pork dole; $125 M in the Office of Science. The authors of Above the Gathering Storm made a strong case about the economic need for fundamental research across the board. The America Competes Act affirmed that argument as well as did the administration’s budget request. The arguments have been made by many outside the field of HEP with no hint of entitlements.

      This cut was very targeted, and the public has a right to know why Fermilab was the target. The rest of US was also treated in a stingy way. Lets look at the NIH budget if you want an example with obvious benefits to the health of the nation,

      To be sure, without a representative Fermilab was an easy target. But it is difficult to believe that the story does not go much deeper than that.

      As for the salary cuts, temporary reductions plus layoffs can ease the situation for this year. Good employees will stomach that. But in the out-years Fermilab must compete with other national labs with already high pay scales (including one 45 minutes away) and with budgets no nearly as badly affected. So a blanket cut is institutional suicide. The easy to say comments are very poor management strategies.

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    • Mohammad


      There are like 10,000,000 millionaires in the world (100,000 of which their wealth is over 30 mil) according to wikipedia, if every one of them donated at least $1,000 (which is like donating one dollar when u have $1000), then thats is at least $10 billion !! which is more than enough to build the best ILC then call it the ppl collider and award a nobel prize to all those who contributed !

    • Yatima

      Science really hasn’t any pull, has it? In flying pork defense projects at least, “$300 million plus $350 million divided by two equals $514 million”:


      Such is the way of the Spartans.

    • Harold

      The All-Hands-Meeting at Fermilab this morning might be informative for some. The director outlined what the lab intends to do. It’s available as a stream on their media website:

      available here

    • Belizean

      Chandra wrote:

      I think the “true” cost of “liberating” Afghanistan and Iraq is probably all of the people (Iraqi, Afghani, Canadian and American) who should be alive and aren’t, not our science budget.

      There is no greater price to pay than that of human life.

      False. Life suffering in virtual or actual slavery is far less valuable than life in freedom. Under your reasoning, the death of 2% of the U.S. population, which was the price paid to rid America of slavery, was not worth it. As one who would not particularly enjoy being a slave in your version of 21st-century America, I beg to differ.

      Low Math, Meekly Interacting wrote:

      …you’ve got two major problems: Iraq, and this human spaceflight madness. Vote for the folks who will pull the plug on both, and write to your elected officials imploring them to do so. It’s going to take a long time to dig ourselves out of Bushco’s mess, so let’s gird our loins for the long fight, and stick to it. Write. Vote.

      It’s naive to believe that voting for Democrats will in general increase basic science funding. Since the success of the Manhattan project, basic science funding in the U.S. has ultimately been driven by the fear of a hostile foreign power making a scientific breakthrough that will make them the dominant military power on Earth. Like it or not, basic science and defense spending have for the most part gone hand in hand.

      It’s guns and butter. Republicans are the party of guns, and therefore indirectly the party of basic science funding. Democrats, the party of butter, will tend to favor butter irrespective of the absence of other spending, because that’s their normal modus operandi when it comes to getting elected.

      Democratic hysteria over global warming and Republican aversion to various aspects of basic research in biology merely perturb the fundamental trend.

    • Flickr

      Don’t accept any physics grad students this year. Accepting more students when there are no prospects for jobs–funding is only likely to continue to drop–is irresponsible.

    • Charon

      Mohammad: and if everyone in the US gave just one dollar, we’d have $300 million! And if we got just one penny for every particle in the universe, we’d have more money than could be created out of particles in the universe! Yay!

      And a note to anyone who says fundamental research should pursue private funding – you’ve clearly never been involved in fundamental research (at least in physics, math, or astronomy), so shut up. Companies do what they want to do, which is get things to sell or entice people. Google Sky used a few astronomers, but it wasn’t astronomy.

      And 10% paycuts? Um, yes, that would be problematic for grad students who barely make enough to pay rent and buy groceries as it is.

      Science really is a meritocracy to good approximation. People doing the productive research get money. People who mess up don’t. This is as opposed to, for example, corporate CEOs.

