He’s Not Wrong: The US and Science Research

In a letter entitled “Am I Wrong?”, Bruce Alberts, Editor-in-Chief of the major journal Science, asks how the United States has gone so far off course.  The leading nation in a technological age has lost sight of its scientific foundation; what will be the consequences?

A mere twenty years ago, this nation was clearly the best place in the world to do scientific research.  Since 2000 the decline has been precipitous, and though the U.S. still surely ranks in the top ten, few would say it clearly is the best anymore.  In general, the country remains a relatively great place to live and work.  But any excellent young scientist from abroad has to think carefully about coming to or staying in the U.S. for a career, because there might not be enough money to support even first-rate research.  Similarly, any young U.S. scientist, no matter how devoted to this country and no matter how skilled, may face the tough choice of either going abroad or abandoning his or her career. (It’s not just young people either, as I can personally attest.)

Whereas before the year 2000 it was easy for U.S. universities to attract the best in the world to teach and do research at their institutions, and to train the next generation of American scientists, the brain drain since that time has been awful.  (I see this up close, as more and more often I fail to hire talented individuals specifically because they see a better scientific and personal future outside the United States.)  And it is getting worse.  All of this affects our economy’s future, our society’s health, and even our ability to defend ourselves, especially since some of the most active spending on science is being done by countries that are hostile or potentially hostile to the free world.

It’s easy to blame this on the recession.  “Oh, these are bad times and we all have to share the pain.”  That’s true, but this problem started long before 2008.  The system became threadbare during the Bush administration, and now, in the ensuing recession and political chaos, it’s at risk of falling apart.

Please forward this letter by Mr. Alberts to your friends.  This is serious business with long-term consequences.

66 responses to “He’s Not Wrong: The US and Science Research

  1. Yes Matt – I think you can put a lot of the blame on the self interested banking community who upset the whole damn applecart with and not limited to personal £200 million yearly bonuses!!! Ridiculous – they should have been obliged to give it back. But they govt wont give that ruling do that as they took 50% of it! In tax

  2. johnmcAllison

    Interesting.

    As someone from the UK, I would describe, even today, the US system as amazingly successful. According to the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities – 2012, seventeen of the top twenty places go to US universities!

    http://www.shanghairanking.com/ARWU2012.html

    The decline is far worse for the UK, with illustrious institutions such as Cambridge at fifth place, Oxford at tenth, Imperial twenty fourth. It’s just a case of the rest of the world is catching up, particularly from India, China and other East Asian countries.

    Even today, I would say the US still ranks as the number one place the bright and ambitious want to settle in, compared to China and possibly even Europe.

    • I don’t think you realize how bad the situation in the US has become, or how many people are choosing not to work here, compared to ten years ago.

      • kashyap vasavada

        Yes I agree with you. Research support for scientists is much much easier to get in China and India now. For faculty at smaller universities, chances for getting research support here are less than 10%. If I were starting my career today I would strongly consider returning to my home country India.I am little bit worried for my grand children who have to settle here!

      • I think you have to convince us [outside the US] that things are really as bad as you assert. For sure, there are nicer places in the world to live than the US — but how many jobs are there in Tahiti? Or even in the civilised parts of Europe? I get that some Chinese and Indian people are choosing to stay home, but for the vast majority of grad students from those places, the US is still the mountain of gold. And I don’t see too many people wanting to live in those countries, attractive as they are for holidays….

        • kashyap vasavada

          It is true there are lots of Asian students coming to U.S. universities.The reason is that a small percentage of billion is a large number!! Most of them go into finance, engineering or medical fields though, not in basic physics research. I suspect in another 50 years or so, the flow will be completely reversed and unfortunately, U.S. prosperity will decline like roman empire! Discovery of Higgs and Planck results came from Europe.I am sure this is not an accident.

  3. Alberto Ferrero

    Amazing! But here in Italy things are getting even worse! About science, university and research.

    • The situation in Italy, one of the greatest bastions of experimental and theoretical particle physics and related fields, is indeed dire beyond belief, and likely to get worse.

  4. He’s not wrong, just late.
    Until politicians, tax-payers and laymen in general are not aware and appreciative of what science and research have done, are doing and will do for each and every one of them decline is inevitable.
    I believe this state of things is due to the sense of elite of those whose minds stay in the Ivory Tower of knowledge even after their research work is done.
    It is a bit late now to complain about the sequester: it happened … but it is still possible, and even imperative, to fight its further implementations and invert the course of things: scientific organizations should go all out in order to engage society in a stable conversation about science.
    A few concrete ideas about how to successfully do so are contained in this article of mine: “Who cares about physics today? A marketing strategy for the survival of fundamental science and the benefit of society”, which is available at http://arxiv.org/abs/1210.0082.

