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The Fermi Lab, which runs the second most powerful cyclotron, or atom smasher as  they are often called, has made a major new discovery, and it may revolutionize our understanding of particle physics.  That's a big deal people.

WASHINGTON – Data from a major US atom smasher lab may have revealed a new elementary particle, or potentially a new force of nature, one of the physicists involved in the discovery told AFP on Wednesday.

The physics world was abuzz with excitement over the findings, which could offer clues to the persistent riddle of mass and how objects obtain it -- one of the most sought-after answers in all of physics. [...]

"There could be some new force beyond the force that we know," said Giovanni Punzi, a physicist with the international research team that is analyzing the data from the US Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. [...]

The US machine began its work in the mid 1980s, and is scheduled for shutdown later this year when its funding runs dry.

How much funding is needed to keep the United States operating the second largest particle accelerator, and thus help keep American Physics in the forefront of  fundamental scientific research.  One hundred million dollars.  However the Department of Energy denied their request for further funding to keep the Fermi lab atom smasher operating back in January because of the current  "budgetary climate."

Fermilab had funding to operate the Tevatron through September but sought $100 million from the federal government to keep the accelerator running, Riesselmann said.

The Department of Energy on Monday notified Fermilab's director, Pier Oddone, that it had rejected the lab's request for extending the life of the Tevatron.

"The present budgetary climate did not permit DOE to secure the additional funds needed to run the Tevatron for three more years," Oddone said in a prepared statement Monday. "While we would have liked to run the Tevatron for three more years, our life going forward is full of promising projects and great opportunities for major discoveries."

All the DOE needed to continue operating this this valuable scientific research institution operating for three more years was 100 million dollars.  That may seem like a lot, but in fact it is not.  For comparison's sake, it costs $300 MILLION to fund the War in Afghanistan for ONE DAY.

The withdrawal of American troops from Iraq will allow for a reduced US defense budget in 2012 but the war in Afghanistan still costs the United States close to 300 million dollars a day. [...]

Spending for the Afghan mission calls for $107.3 billion, down slightly from the last budget, which requested $113.5 billion

In effect, that amount is the cost of funding the never ending war (or the longest war in American history if you prefer) for one third of a day.  So, for the same cost of blowing shit up in Afghanistan for eight hours  and killing lots of innocent civilians collateral damage, we will shut down a vital American scientific enterprise and cede to the Europeans who operate the world's largest particle accelerator (a/k/a CERN) all future discoveries on the fundamental physical forces that control energy and matter.  

ONE HUNDRED MILLION Dollars.  About a tenth of the amount President Obama's campaign says he needs to run for re-election.  Yet we can't spend a measly 100 million dollars to keep Fermi Lab's atom snasher running for three more years?

Maybe you don't think that's a big deal.  Maybe you think fundamental scientific research doesn't matter.  

Well I disagree with you.  Discarding our scientific investments in science and basic scientific research will ultimately make us a second or third class economic power, whether those cuts are to basic research in Physics, or to federal agencies who provide funding for research in Environmental Science, Biology or Medicine.

While you were sleeping on Feb. 19, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1, a bill that will have dire consequences for anyone who breathes.

This toxic bill cuts the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's budget by one-third, a measure aimed to decimate the agency's ability to protect us from life-threatening air pollution. The House bill hamstrings the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by reducing its budget by 25 percent, limiting its ability to protect children from tobacco and to address diseases like asthma. The bill also cuts $1 billion from the National Institutes of Health, which is working to find cures and treatments for diseases such as lung cancer, asthma and emphysema.

This is research the private market will never fund because there is no immediate profit to it.  This is something only the government can do.  And the ripple effects of shutting down Fermi Lab will have long term consequences for American industry, American national security, American competitiveness, and American jobs.  It's role is vital to our national interests and it's cost a fraction of the money we are wasting on unnecessary wars in the Middle East or to fund our wasteful and bloated military or to provide subsidies to big Business.

