Friday, February 17, 2006

Budget Monday

So, another State of the Union address, another federal budget announcement. We were in place this time around, unlike last year (see "Our moment--- and we missed it" feb 2005) --- Rob and Robin had dueling laptops, both surfing, trying to find the budget release. They hooked up to a real-time feed of the president's office announcing the budget, and they were racing around the internet trying to find real numbers. It was actually pretty exciting, believe it or not. They were trying to find out the fate of Fermilab, essentially --- I got a lot of hand-held camera and watched as they got some good news (Robin actually clapped and cheered).

Fermilab looked to do pretty well this time around. No funding was cut, and there was a modest increase (although still far short of their hopes in the last few years). Monica and I weren't exactly sure what to expect. Soon it became clear that it wasn't exactly peaches and cream. As Robin said, in order to throw a little bone to Fermilab, someone else had to take it on the chin. There just wasn't enough money to go around --- there were thumbs and fingers stopping up some of the holes, but the dike was still flooding.

Sure enough, NASA soon thereafter announced funding troubles. The Boston Globe published an article called "Young Scientists Hit the Hardest as US Funding Falls." Newsday reported that Brookhaven Lab had to accept donations from its board members to keep running its collider. And Newport News' Daily Press reports that Jefferson Lab, a physics laboratory run by the D.O.E. (the dept. of energy, the same dept. that funds Fermilab) has to eliminate up to 45 jobs and "slow the pace of research on equipment that brings scientists worldwide to Newport News."

So, despite the seemingly good news in Fermilab's budget, things are still far from rosy in the realm of science in America. So much so that recently a well-known and high-ranking physicist not only quit Fermilab in disgust, but quit the entire field of physics, he was so sick of the way things had been going.

So our story is not quite complete. We are after a couple more interviews, including (hopefully) one with Peter Overbye of the New York Times and Natalie Angiers (also of the NY Times, whom we've been trying to track down for months). We'd like to get another interview with the director of Fermilab, as well as one with our science advisor who has given us some very interesting information about the potential changing of who controls Fermilab: it's always been a consortium of universities, but in order to save money the D.O.E. is considering allowing an organization with connections to (of all things) ... Halliburton.

Whew. I feel like we need a degree in investigative journalism...

Oh, and a way to quit our day jobs...

PS I added some to the previous post, so check it out again.

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