  5. I thought the sciences received most of R&D money. Other areas, such as education, always appear to be picked last during fund distribution. Are there federal documents that account for government spending available to the public?
    You’re last point, ” who cares about Physics today” is definitely at odds with campus sentiment. I would say most students choose science-y majors because they are “practical,” “more likely to get you a job,” and have “higher salaries” than their humanities brethren ( ahem, English, Philosophy, Theology).

  6. Specifically in experimental particle physics, SLAC and Brookhaven are no longer really particle physics labs, and Fermilab is in dire peril.

    It is quite likely that 10 years from now, no experiments in particle physics will be going on in the United States.

  7. Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

    This article touches the “heart” of the human-physics, the epistemology on physics which is 100% based on the gadget data. But, the cost for modern gadgets is no longer sustainable by humanity as a whole. We must look into a new physics epistemology.

    This gadget epistemology classifies physics into four groups.
    1. Established — a prediction is verified by some gadget data.
    2. Plausible and widely believed — its framework is consistent with the gadget data.
    3. Largely speculative — its framework is not supported but is also not ruled out by any gadget data.
    4. Simply wrong — all or part of its framework is ruled out by some gadget data.

    This gadget epistemology has done wonders for the human physics, and it has the following traits.
    a. One gadget data cannot invalidate another gadget data, however incomparable or contradict to each other. Gadget data is valid on its own right.
    b. Valid “prediction” is viewed as truth while the valid “postdiction” is very much discounted.
    c. The Nature-physics is differentiated with gadgets. There are many gadget truths (GT1, GT2, … GTn, …) which are often disjointed, incomparable or even contradict among them, such as the quantum physics vs general relativity; Standard model vs Planck data, etc..

    As the gadget epistemology is a differentiating epistemology, there should be an integrating one. When a theory A (TA) is based on a few new “physics” (for example three),
    i. physics one
    ii. physics two
    iii. physics three
    and while these three are unreachable by any known (or foreseeable) gadget, this new theory has some intrinsic consequences (IC). When an IC of TA (theory A) matches one GT (gadget truth), TA is anchored in Nature physics with one anchor. The more anchors that TA has, the more TA is established. Thus, even without any new gadget, we can still do a lot of physics.

  8. As indicated by some of the other commenters, there is general malaise in scientific communities in many countries and most of us still see the US as being in a very strong shape. There are certainly some countries that have a greater growth rate in their science budgets, but they are typically coming from a much smaller base and are trying to catch up. However, my point is not to question whether there is a global problem but with the cause. US based science funding in particular has been on a roll for the past two decades (NIH has seen a huge increase in funding from $1 billion in 1970 to over $28 billion in 2005 – with annual increases between 9-15%), this expansion is now the root cause of the current pressures. Success rates have imploded as more applicants seek funding and as soon as the NIH funding flattened (as has happened over the past few years), the entire system has entered a fail state. The answer is not more money (but is not less money either) but a more considered balance of input and output. Each jurisdiction needs to determine the approximate size of community it is willing to adequately sustain and move towards that. Each needs to examine how and why their current systems of funding science exist (many structures are antiquated, bloated and self-aggrandizing). Until we get a handle on the relative priorities of our governments and get off the bandwagon of demanding more resources as a solution to our expansive universe, these problems will continue to accrue.

    Henry Bourne recently said similar in a much more eloquent manner (again, focused on the life sciences but applicable to other research fields): http://elife.elifesciences.org/content/2/e00642

  9. Pingback: Are they wrong? US research funding | Not Even Wrong

  10. I see it as evolution in society, politics, and science going on. For example, 50 years ago people believed they’ll get better health care through science advances. Nowadays they rather believe they’ll get better health care through social welfare.
    In politics, the evolutionary criteria don’t favor politics who care better about their voters – they favor politics who are more fit to get elected.
    And in Science, the criteria don’t favor scientists who come up with more useful findings but scientists who are able to gain more money through grants and patents.
    Things just diverge from how they “were intended to be” towards how they “work best for themselves”. Of course there’s still many people and rules attempting to keep the original intentions in place and to keep things following them but I think the divergence is already pretty obvious.

  11. If young scientists aren’t coming to the US anymore or are leaving the US, where are they now? It’s not like Europe is in much better shape and I think emerging countries like China have too much of a cultural barrier.

