Friday, February 10, 2017

Politics And How It Affects US Physics Research

This is a very poignant article on how politics have impacted Physics research in the US for the past decade or so. Reading this can be very disheartening, so be forewarned!

The one impact that I had mentioned a few years ago is also mentioned here, and that had to do with not only the impact of budget cuts, but also the devastating impact of a budget cut AFTER several months of continuing resolution of the US budget.

I remember one year on December first, we had a faculty meeting where we heard funding levels would be up 10% across the board — a miraculous state of affairs after multiple years of flat-flat budgets (meaning no budgetary increases for cost of living adjustments — which ultimately means it’s a 3% cut). At our next faculty meeting on December fifteenth, we heard that it was going to be a flat-flat year — par for the course. On December nineteenth, we hear the news that there was a 30% cut in funding levels.

Now losing 30% of your budget is very bad in all circumstances, but you have to remember that the fiscal year begins on October first. The only thing you can do is fire people since all the funding is salaries and to do that legally takes about six weeks and with the holiday shutdown, that meant that this was a 50% cut in that year’s funding. There was some carry-forward and other budgetary manipulations, but 30% of the lab was lost, about three or four hundred if I recall. The lab tried to shield career scientists and engineers, but still many dozens were let go.

In a post from a few years ago, I showed the simple mathematics on why this effect is devastating for science research.

Unfortunately, I don't see this changing anytime soon. As the author of this article wrote, science in general does not have a "constituent". No politician pays a political price for not funding science, or wanting funding for science to be cut, unlike cutting funding for social programs, military, or other entitlements.

Regardless of who is in office or who is in control of the US Congress, it is business as usual.


No comments: