Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Physics collides with politics

Over at FrumForum, my latest, on Rand Paul and the Energy Dept.: "Paul Plays Politics with Physics." Excerpt:
Sen. Rand Paul has proposed eliminating the Department of Energy. Other Republicans are pressing for significant cuts to the agency’s budget. This push has included little discussion — or evident comprehension — of what it would do to American capabilities in physics, or why that matters.

Paul would transfer DOE’s nuclear weapons activities to the Pentagon (which is probably a bad idea as it would eliminate the deliberate redundancy of having two agencies safeguarding the stockpile). Moreover, he dismisses DOE in a Wall Street Journal op-ed thus: “Many of its other activities amount to nothing more than corporate handouts,” such as subsidies for companies developing cleaner energy.

But much of what DOE does has nothing to do with either weapons work or corporate handouts. The agency spends billions on basic research aimed at understanding the physical world. Such research yields vast benefits in generating new technologies and powering the economy. But its large-scale, long-term nature places it beyond the scope of any company; if the government doesn’t do it, no one will.
Whole thing here.

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