Science is not a controversial topic. Generally, everybody likes science, some may fear it, but on the whole science is everybody's friend. Yeah, we do cool stuff. Yeah, we add to the technical know-how and knowledge base of society. Yeah, we produce a population of well-trained scientists and engineers. So with all the net positives, why do we have so much trouble getting money to fund these endeavors?
This week in D.C. has been filled with both positives and negatives. There are a lot of people in Washington who really believe in the importance of basic science research and I think their statements are genuine. In the past, they have signed their name to legislation that we, as a community, have supported, and we are grateful. Many symbolic legislative gestures have been made, but cash has not always shown up.
What are we doing wrong? Physicist have a reputation of being arrogant and projecting attitudes of entitlement, but we have worked very hard to curb those tendencies (at least, on Capitol Hill). We are trying to become more politically involved and trying to present a better face to the people with public relations campaigns. We started asking offices, who are known supporters of science, "What can we do better?" The most frequent response has been to have people in physics and those supportive of physics to talk to their local representative. So using my soap box and stealing another's slogan for my own purposes:
If you are a supporter of science, write your representative tell them, you, as a constituent, feel basic research in the physical sciences is important and should be funded. If you can't remember his or her name check out Congress Merge and don't use gov't resources (e.g. SLAC email account) to send your letters or emails, that's a big no no. Better yet, make an appointment at the local office - remember: they work for you - and talk with the staff. To be honest, there won't be any increase in funding until people (including physicists, themselves) really speak up for it. Without people willing to spend the five minutes for an email or letter to their congressperson, we will most likely continue along this path of chronic under-funding.