  12. Dear Matt,
    I’m sorry to say that your statement about young international scientists thinking twice before coming to US is completely wrong. Being an international scientist myself I can say it with some authority that the US remains the top choice for ambitious young students from rest of the world. Some considers Europe but the options are much fewer than US. It may sound cynical but American universities can cut graduate student salaries by half and even then the best students from India and China will flock to the US shores.

    Academics by their nature are resistant to change. It took the second world war and the holocaust to shift the center of gravity of scientific research from Europe to America. As long as we don’t do something that foolish we are quite secure.

    Of course I would like to see increased funding in science. However, it is important to present the case realistically without unsubstantiated scaremongering.

  13. Lots of good points, but I find it remiss to talk about this without explicitly saying that we’re in this position because our government is structurally, institutionally corrupt, and until we address that we’re going to continue to get awful policies. At some point, preserving a halfway decent world requires addressing the actual root of the problem. (My link is a lecture by Harvard Law’s Lawrence Lessig, a leading researcher on institutional corruption. Certainly worth a watch for anyone who does want to help address these central structural issues.)

    Science can’t by isolated from the gigantic institutional failures happening around us.

  14. As others have said, I think the US is still the king in science research across the board, more or less by default. The major problem is we aren’t taking advantage of this incredible advantage as fully as we should. We live in a world which got exponentially bigger in the past twenty years. More foreign students then ever before come to our universities to study. Yet we turn so many of them away as our system is full to capacity given the funding levels available to us. And yes, the byproduct of this is a realization that we are essentially losing competitiveness relative to other fields (our own homegrown talent is escaping to other fields).
    Now as to the funding question. I actually think the problem started long before the Bush administration. It really started when we won the cold war. Science became much more of a democrat priority at that point (whereas before it was sort of a mutual alliance for vastly different purposes and reasons), and the unfortunate thing is democrats aren’t as effective at pushing through their policies. This is why we seem to be the first to be cut, the last to benefit.

  15. It is not only science. I am from engineering background. Me and my room-mates (five of us, all Indians) did our MS from UMCP. We all found very decent employment in the US. Ten years on, we are all settled outside of the US – two in UK, two in India and one in SE Asia. We did not lose our jobs, no one pushed us out. Three of us even had permanent residency. What brought us to US was what took us away – opportunity. Half a generation ago this would have been a good April Fool’s joke. Now this is common place scenario. US is still one of the best places to live and work if are in science and engineering; but a decade or two ago, it used to be the only one.

  16. Mr. Alberts sounds desperate, unbecoming of his prestigious personality and some of his points are refutable. But I could agree that the insufficient budget for science R&D is indeed alarming. I assume that there are on-going efforts to rectify the problem which unfortunately are not yielding the desired results hence requires rethinking? Lobbying in the congress? media campaign for awareness and support which includes the private sectors? are there better strategies being carried out? if none, the conviction of the so called academic leaders and concerned entities is questionable.

    The multi-billion dollar Superconducting Supercollider was initiated under Reagan administration, Clinton administration it seems didn’t share the perspective on why the project was started at all, and they scrapped it. It’s about perspective, and it could be imparted by collective effort of those concerned… to influence the desired legislation that will assure sufficient R&D budget.

    That is not a simple task, and it requires tact and creative thinking.. for starter, join the facebook page of “House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology” to see what’s going on, and from there to their official websites. just a thought 🙂

    • I’m thinking if I should go to Mr. Alberts’ website and tell him that, he is in the position to make things happen… maybe later 😀

    • I hope everyone clicked the hyperlink “Am I Wrong” and had read the letter of Mr. Alberts which is actually an editorial article. He is alarmed by the reduction of funding on Alzheimer’s disease research and its terrible consequences if not rectified immediately by government or by private sectors. I wonder what happened that the government reduced support on that very important field of research.

    • I felt the urgency that was felt by Mr. Alberts, which I consider the reason for his failure to write properly and adequately convey the urgency. His editorial is susceptible to improvement and begging for rewriting. He’s a lovable man, he loves his grandkids 🙂

    • It’s about perspective, if the administration lacks it the collective efforts of the people could impart it and consequently influenced the actions of the administration. Some prefer to do it under the radar, and some prefer to embarrass themselves with unsubstantiated statements.. but both are useful in achieving the objective. The highway bill was achieved in the same fashion, if there are more Mr. Alberts who are not happy with the infrastructure built through the highway bill, the people can influenced its modification, preferably people who know what they are doing.

