Sequestration and Science

Everyone knows that the US has an overwhelming budget deficit. We spend a lot more money than we earn, and the problem is growing at a frightening rate. You may also remember that  Congress had to raise the debt ceiling earlier this year, and in a striking display of inept partisanship, they wound up with a "penalty plan" called sequestration that cuts $1.2 trillion in spending, which would be 8% of every budget  from across the board.

This act goes into effect Jan. 2, and so far the only proposal that seems to have traction is to exempt defense spending and cut 20% from everywhere else. The problem with this plan is that crippling science R&D budgets over the next 10 years is going to make the economic situation a LOT worse. Science and technology drive modern economies. If we slash science spending, the reduction in grant funding will mean that we have to abandon some promising research ideas. NSF will lose $1.35 billion, which is roughly the amount they spent on all NSF undergraduate education last year. Science funding will suffer, and the economy will get worse as a result, so we'll wind up right back where we are now.

Most politicians say they rarely hear from the scientists, so they don't know what our concerns are. ACS has come up with a list of talking points they think the scientific community should share with our leaders:
1. US economic challenges must be addressed.
2. Investment in research and development have been proven to fuel economic growth and create jobs.
3. Federal R&D investment must be sustained and predictable.
4. We need to avoid the sequester and seek real solutions to achieve fair budget cuts.

If you agree with these ideas, ACS has made it simple to share them with your personal elected officials. Go to their website, fill in your contact information and a draft email will pop up directed to the Congressional officials for your address. Modify it to reflect your person views and hit send. Its a simple, fast way to be a responsible citizen.

The Higgs Boson: Not-A-God Particle

The recent detection of the Higgs Boson went a long way toward confirming the Standard Model. It in no way confirmed a Theory of Everything. The idea behind such a theory is that if we truly understood physics, we could have a mathematical understanding that would explain how everything behaves - matter, energy, quantum mechanics, dark matter - the whole universe. In extreme, a "theory of everything" would be able to predict asteroid collisions, forecast the weather, and tell what socks you are going to wear tomorrow.

The Higgs boson doesn't do this. Huge parts of basic physics, like gravity, don't fit in the Standard Model right now. It certainly doesn't hint at omniscience, it doesn't make any arguments for or against the existence of God. why do we call it the God Particle? Well, first you need to define "we". The media call the Higgs Boson "the God Particle" because it sounds much more approachable and interesting, so more people read the story. Scientists hate the name! The only time physicists seem to refer to the Higgs as a God Particle is to criticize the media for the moniker. Even the person who coined the term, Leon Lederman never meant to imbue religious significance to the subatomic particle. He called it "The Goddamn Particle" because it was such a huge stumbling block for physics to overcome. An editor insisted of changing the name in his book, which probably resulted in a lot more sales but a ton of misconceptions.