Friday, November 9, 2012

On collaboration

I am remiss in not writing since the election. Of course, I am glad to see Obama win a second term. But it is a microcosm of the US which I wish to describe.

Now that we have chosen (not that the act of choosing grants us reprieve), we need to set aside our differences and cooperate toward the greater good. It is not just a lesson to the wider US population, with regards to the President. It is also a lesson to me and my fellow physicists.

My "home" facility was shut down, as you may remember. We were cut in favor of other facilities, one of which has yet to exist. What smarted the most was that we felt ourselves singled out unfairly (sound familiar, Republicans?) - none of us saw it coming; instead, we all "knew" that it would be Argonne (ATLAS) that lost funding, not us. But that's not what happened in the end. We were cut, and ATLAS was directed to take up the slack. And we are fooling ourselves if we refuse to acknowledge that, aside from the politics, there was some reasonable basis for the decision: number of users, cost to operate, number of publications and citations, etc. (Of course, there were some dirty politics involved also, but that is never one-sided). Just like in the presidential election.
So now we are faced with an honest dilemma: how do we proceed? Do we continue to wallow in our self pity? Or do we stiffen our upper lips and start working collaboratively on real problems? The answer is obvious (even if, early on, we cannot see it through our emotion-tinted glasses).
And so I find myself here at ATLAS, working with those people whom once I considered competition, but since have been rendered cooperative by the nature of the larger system. Our shared situation requires that we collaborate instead of compete, and it is important that someone take that difficult first step - that one side reach out a hand first. I am trying to do just that.
We can solve our problems - and run some really great experiments - if we stop acting dogmatic and isolationist and instead focus on our common goals. Are we here to bicker over number of publications, or are we here to further scientific knowledge? Similarly, are we here to argue over precise tax rates, or are we here to make America a great place to live? It's up to us.

It's time to collaborate.

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