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Hard times ahead: FY 2008 budget is official January 8, 2008

Posted by dorigo in news, physics, politics, science.

I just received news that the high-energy physics budget of the US Department of Energy for 2008 has officially been reduced by $93.9M from the President’s request in the FY2008 Omnibus Appropriations act, now signed into law.  This is a 12% reduction in the budget. Since a quarter of the fiscal year has passed already since the Omnibus act, a significant part of the funds have been spent already, making things worse. 

The implications are, as was expected, no funding for the NOvA neutrino appearance detector, no funding for ILC R&D. All other HEP research is expected a reduction of about 1% in funding. However, quoting Dennis Kovar, associate director for the office of science, the picture is even bleaker:

 “The sudden and unanticipated work stoppage on NOvA and ILC  unavoidably results in collateral damage to the rest of the HEP  program. Significant cost savings would require laying off everyone working on those projects immediately. That is not achievable nor desirable. Thus the HEP office had to look for other large non-salary costs that could be reduced to meet the overall budget bottom-line. In the end this came down to a choice between running the Fermilab complex (Tevatron Collider and NuMI) or the SLAC B-Factory in FY2008 (or running both at ~1/2 or less of their scheduled operating weeks). Based on the guidance we have received from the scientific community (e.g.; HEPAP, P5, NAS, etc.), the operation of the Tevatron in FY 2008 has higher scientific priority. Thus the Tevatron and NuMI will operate on their planned schedule, and B-Factory operations will be terminated prematurely. “

“Along with these serious reductions to lab operations and planned projects, there will be very significant reductions in force at SLAC and Fermilab due to the overall budget constraints. There is also expected to be some workforce reductions at other labs and at universities. This loss of skilled and highly trained personnel will be difficult for our community and will have impacts beyond the delays in NOvA and ILC R&D since many laboratory staff work on multiple efforts. However, it will be necessary in order to move forward and prepare ourselves for the future of US high-energy physics.”

Hard times ahead… My sympathy goes to those of my colleagues who have been working hard on their projects until they were grounded.

For a speech by Persis Drell at SLAC, see http://today.slac.stanford.edu .

Post-scriptum: the above text is part of a message that was made available to members of the CDF collaboration by our spokespersons. I usually do not distribute information I receive through that channel, but I made an exception today in the interest of common awareness on the critical issue of HEP funding for the advancement of science.



1. chris - January 8, 2008

hi tomaso,

thanks a lot for this info. killing babar is really a sad thing to do. now that they were so well on track. i understand that the higgs search is more important, but still, this looks like almost the death strike for flavor physics.

2. DB - January 8, 2008

I full of admiration for those, like Drell, who have to grapple with the slow corrosive destruction of the US experimental effort in HEP and yet manage to soldier on trying to put a brave face on things.
But it’s just a symptom of a much more serious malaise in US science, namely, the loss of interest in keeping the US at the forefront of scientific research. Those who elected the Democrats to Congress thought this crowd would rectify matters. Yet how wrong they were, it doesn’t matter which party holds power, the political “elite” in the US just isn’t interested in science anymore.

3. goffredo - January 8, 2008

Well it is more complicated than that.
Big science was once an important way big government could show-off. In those days the public admired scientists and generally thought science was beneficial so the system was consistent: politians, that wanted to be elected, could boast, the scientists played and kept increasing requests, and the taxpayer payed and payed. Today science is no longer perceived by the big public as a beneficial enterprize, certainly not as a neutral, independent, non-selfish one. Science is increasingly suspect and politians don’t feel they can profit from fostering scientific spending. In addition scientists show little talent for mastering public relations and the battle for regainign public trust is being lost. Too many scientists release comments on topics they know nothing about, make certain revelations without discussing humbling uncertainties, and end up behaving just like other charismatic bullshitters from other fields (actors, moral and religious figures, demagogs,…). And they just don’t understand how politians think. Indeed sometimes I think scientists are stupid! There should be no suprise regards what politians do given the fact that politians are elected and hence NEED to be sure to have public support next elections. Instead I do find it surprising to find that most scientists just don’t have a clue as to why their funds get cut or why they have alienated the taxpaying public.

Of course science, as all human activities, is done by humans and, as we all know humans, hence scientists too, can be selfish, ambitious, arrogant, ideological. The taxpayers should be constantly reminded that science shows humanity at its best. If the public opinion starts turning you can bet that the politians will notice the change quickly. They are like sharks and smell the blood for the bad or for the good.

4. DB - January 9, 2008

It may be just a coincidence, but there is suddenly a vacancy for the position of Director, Office of Basic Energy Sciences in the Department of Energy.

5. goffredo - January 9, 2008

Of course I meant POLITICIANS
I kept misspelling the damn word. Freudian?

6. dorigo - January 9, 2008

Hello chris,

well, yes, BaBar was worth the money for sure… And I might add that one could argue that with the start of the LHC this year the Tevatron was not less expendible.

DB, I think the US decision-makers are not much interested in particle physics any more because it is becoming clear that HEP does not provide military applications any longer. But this is an even more simplified view than yours, and now Jeff will jump at my throat 😉

As for the vacancy… I have no clue about why it is empty, but it does look like a hot chair these days.

Goffredo, I agree that scientists tend to pee out of the vase a bit too often. But I think informed opinions matter very little in times of budget cuts. Who has the wider shoulders survives – the defense.


7. goffredo - January 10, 2008

Anyone care to list the ways HEP gave military some thing?
– any theortetical sight?
– anything practical?
– any technological fall-out?

8. Andrea Giammanco - January 10, 2008

> – any technological fall-out?

I suspect this is the major motivation.
When CERN was founded there was emphasis on the pacific applications, a major motivation was technological fall-out to society as a whole. Instead I think that developing countries (most notably China, but also India and Pakistan) are happy to invest on “pure science” as soon as they can because of the technology transfer to the military.
In the case of China, right now the focus is more on astronautics than laboratory activities. Maybe because the transfer of competence from sending people into space to sending rockets into their enemy’s heads is more straightforward 🙂

9. dorigo - January 10, 2008

Hi goffredo,

HEP gave the military the atomic bomb in the forties, and the Hydrogen bomb in the fifties. High energy physics and nuclear physics were the same thing back then. We lived until now thanks to the delusions of many who kept thinking HEP was intrinsically a vector of new knowledge that could one day be exploited for military supremacy, and because of that a leading role in HEP was constantly sought by the US.
More recently there were possible military applications with particle beams, but they never really took off the ground. There are many articles about those developments in Scientific American issues of the eighties.


10. goffredo - January 10, 2008

Nope! No way Jose’. I totally disagree.

Everyone knows that nuclear physicists gave them the A and H bombs. To this day nuclear physicicts, with specific training and specific scientific research goals, give nuclear weapons to the military. It is not fair, it is wrong, to say that in the days leading up to the development of the A and H bombs HEP was confused with nuclear physics. HEP accelerator physics came into existence AFTER the H-bomb and the push for greater and greater energies had nothing to do with making bombs. Maybe in the minds of some few ignorant politicians, but not in the minds of enough people to convince congress to spend huge amounts of money for an activity that had no immediate military value. No weapons R&D was behind the bigger and bigger accelerators that were built in the US, USSR and CERN. Before accelerators HEP was done with cosmic rays and it was not an off shoot of nuclear physics. Physicists that did research in cosmic rays were not nuclear physicists; nuclear physicists did not study cosmic rays. The two fields were disjoint with completely different reseach goals and methods although they used to some degree similar tools and language (detectors). The military could care less about cosmic rays until they found out about them when they shot rockets out of the protective shield of the atmosphere: electronics in the pay-loads stopped working!

I really don’t believe that HEP physics in the US got the money BECAUSE the government or the military hoped for weapons. They might have HOPED for them but that just doesn’t explain the huge sums that were spent. The money was spent because it was prestigious as there was the Cold war and the competition with USSR.

The government spending for the space-race to have a man in orbit and then to the Moon was instead perfectly justified from the point of view of the cold war and a “military” perspctive. Many things were learned in going into space that were immediately useful for the military, if only the very clear fear that if the US didn’t develop something the enemy would have, and indeed the competition with USSR was more dramatic and it WAS felt so by the vast tax paying public.

11. Not Even Wrong » Blog Archive » More on FY 2008 HEP Budget Cuts - January 10, 2008

[…] and their implications are starting to become clear. There are new blog posts from HEP bloggers Tommaso Dorigo, Alexey Petrov, Gordon Watts, Chad Orzel and Michael […]

12. gordonwatts - January 11, 2008

Hi. Just a quick point – it wasn’t just HEP that got cut (the other big one was ITER, for example), but lots of other programs got cut as well (i.e. non-science ones).

If the US gov’t wants to balence the budget that is fine — but do it over the course of the year leading up to the vote, not 4 days before the vote. I don’t know of any human(s) that can make 22 billion dollars worth of good decisions in 4 days.

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