For a while now the situation with this year’s budget for science in the US has been very unclear, with threats being made of huge cuts to be instituted in the middle of the fiscal year, requiring shutdowns of labs, etc. The recently negotiated budget agreement turns out to involve only relatively small cuts for both the NSF and the DOE Office of Science, more here and here. Details still have to be determined and the legislation has to be passed, but it looks like most physics and math research will escape any serious immediate cuts. The new fiscal year starts October 1, and fighting over that budget has not even begun. From the hearings already held, it looks like math and physics research has bipartisan support, but in the new environment of significant budget-cutting, focused on discretionary non-military spending, I’d guess that budget levels for the next few years will be flat at best.
There’s an interesting interview with Dennis Overbye of the New York Times here. He’s noticed a problem with string theory:
One pet peeve is press releases about papers that show that string theory is about to be experimentally tested. When you read the fine print that’s never true. There was a press release that the large hadron collider was going to test string theory. It was kind of embarassing for them.
Scientists and science journalists just take these shortcuts And I think they become enshrined as truth in the public mind.
He also has some comments about blogs:
In the category of “string theory about to be experimentally tested” nonsense that Overbye refers to, no press releases this week, but we do have a special section of Science News with an array of over-hyped stories about Cosmic Questions, with the one on string theory assuring us that:
Science journalism is in a very interesting, very turbulent state I think. We still have newspapers. Some newspapers still have science reporters, like the Times. I feel like the blogs have risen up to become huge force in the coverage of science. I think the readership now is very fragmented. I think a lot of people get their information from blogs, where people can be more casual or more arcane if they want to be. I think even at my newspaper there’s a difference between people who read the science times and the font page. There are a lot of these different layers of coverage going on.
In the category of something I just put on my list to try and find time to listen to, there’s a Science Friday program featuring a discussion about Science and Art between Cormac McCarthy, Werner Herzog and Lawrence Krauss.
In the category of talks I’d like to hear but can’t, Graeme Segal will be giving the Felix Klein lectures in Bonn next month, on the topic of Three Roles of Quantum Field Theory.
Even then, the LHC will be far from powerful enough to re-create the single, unified force that physicists believe existed for a fraction of a second after the Big Bang — you’d need a collider as big as the universe itself for that. But the LHC might be able to test some of the predictions made by the leading theory that joins gravity and the other forces.
Update: Two more
According to a new preprint, CDF’s observed suspicious bump that made the New York Times “is a generic feature of low mass string theory”. No word yet on whether there’s going to be a press release. I guess this also means that if D0 doesn’t see the bump, that pretty much rules out low mass string theory since its generic feature is not observed, right?
Langlands has written a very interesting review for Mathematical Reviews of Ngo’s paper proving the fundamental lemma.