Here's the other side of the equation. While we're hearing of the exciting scientific developments in tracking down the Higgs boson, we're also hearing this:
Congressional Budget Delay Stymies Scientific Research
This article is very disconcerting. A representative quote: “The consequences for American science will be disastrous,” said Michael S. Lubell, a senior official of the American Physical Society, the world’s largest group of physicists. “The message to young scientists and industry leaders, alike, will be, ‘Look outside the U.S. if you want to succeed.’ ”
Essentially what has happened is that multiple spending bills were "left hanging" by the departing Republican majority. Some Republicans didn't want to finish them because by not doing so it doesn't allow certain spending increases to go into effect, and therefore keeps the bottom line down. It's like you're the CEO of a company and you decide to give raises, but when the time comes around you don't actually sign them into effect because you don't want to increase your spending. Apparently the incoming Democrats have stated they are not going to try to finish these bills. Instead, they're just going to keep everything under the current budget until fall.
Remember this post from one year ago? Where I was describing how Rob and Robin were clapping and cheering the new budget for 2007, in which they were to get some additional money? Well, that's the "raise" the CEO just decided not to sign into effect. But it is actually wrong to think of it as a "raise." As the article says, "Last year, Congress passed just 2 of 11 spending bills — for the military and domestic security — and froze all other federal spending at 2006 levels. Factoring in inflation, the budgets translate into reductions of about 3 percent to 4 percent for most fields of science and engineering."
Fermilab is not the only one to be suffering. Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York was severely affected. The article states it was already operating on charitable contributions (!) and might shut down entirely. Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee might have to delay opening for a year. The Stanford Linear Accelerator, research at universities across the US funded by the National Science Foundation, an oceaneanic observatory, a global polar research program, and even missions at NASA would all be affected. John Conway at UCDavis said that they can't even hire graduate students because there is no money for teaching assistantships.
The article specifically points out Fermilab: "Another potential victim is the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois, where a four-mile-long collider investigates the building blocks of matter. Its director, Piermaria Oddone, said the laboratory would close for a month as most of the staff of 4,200 are sent home."
Ulp. Closing up shop for a month?? I got on the (email) horn with Rob Roser and John Conway. John said that Pier Odonne, Fermilab's director, vividly spelled out the consequences to Fermilab in a meeting a couple of days ago (again, sometimes I wish we would get some notification of these things... we always seem to hear about them after the fact. But they're much more important to us that we are to them). It might be, of course, that Pier is talking loudly to get lawmakers' attention. Will the lab be shut down? We'll see. Monica and I have been talking about dusting off the old video camera and making another trip down to Fermilab...
Which brings us to the next post...