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US science supporters: your action is needed NOW September 25, 2008

Posted by dorigo in news, physics, politics, science.
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I receive a message being forwarded to APS members, and pass it on to you, in case you are willing to contribute to a just cause with an email to your Senator of choice:

I am writing to request that you IMMEDIATELY contact your elected representatives and let them know that the proposed Continuing Resolution for Fiscal Year 2009 would be extremely damaging to basic research.  You can make this contact quickly and easily at this link.

There, you will find pre-written messages to your Senators and Representatives. You may send these letters as they are, modify them, or write your own.  While individualizing your letter is not essential, please at least make minor edits to the subject line and the first line of the text of each email so that these emails are more individualized.  (See webpage pointers below for further instruction.)

Congress has not passed any FY 2009 appropriations bills and is now finalizing a Continuing Resolution (CR) that will keep the government operating when the new fiscal year begins on October 1, 2008.  The House is expected to consider the bill on Thursday or Friday of this week.  The CR, according to the latest information, will remain in effect until March 6, 2009 and would keep all federal programs operating at FY 2008 levels, except those granted waivers.  At this time, science is not on the waiver list, and the proposed bill would not include any of the science increases contained in the Supplemental Appropriations bill Congress passed earlier this year. Unless science receives a waiver, the impact will be extraordinarily damaging.


  • Department of Energy user facilities would be forced to cut back operations substantially;
  • A new round of layoffs at the national laboratories could occur;
  • The number of university grants would be cut, with new, young investigators especially harmed; and
  • The U.S. would be forced to cut to near zero its planned contributions to the global fusion energy project, ITER, damaging the nation’s ability to participate in future international scientific collaborations.

The attached letter would request that Congress include the funding increases approved by Congress earlier this year in the FY08 Supplemental Appropriations bill for the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and to allow the DOE to use the $124 million in FY 08 Office of Science earmarks for programmatic purposes.

(1) While individualizing your letter is not essential, we ask that you make minor edits to the subject line and the first line of the text of each email.

(2) If you are a government employee, please do not use government resources to send a communication.

(3) Your browser will take you to a page where you will enter your name and address.

(4) After entering your address, click the .Edit/Send Email button.. A window with an individual email message to the four offices will appear. Click .Send Emails. to transmit the communication.

(5) Electronic submission is preferred.

(6) For further help, write to opa@aps.org.

Arthur Bienenstock, president, the American Physical Society


1. Guess Who - September 25, 2008

I’ve been asking myself for a couple of weeks how US legislators will view such requests, given the unraveling financial mess. Will it be

1) We’re already in a trillion dollar hole, so what’s one more billion? Here you go nerds, enjoy!

or will it be

2) We’re already in a trillion dollar hole, and you want even more money? Are you nuts?

2. DB - September 25, 2008

Doesn’t it tell you something, when Congress is getting ready to bail out a bunch of Wall Street crooks for 700 billion, on top of the 200 billion it has already used, while the APS has yet again to mount a campaign to avoid another round of irresponsible cuts like the one we saw earlier this year?

Perhaps it’s best to be a high class criminal. That way you get respect from America’s political class.

3. chimpanzee - September 25, 2008

I hate to say it, but with the perspective of the US Fiscal 2008 crisis (80 million shortfall?) where ILC was jeopardized (or even worse), I think there is a disturbing downward trend. International research (via ILC) is also affected.

There needs to be a Working Group established (world-wide involvement), to fix this impending disaster. A plan needs to be Designed/Implemented (Concept/Execution model), with short/medium/long term goals.

I’ve sampled some feedback (mostly negative) from the Fiscal 2008 crisis (over the Physics blogosphere), I think I’ve cracked the problem. I communicated the below privately to Tommaso yesterday (while he was on a train, over Skype chat):

HEP Outreach, flawed approach (US side)

1) Wrong strategy
“Dissemination of Science information” to Public has never worked, isn’t working, & will NEVER work.  The Public simply doesn’t have the science-aptitude to understand high-level arguments.  They are into Instant Gratification, as part of the McDonalds culture “I want it now”.  A leading JPL outreach scientist has mentioned using this flawed strategy for IYA/Int’l Year of Astronomy (to my shock) at a recent Pro-Am (Professional Amateur) astronomy conference, so Physics is not alone.

