The Sciences

Bloodbath for Science

Cosmic VarianceBy John ConwayFeb 14, 2011 2:55 AM


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Last Wednesday the House Appropriations Committee released a list of proposed cuts totaling over $74 billion to be attached to the continuing resolution under which the government is presently operating. The next day, the committee promised even deeper reductions in the present fiscal year funding, which began last October, and which is nearly half over. The committee is set to propose some $100 billion in cuts, the rationale being "to rein in spending to help our economy grow and our businesses create jobs." Among the cuts is $1.1 billion from the Department of Energy Office of Science, the agency which funds the majority of basic physics research at universities and national labs. This is out of a total proposed budget of $5.12 billion for basic research. That request for FY2011 was slightly above the FY2010 actual appropriation, meaning that the proposed cut for FY2011 represents more than a $890 million decrease relative to FY2010. If enacted (and what happens next is a high-stakes game of chicken), clearly, this represents a 20% rescission half way through the fiscal year. Effectively it's a 40% cut. Imagine you are a national lab director, or a university PI like me. If I am told that I will not get the money we were awarded by the DOE, we will need to let people go, no question. People are talking about closing the national labs for some period, and I have heard rumors that the Tevatron at Fermilab, scheduled to shut down in September, will actually be turned off in a couple weeks on March 1, ten years to the day that Run 2 began. The exact programs within the DOE Office of Science to be cut will be detailed by the committee soon, I expect. But this is utter devastation for the people that form the bedrock foundation of our high tech economy, and train the next generation of scientists and engineers. It is breathtakingly stupid. And how does cutting $100 billion in government spending "help our economy grow and create jobs"? The immediate result will be the loss of something like a million jobs. This is just an order of magnitude guess, based on the notion that all government spending supports jobs one way or another, at about $100k per job. Maybe it's 600k, maybe it's 1.5 million - I don't know. But to say this creates jobs? I am totally baffled by this logic. I am no economist, but maybe one out there can enlighten me. As far as I can see, we cut federal spending so the ultra-rich can keep their tax breaks, and they invest the money they keep overseas where labor is cheaper. So we are killing American jobs - some of the best ones we have in high-tech and alternative energy - and sending them out of the country. This is incredible. The administration's FY2012 request will be released tomorrow. No doubt the house majority party will declare it DOA...

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