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Some consequences of the 2008 budget cut December 21, 2007

Posted by dorigo in physics, politics, science.

As awful as the congressional budget plan for 2008 looks, we have to live with it now. Fermilab is assessing the damage, after the news that of the expected $378M it will only get about $320M, and it is clear that Fermilab director Pier Oddone will close the lines of research that were nullified by the US congress.

Despite cutting on NOVA and ILC, the rest of the research activities at FNAL are facing a reduction of about $15M. In this situation the focus in 2008 and 2009 will be on running the experiments that have been providing the gold and diamonds of the physics mine; of course, nobody expects that 2009 will be better than 2008, although I know a lot of letters are being sent to representatives while I rather choose to take an observer’s attitude and write these lines. 

The Tevatron will continue providing data to CDF and D0 mostly unscathed, and so will the existing neutrino program, although in a situation of general suffering. In particular, FNAL staff will see salaries cut by 10%, and some 200 layoffs in 2008. Under such circumstances, it is a tough call to say what will happen.

Some believe that the option of running the Tevatron through 2010 is now stronger, because the more research lines are dried the more water flows to those that survive. However, it would be very silly to feel relieved. It is clear that the US congress does not believe pure research in subatomic physics something useful for the Nation. Let’s face it: we lived through sixty years of good funding on the standing wave of nuclear weapons research, but we do not seem to manage to fool anybody anymore: no more deadly tools from muons and neutrinos. So, no dough. Sad, but true. I only hope that Europe will be smarter and that particle research at CERN will continue as strong as it has been recently shown to be. 

UPDATE: a CDF colleague and now chair of the Fermilab UEC asked to distribute the information on how to send a letter to your representative



1. Not Even Wrong » Blog Archive » Disastrous FY 2008 DOE Budget - December 21, 2007

[…] Update: One peculiar aspect of this story is how little attention it has gotten from the press (other than the local Illinois press) and from science blogs, where all I’ve seen is mention at Cosmic Variance and Tommaso Dorigo’s blog. […]

2. Fred - December 22, 2007

Very distressful news and I sympathize with all future scientists. Europe is our only hope on the near horizon. If she doesn’t take the lead we’ll all be experimenting for Halliburton someday.

“It is clear that the US congress does not believe pure research in subatomic physics something useful for the Nation.”

You are quite right about that while this current administration and the irresponsible congress continues to steer us south. We have been mobilized into a self-absorbing country with a broken rudder and it is going to take one hell of an effort over a long period of time to right the ship. But as of this moment, we as a nation are drowning in debt. The combined and calculated efforts by the corporations and our treasonous government officials have put privatization on the front burner for the last 26 years and now they are cooking all of our asses. And yet, I rarely have heard a peep from the leaders of the scientific community during this time except to keep their specific programs afloat. On the other hand, we can spend 200 billion dollars in four years for private contractors to help liberate Iraq so that might be the avenue to seek funding for future scientific endeavors if we can somehow blend, tweak and distort our proposals. I am proud to live in California, one of the few states that is willing to battle it out on all fronts whether it comes to the economy, the war, the immigration issues, civil rights, the environment and quite considerably for the support of the scientific community through the educational institutions, the state and local governments and the even the greedy private sector. We have two great U.S. senators, both ladies mind you, and dozens of talented, multifaceted hard-driven representatives to whom we give a pained earful thousands of times a day. But a handful of states just can’t cut the mustard for all fifty. When will the rest of this country finally wake up?

3. Matteo Martini - December 22, 2007

Interesting to note that the money saved cutting Fermilab’s budget will be used up in less that six hours by the Iraq war.

The news have been reported in quite few places, like the Wall Street Journal

4. Physics under fire: Fermilab budget cuts « Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub - December 22, 2007

[…] Dorigo has the details and links, at A Quantum Diaries Survivor. It is clear that the US congress does not believe pure research in subatomic physics something useful for the Nation. Let’s face it: we lived through sixty years of good funding on the standing wave of nuclear weapons research, but we do not seem to manage to fool anybody anymore: no more deadly tools from muons and neutrinos. So, no dough. Sad, but true. I only hope that Europe will be smarter and that particle research at CERN will continue as strong as it has been recently shown to be. […]

5. Anon - December 22, 2007

Well the UK is currently embarking on a massive program of cutbacks in particle physics (ILC withdrawal etc) so in general it is not looking good at the moment.

6. dorigo - December 22, 2007


you are right in highlighting the bad economical situation in the US. Of course that should be mitigated by what Matteo points out: the defense budget is almost a thousand times larger than the energy budget in the US…
Of course California is ahead of other states in some issues, but a country is like a train: it is usually not faster than its slowest car.

Yes, UK is also cutting on ILC, but I think the involvement in LHC is strong and will not decrease soon. For instance, the most advanced proposal for a replacement of the CMS tracker for SLHC running is put forward by the UK at the moment.

Cheers all,

7. totaltransformation - December 23, 2007

I wonder how this cut compares to the massive subsidies to worthless ethanol.

8. Tony Smith - December 23, 2007

As totaltransformation points out, extensive lobbying (such as for ethanol) is the most successful way to get USA funding.

IMO, ethanol is not only worthless as a fuel substitute, and not only is corn not nearly as good a source of ethanol as sugar cane, but the high-price corn subsidies both raise the price of food-cor and reduce the supply of corn for food.

Anyhow, here is a suggestion that I made on JoAnne’s CV blog about my advice on how to lobby. My apologies for repeating stuff that is already on another blog, but this is IMO important enough to bear repeating. Also, I apologize for the USA-centered political advice, but the hedge fund advice is really international, as lots of people from many countries left physics to become quants in hedge funds, and they may be sympathetic to requests for help from friends from back in grad school or post-doc days.
Here is what I said to JoAnne at CV:

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

9. Markk - December 23, 2007

I can’t let the “worthless ethanol” subsidies go. That is one of the few proactive things the US has done in energy in decades. Everybody including the farmers knows corn is only a short term feedstock. But see, we know how to produce kilotons of corn and have all the facilities already existing. I am seeing cellulose plants being built around also. Also there are some smaller plants using milk whey (from cheese making), and other ag waste. This is invigorating and making efficient the agricultural industry in the US – even the smaller producers. Basically changing the way (liquid) energy will be sourced and allowing small producers in. By the way – there aren’t as many corn subsidies left since the prices are so high. Now ADM may be just this side of the devil, but the ethanol for some reason gets a hit on where it is going from stories about where it was.

(Disclaimer – Not paid or having any money interest in any ethanol producer, but just seeing the excitement and new thoughts and investment from the rural folk around the US midwest.)

10. frodo441 - December 24, 2007

I’m not surprised considering these labs made no attempt to redefine their mission statement with in an adequate foreseeable time frame…had they been on the hub granted their research was and is productive, but they could have thwarted the impelling situation…

11. dorigo - December 25, 2007

Hi all,

I have no input to provide on ethanol. But I know the cut equates to a ridiculously small percentage of the defense budget… That, to me, is more striking.

And, frodo, I have no idea what you are talking about… Your comment looks like a computer-generated spam 🙂


12. Richards Hedge Funds Blog - June 17, 2008

Research and education is what provides long-term economic competitive advantages…not killing and war..


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