New York Times reports on EPP2010

I checked my usual news sources, the Google and Yahoo! news aggregators, after the release of the EPP2010 report. Nothing. I was shocked. Plenty of bad news about this or that, but nothing about a diverse panel of scientists and non-scientists, chaired by an economist, calling on the nation to support particle physics in order to save the future of its own “national life”.

I noticed that the “New York Times has written a piece about EPP2010 – finally!”:
Some notable quotes from the piece:

“The blow to American physics would erode the base of science and technology that has fueled innovation, provided intellectual and cultural inspiration and bolstered national security over the last century.”

It’s good to see the writer, Dennis Overbye, hit the main themes: science and technology are important to the nation, not just as inspiration but for innovation and security. These are definitely the most important connections the nation needs to make to the physical sciences, even a science like particle physics.


There’s been a lot of buzz concerning a Spanish version of the U.S. national anthem. Like an electric field, things like this tend to strongly polarize the nation. The media seizes on this kind of thing, throws the switch, and suddenly the nation is feeling one way or the other. Even the President weighed in, saying that he felt the anthem ought to be sung in English.

I gotta say, the hypocrisy runs deep here. Two-thirds of Americans don’t know the words to the national anthem, so those people don’t get to criticize or even hold a public opinion. At least *somebody* knows the words, if in Spanish. Second, if the President starts criticizing the English of other people, he’s gotta worry about his own record (there is NO such word as “nu-cu-ler”). Third, if the U.S. anthem is supposed to only ever be sung in English, then it’s time for everybody to start reading the Bible in Greek. Or was it originally in Hebrew?

Nobody gets to dictate patriotism. That kind of defeats the purpose of people standing up to be patriotic in the first place. I applaud this attempt to popularize the anthem to a large sector of the U.S. population, legal or illegal. I’d liken it to the King James version of the Bible, which brought the Word of God into the language of the masses and connected people personally to the scriptures for the first time, taking power out of the hands of the church. I’d liken it to Galileo writing his most famous work, the Dialog on the Two Chief Systems of the World, in Italian rather than Latin, bringing science to the masses for the first time. It is the spread of meaning, in whatever language that can be used to express it, that gives power to an idea.

Science Struggles, while Oil Snuggles

For twenty years, the United States has invested less and less in basic research in the physical sciences as a fraction of GDP. The U.S. spends about $8-$8.5 billion per year on basic research in the physical sciences (that represents the combined DOE science, NSF, and NIST budgets). Today, “it was reported that Exxon has reaped record profits from the sale of oil”: How much? $8.4 billion.

In one year, a single company pursuing a single goal – the production and sale of oil – lands as much profit as the U.S. spends **as a whole** on all branches of the physical sciences. Energy development research is a small fraction of that physical science research. There are many scientists who have called for a “Manhatten Project”-style effort to develop multiple sources of new energy, which when combined could help relax our dependence on any single source (such as oil, or coal, or nuclear).

Let’s think about that. How much would the Manhatten Project has cost in current dollars? “Some estimates”: place the cost of that project in modern dollars at around $20 billion. That’s 2-3 years of Exxon profit (just Exxon, mind you – there are other companies). If you spent as much on alternative, multipronged energy research using a broad program as we did on making an atomic bomb, imagine the good you could do. Imagine the security benefits to having a distributed energy dependence system. Imagine the benefits to the common good at a rapid scientific program involving the public, academics, and industry. Imagine the new industries that would result from the academic-industrial partnership, and the new jobs created in an economy that is more and more providing services but no goods. Imagine the generation of children brought up, inspired by the science and engineering of New Energy.

Imagine what $8.5 billion could be spent on, if a company were willing to take Bell Labs-style risks in basic research.

Or, we could just have the same old, tired dream about how much new oil $8.5 billion would help us to find.

Particle Physics is Fundamental

Today, the National Academies concluded their decadal study of particle physics – EPP2010 – with the release of the multidisciplinary committee’s report. The EPP2010 report is several things. It is a strong cautionary bullhorn to the United States, telling us that ceding leadership in fundamental particle physics will pose more economic and social risk than pursuing a leading role in the field. It is a roadmap for U.S. particle physics, outlining the priorities that the field should set to meet the greatest scientific challenges, and providing strategies for meeting those goals. It is also another (hard fought) nod of the head, this time not just from physicists, but also from biology and industry, for the importance of the Large Hadron Collider and the International Linear Collider.

The panel, chaired by Harold Shapiro (president of Princeton University and a professor of economics), presented its findings at a press conference in Washington D.C. at 2:30 Eastern time. The presentation was brief, fielding questions from the assembled press and guests. However, it touched on the important themes of American competativeness, fundamental science and basic research, and the connection between the “national life” of the U.S. and science. It also used the Superconducting Supercollider (SSC) experience as a means to explain the lessons learned, and the practices already in place to insure broad international and industrial partnerships.

This is the first good news I’ve had in weeks. Supporting the LHC, while banging the drum for the importance of the ILC, particle astrophysics, and neutrino physics, are at least a positive sign in an otherwise pervasive sea of negatives from this past month.