Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Winning the Future" - by losing it?

Hot on the heels of today's announcement, I feel as though I must speak. It is this note, almost in passing, that cuts to the quick:
The FY 2012 budget request closes the Holifield Radioactive Ion Beam Facility at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which will save $10.3 million.
$10.3 million dollars may seem like a lot, and to us, it is. It's our operating budget. But to the Department of Energy, it's hardly a line item. One only has to look at the previous item in Stephen Chu's blog post to reckon as much: cutting the credits and deductions currently being given to the oil and gas industry will save nearly $4 billion next year alone. They'll save billions of dollars, and yet are still going to push to close the HRIBF for a $10 million pittance?
The salt in the wound is that the cut would come, if you will, "unsupported." Whenever a facility suffers a funding cut or is shut down, it is after a lengthy ranking and peer review process. The peer review process ensures that facilities aren't shut down "out of the blue" (as is the case now), but because they have failed to produce good, and consistent, science. We've been given no such chance. We publish myriads of papers, including Physical Review Letters and even in Nature (here's a reminder). We were just awarded Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Directors Award (partway down this page). We present talk after talk at conference after conference. We are the only facility in the US that can produce high energy, high intensity beams of r-process nuclei like tin and tellurium, one of the only facilities that produces beams using the ISOL technique (the only one in the US that operates as a user facility), and we have the largest (25 million volts) tandem in the world.
This budget cut simply cannot stand. $10.3 million dollars in savings is not enough to justify setting back the US involvement in basic nuclear physics research by years, if not decades. Something must be done. Contact your Senators and Congressional delegates. Contact Stephen Chu and the DOE. But contact someone.
If you believe me at all, if you have caught any glimpse of what I've tried so hard to convey - the importance, and the wonder, of science - then please, act. I can ask no more. But I can also ask no less. Our future depends on it.

9 comments:

  1. For a table of the proposed cuts, see here.

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  2. This is sooooo absolutely wrong. UGH UGH UGH!

    And it's all based on idiotic economics to boot. The idea that we should willingly keep our economy weak and not invest in our future because of illusory debts and necessary, structural deficits. BS BS BS BS.

    I am sorry for you personally. It sounds like this could really affect you and that sucks. I will keep hoping.

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  3. The Evil Dr. Pain has been having some posting issues, but wanted to point out:

    The proposed cuts are making the news:

    The Wall Street Journal

    The Washington Post

    The Knoxville News Sentinel

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  4. And Steven - thanks for your support. It does stand to affect me personally, which makes the proposed cuts that much harder to take. But the general truth is still valid (regardless of emotion): you can't invest in the future by cutting its funding.
    I remember being awed when Obama personally sent a letter to the Optics society to congratulate them on the 50th anniversary of the laser. I was happy when he chose Chu as Secretary of Energy. And now all of these things seem worthless, as the America COMPETES Act is thrown to the wind.
    It wouldn't be the first time I considered defecting to Canada.

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