From The New York Review of Books: Steven Weinberg “The Crisis of Big Science” 


In The New York Review of Books, May 10, 2012 Dr. Weinberg writes, as beautifully as ever, about some of the past and future of what is essentially Basic Scientific Research, in the field of Physics. This article is copyright protected, so I will not even quote from it, out of respect for Dr. Weinberg. I will just suggest that you go to the link provided below and read the article.

Dr. Steven Weinberg

Suffice it for me to say that in this article he is concerned with the future of the U.S. budget for basic research, specifically in Physics and Astronomy. But he does spend some time describing where we have been before talking about where we are or are not going. I have read him before in NYRB, and he never fails to properly set a context for his major thesis. But, while this is one of the most eminent people in our scientific community, still, in his description of our history of support and the lack of it for basic research, Dr Weinberg seems to make the defining point of his interest the 1993 cancellation by the U.S. Congress of the Superconducting Super Collider, to have been built in Texas. I have seen it in his previous articles, I have seen him speak about it in videos of his lectures. On the one hand, he is not wrong. On the other hand, let it go. This failure to proceed in a program in the State of Texas, where he has been at the University of Texas, is in no way any sort of defining moment in his incredible and Nobel winning career.

If Dr Weinberg can be criticized for anything at all in his writing, it is his too quick mentions of various sub-atomic particles and forces which are the elements of the Standard Model. While it might be reasonable for him to expect that his readers would already be familiar with these terms, still he is writing in a journal of popular press, no matter how erudite the journal or its readership. He might just keep some quickie descriptions of quarks, leptons, muons, and bosons, etc., in his word processing files and dump them in for his less learned readership.

The “Standard Model” with the hypothetical Higgs boson

The U.S. D.O.E. Office of Science funds about seventeen major research laboratories, such as Berkeley Lab, Brookhaven, Argonne, and Fermilab. There is a lot of concern about the future of many projects in these labs. At Fermilab, the Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment (LBNE) has been pushed back to economic re-design. That is a biggie. Dr. Weinberg comments that things are not rosy in Europe. But the European Southern Observatory, an incredible organization in Astronomy, seems to be pushing ahead with its long range telescope building program. Also, in a previous post here, we saw that Director Oddone of Fermilab had recently returned from meetings in which he was quite impressed with the planning he saw in both Europe and Asia.

I highly recommend that you read Dr. Weinberg’s article. I always recommend that you read Dr Weinberg. The article can be found here.