There is another approach, which has been demonstrated by other niche-fields (technical in nature).  It has to do with Entertainment strategy.  It’s how NASCAR is #2 sport in USA, & actually beating out Football (#1 sport) in ratings.  Lang Lang (Chinese classical pianist) has scored a BMW sponsorship, Rolex sponsorship, athletic shoe sponsorship.  If a classical pianist can do IT, so can Science! (both are classical niche-markets)

2) Wrong argument to Washington DC
thru NEW blog, I’ve discovered that “playing to Win” (HEP argument, based on long-term RoI/Return on Investment in R&D) is not appropriate.  As per the NCSA/Nat’l Center for Supercomputing Applications, they used the “playing not to Lose” argument based on Wilson/Cornell’s point (Wilson was M. Gell-Mann’s PhD student).  Wilson pointed out that not funding NCSA, would mean that USA lead in military superpower (military crap is a supercomputing application, along with Weather Forecasting, high-end Science modeling/simulation, etc) due to the Japanese NEC supercomputing solution.

The DoE representative for HEP, even made this point to HEP community (in post-2008 budget crisis post mortem): “What is the consequence if your funding is not approved?” I.e., he was in the mode of “we fund things, only in the context of ‘playing not to Lose’..we will fund it if the consequences are catastrophic”

3) weak Distribution points for Public Outreach message

“Facts tell [ Science information dissemination to Public ], STORIES SELL [ Entertainment approach, Science Research is a “process” with a Great storyline ]”
— Marketing 101, Auto Racing, selling pots & pans, etc

As per above, the Content part of Outreach is flawed, they need to go with Entertainment (as opposed to “Information”).

Joanne Hewett/SLAC is involved with HEP Outreach efforts, & her comments were “spot on”, with regards to Content (for Outreach):

“If you don’t have a product to show, then you’re considered USELESS”

Well, THAT product made its grand entrance this year: Tesla Motors Roadster (all electric sportscar). TM CTO made a presentation at SLAC last fall, & was well received by SLAC physicists (incl Joanne). Just so happens, the co-founder of TM is Martin Eberhard (my ex-officemate in grad-school 25 yrs ago) & his 2nd home is a few miles from me (I’m 2 blocks from Caltech). Caltech has an illustrious track-record in Automotive (Racing & EV), e.g. Jim Hall (inventor of Ground Effects, used in Formula 1 & Indycar) & Alan Cocconi (pioneering engineering development of General Motors EV1, at Aerovironment..sub-contractor to Hughes, the latter a GM contractor). BTW, AC’s parents are CERN physicists.

My contribution (via my Jumplive.com Multimedia Technology Initiative, click on my “chimpanzee” link above or here), is the “Distribution” component of the Content/Distribution model for Outreach.

For the most part (as a whole), HEP is using “Standard Model” techniques for Distribution. I.e., MSM = mainstream media.  I was shocked to see that Brian Green/Columbia doing this in his recent “World Science Festival” event.  All those resources, Nobelists: media solution was ABC News & cursory Blog.  They should have used iTunes video-podcasting (which is a syndication of a video-blog, see Strings 07 video-blog & SUSY 06 video-blog). Just like Peter Woit & Bee seek New Scientist/UK for interviews (not a very good publication, btw.  persistent complaints by scientists about poor signal to noise).  Then, they publicly complain about the results.  This is incredibly naive & old-fashioned, & demonstrates the lack of understanding of Blog technology. I.e., it’s a journalist tool.

“This is Old [ MSM/mainstream media ], therefore it is GOOD [ status-quo ]. This is New [ Web, Blog, iTunes video-podcast ], therefore it is BETTER”
— paradigm shift

Blogs is a “citizen journalism” tool, so you can BYPASS MSM altogether.  In the future, expect to see Science Outreach done by a Collaborative/Cooperative network of scientists-bloggers (as opposed to science challenged journalists who are clueless), say Science Blogs.

Quantum Diaries has made some breakthroughs, in that it’s high signal-to-noise has attracted leading researchers. Last year, there was an anonymous poster which leaked some late-breaking results from Fermilab. Which got picked up by the MSM. This is a brilliant demonstration of how scientist Blogs can be an effective reporting tool (as well as a research tool).

