This was a glorious week at CERN. Being away from the United States for a little while, in place that is both host to the complications of international cooperation and a reminder of how things can actually be when people of different nations cooperate well, has been an out-of-body experience for me as an American. It’s been a good thing. Of course, apart from what’s been good for the soul, there has been much research, which is great for the mind. Computer craziness ahead of a deadline, lots of data to copy, an analysis to run from scratch, and new views on old problems filled my week. I’ll reflect a little on this here.
I’ve decided to use my blog to reflect on my summer research activities as they unfold. I find such reflection not only useful for thinking about what is accomplished and what is not, but also to communicate to an audience some of the aspects of the research life of a particle physicist (at least, one that has to travel to a remote site just to do their research).
This past week was a travel week for me, kicking off my time at CERN for the next few weeks. Prior to that, I visited my parents to get some much-needed rest and relaxation, as well as to (most importantly) spend time with family I don’t get to see very often due to teaching and research duties throughout the year. I arrived at CERN late on Wednesday (later than anticipated), and hit the ground running on Thursday.
The U.S. has been without a “science adviser” (technically speaking, a Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, or OSTP) since the inauguration of the current president. Based on existing records, this is the longest that the U.S. has ever gone without this position being filled (492 days). I haven’t taken a broader look at the state of science policy in the U.S. in a long time, mostly because I have tried to remain entirely focused on research and teaching. Thinking about how this particular executive branch behaves also generally fills me with despair for our nation, so I guess I have also actively avoided it. But sometime, you just have to look into the wheelhouse to see if anyone is driving. Of course, you might learn you are on a big ship on an uncertain path, with no one steering.
UPDATE [June 10, 2018]: The New York Times has an excellent and very comprehensive article on how the Trump administration has almost entirely abandoned the use of science in policy, the use of scientists in science policy positions, and the filling of science policy advisory positions. They make an excellent point: negotiations with a nuclear-armed country demand scientific input (e.g. advice on whether or not de-nuclearization verification procedures are complete and sound), and there is no science advice used in the process of preparing for, or conducting, the upcoming summit with North Korea. Science, as a methodology, establishes the most reliable facts about reality; to abandon science in policy is, ultimately, to abandon reality in policy.
Pop on over to Goodreads’s Science Book Club, where “Reality in the Shadows (or) What the Heck’s the Higgs?” is the book of the month for discussion in the forum! Frank Blitzer, Jim Gates, and I are available to chat about the book, about the science behind the book, and about all the unanswered questions we’d love to have answered. Grab a copy of the book, give it a read, and come on over to talk!
Our editor and publisher, Otto Barz, has been tossing out questions to keep the conversation moving. Give Otto a break (he’s worked hard enough already over the years!) and post some of your own questions and curiosities. We’d love to interact with you!