“Then the LORD awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine. And he smote his enemies in the hinder parts: he put them to a perpetual reproach.”
f all places, the God particle may have been discovered in increasingly godless Europe, rather than here in God-obsessed America.
God is funny that way, I guess.
Here at home, small-minded, short-sighted legislators, bent on deficit reduction in the 1990s, killed our own Superconducting Supercollider—all 54 miles of it—which was located south of Dallas, in God’s country. Here’s the way The New York Times reported the death of the collider, and maybe the death of America’s preeminence in high-end science:
Critics did not argue today that the Supercollider was bad science or even a waste of money. What killed the program was their assertion that the taxpayers could no longer afford it.
And that was in 1993! Just think how endangered is American science in the Age of the Tea Party. Our largest collider, located at Fermi National Accelerator Lab in Illinois, was killed last year, and here’s the way the Department of Energy explained why the government could not keep it running:
Unfortunately, the current budgetary climate is very challenging and additional funding has not been identified.
That is America these days. We are just too damned poor to bother with things like discovering the secrets of the universe. By God, we’ve got millionaires and billionaires to take care of! Tax cuts for the rich, not unlocking the secrets of nature, is what drives our politics at the moment.
For those out there who still care about science and, more important, who still care about America being a place that attracts world-class scientists to live and love, I present an extensive excerpt from Nobel-totin’ physicist and University of Texas professor Steven Weinberg, whose excellent essay, The Crisis of Big Science, can also be read as The Crisis of American Excellence:
Big science is in competition for government funds, not only with manned space flight, and with various programs of real science, but also with many other things that we need government to do. We don’t spend enough on education to make becoming a teacher an attractive career choice for our best college graduates. Our passenger rail lines and Internet services look increasingly poor compared with what one finds in Europe and East Asia. We don’t have enough patent inspectors to process new patent applications without endless delays. The overcrowding and understaffing in some of our prisons amount to cruel and unusual punishment. We have a shortage of judges, so that civil suits take years to be heard.
The Securities and Exchange Commission, moreover, doesn’t have enough staff to win cases against the corporations it is charged to regulate. There aren’t enough drug rehabilitation centers to treat addicts who want to be treated. We have fewer policemen and firemen than before September 11. Many people in America cannot count on adequate medical care. And so on. In fact, many of these other responsibilities of government have been treated worse in the present Congress than science. All these problems will become more severe if current legislation forces an 8 percent sequestration—or reduction, in effect—of nonmilitary spending after this year.
We had better not try to defend science by attacking spending on these other needs. We would lose, and would deserve to lose. Some years ago I found myself at dinner with a member of the Appropriations Committee of the Texas House of Representatives. I was impressed when she spoke eloquently about the need to spend money to improve higher education in Texas. What professor at a state university wouldn’t want to hear that? I naively asked what new source of revenue she would propose to tap. She answered, “Oh, no, I don’t want to raise taxes. We can take the money from health care.” This is not a position we should be in.
It seems to me that what is really needed is not more special pleading for one or another particular public good, but for all the people who care about these things to unite in restoring higher and more progressive tax rates, especially on investment income. I am not an economist, but I talk to economists, and I gather that dollar for dollar, government spending stimulates the economy more than tax cuts. It is simply a fallacy to say that we cannot afford increased government spending. But given the anti-tax mania that seems to be gripping the public, views like these are political poison. This is the real crisis, and not just for science.