      The question is how much we value science. It works for the public good, to answer age-old questions about how everything works. (And as Faraday said, someday you will be able to tax it, but that’s tangential for most scientists.) Like art, it enriches humanity. And it’s something that needs to be funded publicly, because nobody goes up to us and says, “I’d like to buy $5 worth of quantum chromodynamics calculations, please.” It takes from everybody, and gives back to everybody.

      Maybe some people call that a government handout, but some people would call the Iraq War an evil, miasmatic hellhole of waste and destruction, and which one costs more money?

    • Charon

      Oh yeah, Republicans v. Democrats. The problem is that hardly any politicians, of either party, know or care about science. But I’d trust Democrats more, given that they generally join the reality-based community and sometimes listen to scientists.

    • http://theobservershunch.blogspot.com Mark A. Norris

      What does Congress actually have against ITER? This is the second time they have tried to kill it,
      it didn’t work last time and it certainly won’t work this time as the EU is paying 50% of the cost anyway.

      If they do manage to withdraw the US from the project all they are ensuring is that when it works they will have to pay through the nose for the technology. Incredibly short sighted.

    • http://disorderedcosmos.blogspot.com Chanda

      Belizean, How many times does my name have to be written CHANDA on this blog before you will notice there is no R in it?

      Anyway, I am amazed at the logic which you inserted into my statement that isn’t actually there. I didn’t say the price wasn’t worth it sometimes. But it is still the greatest price paid. It’s completely ridiculous for you to infer that I meant to say that violent opposition to such a disgusting institution isn’t worth it. If you want my opinion about the Civil War, you can ask me instead of making totally off-base assumptions.

      In future, please try to assume a little less about me: get your facts right and your logic straight. My name would be a start.

    • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

      Chad #48, your reasoning is flawed. Social Security and Medical help is at the very basis of your society, it’s what people need to survive. If you don’t provide it you don’t have a society to begin with, and it’s perfectly appropriate a large fraction of the money goes into the most essential needs. There isn’t much one can do about the Debts, but there is one item left that shouldn’t be ranking that high on the list.

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    • Screw the US

      The US is fucked. I’m with ellipsis—I’ve moved to Canada, where society actually supports science. And I encourage anyone with a PhD and a desire to work in science to leave the US for Canada or Europe while you still can.

      The US is a society bent on long-term decline and weakness. Idiots.

    • adfdf

      The US is fucked. I’m with ellipsis—I’ve moved to Canada, where society actually supports science. And I encourage anyone with a PhD and a desire to work in science to leave the US for Canada or Europe while you still can.

      Im glad you’ve left! Everyone with that strong a stance should leave!

    • adfdf

      Social Security and Medical help is at the very basis of your society, it’s what people need to survive. If you don’t provide it you don’t have a society to begin with, and it’s perfectly appropriate a large fraction of the money goes into the most essential needs.

      That is an assumption I would disagree with.

    • Elliot


      maybe he thinks your named after the x-ray telescope.



    • Harold
    • http://disorderedcosmos.blogspot.com Chanda

      When I worked at the Chandra X-ray Center, I experienced a fair number of slip-ups. Everyone always caught themselves though :) Hard to claim that it is an accident when you insist that someone who would have been a slave prefers slavery to violent opposition though …

      Perhaps if Belizean took the time to read what was actually written, this person would have caught my actual name and my actual point :)

      Anyway, aside from a complete collapse in the judgement of one commenter, I’ve really enjoyed reading people’s responses to this (and to Sean’s post about What Is Interesting). If only we could ensure that everyone is educated well enough to participate in such a thoughtful and informed discourse … but then science education would need a helping hand, wouldn’t it? Sigh.

    • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis

      The problems with the environment (CO2 emissions etc.), suggests that something is fundamentally wrong with the way we spend our money. We are like an extremely obese person who is always very tired and thinks he needs to eat even more compared to yesterday to feel better.

      A doctor would tell him to eat less and do some workout. But the obese person doesn’t buy that, because the money needed for the fitness club would mean that he could not afford to eat as many Big Macs as he is used to.

      Similarly, I think that lower taxes to get more economic growth is not really a good way to solve economic problems. It would be far better to increase taxes by a large amount, say 50%, to fund scientific programs.

    • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

      #67 It’s not an assumption, it’s the reason why people have found together in societies. I encourage everybody who doesn’t want to be part of a society that *ugh* requires paying taxes to help the sick, poor, and unfortunate that he or she gives up his citizenship, and his duties together with his rights – you can’t get one without the other. But ‘with that strong a stance’ you push forward, I at least hope you stay where you are. If you have children, I hope they never get sick. If you have a job, I hope you don’t loose it. If you have to sleep on the streets, I hope you live somewhere where it’s sunny and warm. And don’t forget, you make your own luck. – B.

    • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

      Hi Count:
      I mostly agree with you, though I don’t think just raising taxes works. It is just not sufficient to cause a rethinking. Yes, I too think there is something fundamentally wrong with the way we spend money, see e.g. my comment at the other thread. Best,

    • Anti-B

      B #63, #72 – Chad #48 is correct and it is your reasoning (and knowledge of social programs in the United States) that is flawed.

      Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid are the very basis of our (U.S.) society? Do you even know what these entitlement programs are for? Social Security and Medicare are overwhelmingly _retirement_ programs and were first implemented in 1935 and 1965, respectively.

      So, we had no society prior to those dates?

      I fear you have confused the nature of social programs in the U.S. with those in your place of birth.

      The Temporarily Anti-B

      (I actually enjoy Backreaction – it’s very educational and of the highest quality. It’s just when you spaz out about democracy and social programs that I cringe.)

    • The Almighty Bob

      False. Life suffering in virtual or actual slavery is far less valuable than life in freedom. Under your reasoning, the death of 2% of the U.S. population, which was the price paid to rid America of slavery, was not worth it. As one who would not particularly enjoy being a slave in your version of 21st-century America, I beg to differ.

      What’s the comparitive worth of slaves to free people? 3:1? 4:1?
      That’s what you said. Your logic is so bad, it’s not even wrong. Go show a logician the paragraph I quoted; they’ll bitchslap you for writing such fallacious tripe, and we’ll all be happy.

    • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

      Hi Anti-B,
      Interestingly, I had to pay taxes for the US social security and Medicare/Medicaid without being eligible for them. My comment was a reply to Chad’s fairly general remark that I understood as there is too much money spent into social and medical support. I wasn’t referring to anything specific about the US system, and I am certainly not saying I find these are optimal the way they are. Neither do I think one necessarily needs specifically designed programs in this way for solidarity with those who can’t afford on their own living in tolerable circumstances (what is ‘tolerable’ is of course a matter of definition), it just seems to be the way it’s done nowadays (churches used to cover a big part of this, and it seems the Americans also donate quite a lot of money into charity). So I didn’t say you have no society without Medicaid (sounds quite absurd actually), I said you have no society if you don’t show solidarity with the sick, the weak, the old, and the poor. (And yes, I’d think retirement belongs in that category, at least the minimal basis that one can live from). Caring for each other is one of the reasons we find together in societies with a legal system. Yes, defense is another one, but the balance in the US seems to be somewhat off in this regard (maybe ‘offense’ would be more appropriate). It is my impression that the average American thinks about what the society should cover for as a whole, and what should be covered individually just very differently from the average German – probably a matter of culture and socialization. I wouldn’t even want to convince you you’d need more of that if that’s just not the way you see it – that’s what we have democratic systems for, whether you like me talking about it or not, and I don’t think there is one ‘right’ way to do it. All I was trying to say is that it’s on the base of every society to take care its members are healthy and survive.

      I have no idea what ‘spaz out’ means (and none of my dictionary lists it), so not sure what you’re trying to say. I happen to have a political opinion, so you’ll have to cope with that. What do you think I feel when I read comments like the above by somebody who apparently chose a pseudonym by randomly hitting the keyboard, or some at Peter’s blog proclaiming the US is the best democracy there is? You know, I actually don’t really care what happens to the folks there in the the US. I neither live there, nor do I vote there. I just see them running against a wall in the not to far future, and I am afraid a major economical crisis originating in the US will have global effects. Besides this, you don’t have to hide behind a ‘temporarily Anti-B’ pseudonym in case you’re a frequent reader. I can live with people who disagree with me. Best,


    • http://disorderedcosmos.blogspot.com Chanda

      Spaz = adjective, adverb, verb, noun, etc … to show a lapse in judgement, to freak out, to momentarily lose sense of direction … it’s slang in North American English, not sure about English in other parts of the Eng world …

    • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

      Thanks. Sounds like I should definitely add it to my active vocabulary 😉

    • http://disorderedcosmos.blogspot.com Chanda

      Yeah yeah, next time one of your friends is being irrational, you can say, “don’t be such a spaz dude!”