Basic scientific research is defined as fundamental theoretical or experimental investigative research to advance knowledge without a specifically envisaged or immediately practical application. It is the quest for new knowledge and the exploration of the unknown. As such, basic science is sometimes naively perceived as an unnecessary luxury that can simply be replaced by applied research to more directly address immediate needs.

However the demarcation between basic research and applied research is not at all clear cut. In reality they are inextricably inter-twined. Most scientific research, whether in the academic world or in industry, is a hybrid of new knowledge generation and subsequent exploitation. Major innovation is rarely possible without prior generation of new knowledge founded on basic research. Strong scientific disciplines and strong collaboration between them are necessary both for the generation of new knowledge and its application. Retard basic research and inevitably innovation and application will be stifled. [...]

Whilst an exclusive focus on application may have some merit in the short-term, there are several reasons why neglecting basic research is seriously flawed in the longer-term:

  1.    Basic and applied science are a continuum. They are inter-dependent. The integration of basic and applied research is crucial to problem-solving, innovation and product development.
  2.    Knowledge is more than the information and data that might be provided via the internet; it is fundamentally a matter of cognitive capability, skills, training and learning. The exploitation and application of scientific information requires skilled scientists with a good understanding of the basic theories and practice of science. Successful transfer of scientific knowledge requires well-trained scientists at both ends of the exchange.
  3.    Excessive dependency on scientific progress in other countries is rarely likely to lead to the resolution of local problems. Countries need to be able to generate their own scientific knowledge and adapt this to their own local context and needs.
  4.    The practice of science is increasingly international and the research agenda is set by those who participate. A country with no basic scientific research capacity effectively excludes itself from having any real influence on the future directions of science.

Let me repeat that last sentence:  A country with no basic scientific research capacity effectively excludes itself from having any real influence on the future directions of science.  

Shutting down Fermi Lab's atom smasher will have long term negative consequences for our nation, just as cuts to other basic scientific research will have long term consequences for our nation.  And by "nation" I don't mean Exxon, Koch Industries, Big Pharma or other legally bastardized "persons" under our laws, but real people.  You, me and our children and grandchildren.  This funding is as vital as the social safety net to our citizens and it comes with a very cheap price tag.

Unfortunately not cheap enough for the ideological driven idiots who control the Republican party.  This is something only government can do.  This is what Republicans and their cracked teapot party supporters do not understand.  rather than support a vital interest of America they would hand over billions of tax breaks to the rich and powerful and limit the ability of new industries to arise, industries that will use basic science research findings to create innovative solutions to our problems and promote job creation and a better life for our citizens who don't fall within the top ONE PERCENT of income recipients.

Our reliance of basic scientific research has served our country well over the last century.   It has been the fundamental force that has driven our economic dominance for much of that time.  Now the Republicans want to dismantle the scientific infrastructure that benefited the lives of so many Americans, institutions that have cost relatively little in the short term but have paid off big for many years.  In short, the Republicans want to destroy our future.  They want to destroy our position as a leader in basic science.  They are doing this for no rational reason.

And we will all suffer the consequences of their anti-science ideology/cult.

“The four corners of deceit: government, academia, science and media. Those institutions are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit. That's how they promulgate themselves; it is how they prosper.” It is tempting to laugh off this and other rhetoric broadcast by Rush Limbaugh, a conservative US radio host, but Limbaugh and similar voices are no laughing matter.

There is a growing anti-science streak on the American right that could have tangible societal and political impacts on many fronts — including regulation of environmental and other issues and stem-cell research. [...]

US citizens face economic problems that are all too real, and the country's future crucially depends on education, science and technology as it faces increasing competition from China and other emerging science powers.

So I say hats off to the scientists at Fermi Lab.  Thank you for your service to our country.  Oh, and in September don't let the door hit you on your backside as you "leave the building" because our Government is unable to fund your efforts in its current "budgetary climate."

Originally posted to Steven D on Thu Apr 07, 2011 at 05:27 AM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech and Science Matters.

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