Arcadian Functor (“Kea”) is a good example of how a Blog can be used for research: the same cast of commenters are collaborators with Kea. Backreaction (“Bee”) is a good example of how a Blog can be used for “Concept development”: lots of good ideas about Physics, Computers, Society, Internet, Information. The latter 2 blogs are playing into my “blue sky” Concept for a Collaborative/Cooperative “satellite R&D Inst’s (distributed all over the world).


“A GOOD PLAN, will beat a Good Idea anyday..10 to 1”
— xx, offroad racing marketing guru (my friend & mentor)

What needs to happen, is to have this Working Group created, & a Design/Implementation for an effective strategy to overcome current slump in Public Outreach. Part of the design, needs a plan for a “network of science blogs” to leverage some of the Mobile Technology text/photo/video solutions I’ve demonstrated:

1) iPod/iTunes/iPhone/iTouch
“Agile, Mobile, Hostile” is a good term. Even AppleTV (living room set top box, where people all over the world can watch HEP infomercial “entertainment” videos in the comfort of their living room, as opposed to cramped office setting of Internet)

2) mobile-blogs for Research & Outreach
Here is a sample SUSY ’06 Textamerica.com mobile-blog LiveWebCast solution.

WordPress, Blogger blogs can take text/photo/video submissions from PDAphones with built-in cameras). Bee of Backreaction is web-savvy, & uses Twitter blog for updates.

4. Anonymous - September 25, 2008

Or best to look for positions outside the U.S…

5. dorigo - September 25, 2008

GW, I believe that the small nuts that governments give to research are in size rather uncorrelated with the economical situation in the country: they have a very small impact. The decisions are seldom based on rational arguments…

DB, do we need the respect of the american political class ? They do not have my respect, so I really do not care what they think.

Cheers all,

PS do you actually say “small nuts” in the US ? What I mean is of course “small change”…

6. Guess Who - September 25, 2008

Peanuts. Speaking of which, I went back and had a look at the 2008 figures:

DOE Office of Science: $4 billion.
NSF R&D: $4.5 billion.
NOAA R&D: $573 million.
NASA R&D: $12.5 billion.
NIH: $28.9 billion.

So roughly $50 billion in total, or 7.2% of the proposed $700 billion bailout.

7. Fred - September 26, 2008

Here’s some comical support and relief from a dumb but entertaining strip I read in the L.A. Times everyday. Also check out the previous 2 days at the site when this particular sequence began:

And just think, that $700 billion is now at $1 trillion based on what the various senators were telling us today.

8. Fred - September 26, 2008
9. dorigo - September 26, 2008

Hi GW, right. Peanuts. But indeed, it seems not so much peanuts the 50B$ you total there. Anyway… how much is the defense dept. budget again ?

Fred, thanks for the link!


10. Guess Who - September 26, 2008

That’s easy, just go to http://www.gpoaccess.gov/usbudget/index.html and find…

DoD 2008 total: $583 billion, projected to reach $651 (plus small change) in 2009. That’s not counting some remarkably large “credit activity” (direct loans, “family housing improvement”…?): $91 billion in 2008, $59 in 2009. So the entire federal R&D budget is smaller than the DoD’s credit activity (and less than 10% of its total budget).

In fairness, the total outlays for science are larger than the R&D numbers. For instance, the NSF got a total of $6.256 billion in 2008. But the priorities are evident: defense is almost on par with mortgage bailouts, research trails way behind.

11. Fred - September 29, 2008

Maybe a symbiotic relationship could be developed between physicists and seemingly unrelated fields to create an extra awareness in the public eye.

An example:

1. A very cool early xmas present today from the jpl website:

“NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander has detected snow falling from Martian clouds. Spacecraft soil experiments also have provided evidence of past interaction between minerals and liquid water, processes that occur on Earth.”

combined with a snow crystals page, complete with movies of snowflakes created in the lab by Kenneth G. Libbrecht, Professor of Physics at Caltech and Chairman of the Physics Department:


Perhaps the first step could be to start a modest xmas card business to support a student scholarship.

12. dorigo - September 30, 2008

Beautiful snowflakes, Fred. I however think that doing something for science awareness is such a time-consuming job, there is no way it can be managed by scientists (who are usually very bad communicators). Maybe businessmen are better at that, in fact… But are they interested ?


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