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Science and politics: to the attention of Michigan Congressional delegation February 13, 2011

Posted by apetrov in Near Physics, Particle Physics, Physics, Science.

I usually don’t comment about politics in this blog. But today I’ll make an exception. Maybe someone from Michigan Congressional delegation will read it. I’ll be happy to answer any questions regarding this situation.


Each developed country in the world has a stake in an interdependent triad that builds up its wealth and independence: fundamental research, applied research and industry. It is only the combination of excellence in those three fields that has kept the United States at the forefront of technological revolutions of the past 50 years. Elimination of one of those components will spell trouble for the remaining two: for example, defunding fundamental and applied science in the Russian Federation in the early 1990’s led to a quick demise of that country’s high tech industry.

The new Continuing Resolution (CR) bill announced on 02/08/2011 by House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers [1] imposes deep cuts on Department of Energy’s Office of Science (DOE OS), National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA and National Institutes of Health (NIH) that simply threaten US fundamental research. The cut to DOE OS’ budget of $5.12B is $1.1B. It is proposed to happen half way through the current budget year. To keep things in perspective, the amount needed to implement this cut would be equivalent to closing down all US National Laboratories for a continuous period of time this year.

Among other things, DOE’s Office of Science supports fundamental and applied research done by the University groups all over the country. In the state of Michigan that includes University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Michigan Tech and Wayne State University. This funding is neither redundant nor wasteful: each grant issued by DOE’s Office of Science, NSF or NIH is reviewed by several independent experts and expert panels. It is this funding that helps us train the next generation of scientists and engineers that will keep America prosperous in coming years. It is this funding that the new CR proposal would severely cut.

To compare, Chinese government’s spending on science and technology was slated to rise 8% to $24 billion in 2010, of which $4 billion is basic R&D [2]. By contrast, the cuts included in the proposed Continuing Resolution bill reduce funding to basic and applied research made by DOE’s Office of Science by 18%. Liberal and conservatives commentators alike voiced concerns about how the US is losing its edge in math and sciences. This budget cut signals that there is no reason for young Americans to pursue careers in science.

The fundamental research done by particle scientists might not have immediate applications to industry. But not all basic research projects are “long shots.” The first Internet browser developed by high energy physicists at CERN (the site of currently running Large Hadron Collider) for the needs of the experiment designed to understand the basic building blocks of Nature in 1991 made possible creation of the World Wide Web and revolutionized the US and world’s commerce.

Balancing our country’s budget is an important and noble goal, but it should not be done at the expense of the future.



[1] House appropriation committee website http://republicans.appropriations.house.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=PressReleases.Detail&PressRelease_id=259

[2] Physics Today http://blogs.physicstoday.org/politics/2010/03/china-increases-science-fundin.html


1. gordonwatts - February 13, 2011

Yes! Well written!

2. Ilya - October 10, 2011

Hi Alexei, just stumbled upon your blog, a good one, thanks. On the subject of basic science funding, of course, it would be nice to have unlimited resources, but, as we all know, this is not the case. I am sure, the particle physics community could find good use for an extra billion or two. You believe the current level of funding is the bare bones minimum required to maintain research? Fine. Could you then point to other broad budget items, more deserving of cuts? Health? Welfare? Housing? Education? Industrial policy? Defense? Of course, you understand that selecting one of the above would elicit protests from the relevant community.

Many would propose that feeding and housing people today, and defending the nation, is more important than making another obscure discovery. You are lobbying for funding for basic research (as you should, and I absolutely agree with you), but there are no rights or wrongs here, it’s a competition for limited resources, and ours are lean years. Btw the US is hardly lagging its peers in terms of the share of the pie allocated to research. You should come to Russia 🙂

Best, Ilya (your fellow Russian 🙂

3. muratbato - November 11, 2013

thank for sharing a very nice article.

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