US Basic Science in Decline

Eric Berger’s SciGuy blog tells us that this is…

A dark time for “big” physics in America

U.S. physicists have had a couple of weeks to digest the finalized version of the 2008 federal budget, and they’re not finding it any more to their liking than before. Among the last-minute cuts:

  • Cuts $88 million from high-energy physics program, primarily particle accelerators.
  • Entirely nixes the 2008 U.S. contribution, $149 million, to ITER, the international fusion project.
  • Cuts cuts funding for development on the proposed International Linear Collider from $60 million to $15 million.

Over at the blog For Entrepreneurs, we read about more big cuts in science research funding:

In Illinois, we have two great National Labs: Argonne and Fermilab.

Both of these Illinois National Labs have had their budgets slashed to the point where there are massive layoffs underway and many important scientific research projects have been cancelled or put on hold.

These are not “cut the fat” changes. Rather, these are “cut out the essential organs” cuts. They put a big part of our national scientific research efforts on life support and jeopardize our national competitiveness.

Indeed, the Fermilab Today site reports that:

The diminished funds will have a powerful impact at Fermilab, requiring workforce adjustments and forcing the cancellation of R&D for experiments and technology key to the future of particle physics.

And there is more bad news from the pages of American Medical News:

For the fifth consecutive year, the National Institutes of Health budget will fail to keep pace with growth in the cost of conducting biomedical research. . .

There aren’t many positives for scientific research in the 2008 budget, said David Moore, senior associate vice president for government relations for the Association of American Medical Colleges.

“What we’re going to see is less research, a slowing down of certain research programs,” he said. “It’s a slowing of medical progress.”

Why is all this important? Does it really matter to the rest of the world if science funding in the United States is flat or declining? I think it does matter, partly because the U.S. economy and federal budgets are by far the largest in the world — meaning they have the ability to support more basic science research than anyone else — but also because so much important policy toward science and technology emanates from the United States.

If the U.S. government is unwilling to provide adequate funding for basic science, that sends a message to business, government, and research institutions worldwide: that science is less important than other priorities (such as making war and making profits), and that the benefits of basic research are not worth supporting, even if it means that future generations — not to mention our own generation — will suffer as a result.

It is disgraceful.

[Cross-posted from Responsible Nanotechnology]

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