      First Sabine … next the world. Soon I’ll have everyone talking like me! 😛

      By the way, I agree with you about social programs. Too bad they are going down the drain …

    • http://deleted H-I-G-G-S

      Dear B,

      Spaz comes from spastic which refers to the movements of people with
      certain specific mental and/or physical disabilities. I know the meaning has to some degree been divorced from this origin, but I still feel that one should be careful how one uses words like this. It could be particularly tricky for a non-native speaker.


    • The Almighty Bob

      See Lars Von Triers’ “The Idiots” for an active definition. Better yet, don’t; it’s rather dire.

      Chanda – getting me to speak worse English than I already do would be some accomplishment. (“,)

    • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

      Ah. The word ‘spastic’ exists as a German slang word as well (spastisch). Same problem there with the origin. Was a pretty common insult on my schoolyard. If I want to insult somebody over here, I curse in German it’s proved to be very impressive, irrespective of what I actually say.

      Either way, I wanted to add that the long term perspective of these budget cuts doesn’t look good. The people who are most dedicated to their job are the ones a country loses most easily. In a decade from now there will be people missing in the relevant positions to pass on knowledge to the next generation. At this point it will require a lot of effort to get scientists come back. Germany has run into this problem, now they try to convince people to come back, and it isn’t an easy task.

      The smart move at this point would be to invest money in international exchange programs. I.e. let people esp the younger ones (grad students, postdocs) go to where they want to do their research and where they find the best circumstances, but on a scholarship or some program. It will make it more likely they will a) stay in the field and b) come back. Hopefully the situation has improved by then. Though it would require a shift from competition towards collaboration.



    • http://disorderedcosmos.blogspot.com Chanda

      Wow, I have never heard of the word “spastic” being used in that way. Good to know.

      B – I agree that’s a good idea. It’s unfortunate that the US & Canada are willing to fully fund international students who come to their universities, but it’s virtually impossible for someone from outside the EU to pay for an education there or get a job there … I have spent a lot of time thinking about this because until US immigration laws change, I am basically exiled to a country that recognizes my relationship with my girlfriend. Since I am a US citizen that basically means Canada (after I have gotten residency) because it’s virtually impossible for a non-EU citizen to get a permanent job in Europe.

      Again politics (and homophobia) gets in the way of research happening the way it should …

    • The Almighty Bob

      Depends on what part of ‘the EU’ you’re thinking of; we’ve all got separate immigration strategies. Just to make life confusing.

    • http://disorderedcosmos.blogspot.com Chanda

      Fair enough. I am persistently amused by The Netherlands, which requires that you speak Dutch _before_ arriving. Lucky for me, I actually do. But, given that only 2 universities in all of Canada offer the language, I’m going to go ahead and guess this is a difficult requirement to fulfill.

    • http://countiblis.blogspot.com Count Iblis

      B, yes increasing taxes may not be a good idea under current circumstances.

      Chanda, you can try to get a temporary job first and then learn the language. Many employees at Dutch universities are foreigners who do not speak Dutch.

      Dutch is indeed a difficult language. So much so that Dutch people who spend just a few years abroad find that they can’t write in the Dutch language very well when they return.

      At the first lesson of a physics course I was following at university, the Dutch professor told that he would switch to English from time to time because he had forgotten the names of may Dutch words after his stay in the US.

    • http://disorderedcosmos.blogspot.com Chanda

      My understanding of the Dutch policy is that this immigration policy is mostly hard on immigrants who fall into the “non-educated category.” Anyway, I speak Dutch, so not a problem for me.

      My larger point was that borders create a problem in terms of sending people to the best places possible. On the one hand, I understand the preference for people at home. But since the US doesn’t seem to have laws like that, US citizens are automatically disadvantaged. And this creates problems for people who happen to be in love with & married to the wrong person, whether they happen to be from an undesirable nation or gender identity.

