Trump's Plan to Gut the DOE Will Decimate Physics Research

Rick Perry is interviewing for a job that won't exist next week.

Getty Images / Aaron P. Bernstein

Rick Perry’s nomination to head the Department of Energy already raised huge concerns for what Perry’s job would mean for the future physics research, a field that is almost completely supported by DOE funding.

But it turns out the Trump administration has already moved to gut the DOE in harsher ways than anyone — including Perry — could have possibly imagined. American physics research is, to put it bluntly, pretty fucked.

At his confirmation hearing in front of the Senate on Thursday, Perry outlined his vision for bolstering the DOE’s work in a slew of different technologies, citing past support in developing hydraulic fracturing technology as a model for how he envisioned the DOE’s role in advancing research. “I’m a big believer that we have a role to play in applied R&D [research and development] and technology commercialization,” he told the panel.

Before the hearing, The Hill published a report that illustrated the incoming administration wants to make deep cuts to the DOE, among other federal agencies.

“At the Department of Energy, [the Trump administration] would roll back funding for nuclear physics and advanced scientific computing research to 2008 levels, eliminate the Office of Electricity, eliminate the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and scrap the Office of Fossil Energy, which focuses on technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Terrific: After all the strides America’s hard science community had finally made in turning renewable energies into a reality, the Trump administration is just going to wave away hard-fought advances with a “Fuck it.” Furthermore, in an age where computer technologies are a big deal, physics will head the way of our Luddite commander-in-chief.

On the one hand, the 40 percent of the DOE budget allocated for nuclear weapons will most likely remain about the same. On the other hand, there’s little reason to be optimistic that Trump and Perry will know how to actually spend that money wisely.

The 20 percent of the DOE budget that goes to conducting scientific research and experiments that oftentimes shape policy looks like it will take a big hit very soon after Friday’s inauguration, undoing a lot of progress made under Perry’s predecessor, Ernesto Moniz. And the consequences of such cuts would severely roll back American leadership in the world when it comes to science. A lot of research — especially physics research — takes an incredible amount of time and money to be practically viable, but when it does, it transforms the world in ways we could never anticipate.

Most frighteningly, cutting monetary support for this work basically turns over the throne of physics research to China or Europe — two regions of the world that aren’t shy about putting money into audacious scientific study. And where the money goes, the experts go — we should expect a brain drain of the world’s most promising, innovative physics researchers to places doing the most cutting edge research, which definitively won’t be the United States anymore.

To his credit, Perry suggested he’d fight back against such harsh cuts — recalling his “oops” comment from 2011 as a meek sign he hopes the DOE could maintain a more robust layer of funding for R&D investments.

The science community had painted Rick Perry as the villain, but it turns out it was always Donald Trump and his scientifically inept advisors.

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