      In conclusion, politics seems to interfere with scientific progress in a lot of different ways.

    • Luke Shaul

      For reasons which should be clear to most of you reading this blog the current state of affairs in US governance is not what one would term ideal. To put it very broadly, something has broken in American society. The science funding issues are temporary. The short term looks reasonably crappy however this will pass. By all means look to alternate funding via Alumni and whatnot. The lobbying idea is laugable, you’ve already got people doing that. This is not a lobbying issue, this is something else entirely. Some of the better fundraisers from various Universities should have no problem with this if you can share the load.

    • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ B

      Hi Luke: Sadly, I agree with you. It’s not a problem that can be solved with lobbying. In fact I tend to think lobbyism is the problem. It undermines opinion making processes and corrupts the democratic system because it weights voices with the money standing behind them.

      Hi Chanda: I wasn’t talking about permanent positions. I’ve always found it interesting that the postdocs in the USA come from all over the world, whereas little Americans make a postdoc outside the US, and if then likely in England or Canada. Of course, restrictions apply etc, esp. at CERN. I couldn’t support this with any numbers, just my impression, so maybe I’m mistaken. But I think it might be partly due to lacking programs in this directions. Either way, I was suggesting given the job situation it would maybe be a good idea to support such overseas research. I don’t know much about the EU immigration though. (I know Germany isn’t easy to get in, but those who keep pointing this out to me I like to ask to please compare the German population density to the Canadian/US one, plus they get a lot of immigrants from the South and East who apply for asylum).

      The political and social environment are of course further reasons why the US loses people. I know several gay couples who wouldn’t consider living in the US, I know others who say they don’t want their children to grow up there, and again others who just say they just can’t tolerate the political situation altogether. The problem with that is that the country loses the smartest people first, which makes the situation even worse. Best,


    • Haelfix

      Lets not go overboard. THe US is still far and away the premiere country in the world for science, in particular high energy physics. We enjoy something like 66% of the top scientists by citation count.

      I also see our university system as being flawed, but still all things together, the best in the world.

      I’m French by nationality, and I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else other than the US university system (barring exceptions like CERN, which is more or less 60% American anyway and very culturally integrated)

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    • Frog Leg

      So how can particle physics show its usefulness? Vague claims of, “science is the future–you defund this, you’re killing the future” will not work. Benefits from 40 or 80 year old science will not work. What benefit can society see from particle physics done in the last 20 years?

    • Count Iblis

      Frog Leg,

      That’s an unfair demand, because almost nothing we do has any benefits to society anyway. Also, as Samuel Beckett points out in his “Waiting for Godot”, the existence of our society is pointless.

      So, given that our lives are meaningless anyway, why not do some particle physics while we live out our lives?

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    • LB

      It’s humorous that the US is somehow in irreversible decline according to many of the persons commenting on this thread. The fact of the matter is that many, many scientists from the EU come to the US because they can’t find satisfactory employment in the stagnant economies of their home countries. The US is far from perfect in many ways, but it will continue to be the leader both in scientific research and commercial application of that research for the forseeable future.

    • Lawrence B. Crowell

      The material benefits of science are somewhat questionable in a way. Consider that years of communications and computer technology has lead to millions of people wasting hours of time text messaging trite things on cell phones and internet porn. In some ways technology actually makes most people more dumb, rather than the promise it would make us smarter. People sitting around watching TV comes to mind, which means they do less talking to each other or reading. Old fashioned skills, since supplanted by technologies, required that people learn a range of capabilities. I would suggest that a person living in an indigenous “hunting and gathering” culture actually uses their brains more than your average American. Many people can go through life knowing very little, except all that is required to sell something.

      We do particle physics because we, or should we say some of us, want to know about the foundations of the universe we exist in. Exploring these questions and maybe getting a few answers elevates us some small step above absurdism.

      Lawrence B. Crowell

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    • http://gle.am Andy

      We are going to be in such a huge heap of debt it won’t really matter as much as we would like it to.

      The Gleam Team
      Gleam – Celebrity News & Gossip

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