      Let’s see how the BRAIN initiative will pan out, I’m expecting the best. I could see lots of physics and chemistry in it more than biology. 🙂

  17. Nicolas Jimenez

    The claim that the US has a brain drain problem is absurd. The opposite is obviously true. Just because US funding agencies have become less interested in funding particle physics (with good reason), does NOT mean the US has a brain drain problem. There is just too much technologically relevant research to be done these days in biology and computer science to be spending billions on fancier particle accelerators, let the Europeans waste their money on these things! I love physics, but I think the US is wise in slashing funding to particle physics and theoretical physics, these fields have had extremely limited contribution to society dollar wise.

    • Particle physics and theoretical physics IS valuable for the society, knowledge about how nature work itself is valuable too and a prerequisit to develop technological applications etc as Prof. Strassler has explained many times on this site.

      I am sure you exactly know that much more money is wasted in most countries of the world, in particular in the US, for much less useful, constructive, and even outhright destructive things. Compared to such expenses the amount spent to particle physics is negligible.

      Prof. Strassler is exactly right with what he says in this article, and the horribly bad state of particle physics in the US is probably caused by people like you, who have not the slightest appreciation for fundamental physics, but are sitting in too powerful position where they have the possibility to criple expereimental and theoretical particle and fundamental physics until almost nothing is left of it …

      • Nicolas Jimenez

        I agree with you that there are worse things to spend money on than particle physics. On the other hand, I am not convinced that the world needs more particle physics. The whole point of physics has always been: “when I do this, what happens?”. As the apparatus needed to get unobserved phenomenon becomes more contrived, and the results obtained from such experiments fail to affect the world in an appreciable way, it makes sense that funding would drop. If you want to do particle physics on your free time, great, but don’t complain if the government has more pressing concerns than particles that exist for 10^-9 seconds after you smash other particles near the speed of light. Instead, go convince the funding agencies that particle physics is important.

        Everyone that works in particle physics or theoretical physics should not delude themselves. Times are changing. The frontier of science is not fundamental physics anymore. The frontier is complexity, life, and information.

        • I am just happy and proud to live in Europe, where enough people who are not working in perticle physics themself are able to appreciate the value and see the importance of fundamental physics and other science, such that this kind of research can keep going instead of being threatend to disappear such as in the US.

          In other emerging countries, such as India and China the governements will hopefully be less short sighted and narrow minded too, such that fundamental physics can be done at least somewhwere. Note that if people would always have been such hostil towards fundamental and theoretical physics, we would not know about general relativity and quantum mechanics for example and could not enjoy the many advanced things and technical gadgets we have today. With the construction of a new accelerator huge advances in technology that are useful elsewhere are often brought forward too.

          BTW I am wondering why you are reading this site after all, if you are obviously not in the slightest interested in particle or fundamental physics but rather think it is useless and dispensable or should even be abolished …?

          • Nicolas Jimenez

            I majored in physics at Johns Hopkins and a former TA posted this article, which I found interesting. I would have loved to be a physicist one hundred years ago, but today I believe there are more fruitful things to be done. Biological systems, for instance, challenge standard models borrowed from physics. For physics to advance significantly, it needs to understand how biological systems work.

          • Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

            Nicolas Jimenez: “For physics to advance significantly, it needs to understand how biological systems work.”

            Amen!

        • And I thank God that the LHC is built and running (not at the moment) in Europe and NOT in the US… If it would have been the Americam politicians who had to decide about bilduing and running this accelerator, it would be scraped since long ago (if it ever were finished), and we would never have detected the higgs for example.

          Maybe the rest of the world should start a campain to rescue the still running devices for larger physics (astronomy and particle physics) and give the good active and emerging scientists a good perspective to work elswhere, before the US governement destroys everything there is :-/

          • The remnants of the Superconducting Supercollider is still lying there at Texas, waiting in case priority changes… but its design will need upgrade if string theory is what to be experimented.

        • kashyap vasavada

          You seem to forget that most of the instruments used in biology, biochemistry or other medical sciences were developed while studying physics (specially nuclear and particle physics). Astronomers and particle physicists deserve a major credit for improving imaging techniques.It is impossible to overestimate contribution of CTSCAN and MRI to medical sciences. Just see instruments in doctor’s office and hospitals. There is physics written all over them. Also DNA was discovered by scientists who knew their physics well. Without all these help biology would be still in infancy. Just read about how sciences progress!!

          • kashyap vasavada

            sorry. The above was addressed to Nicolas Jimenez.Somehow it appeared at a wrong place!
            kashyap vasavada

          • Yeah I noticed and I agree with you, some aspects of biology is being researched with methods and instruments more common in physics than biology. Physics is the most provable and most precise science, it deals with things that behave reliably more than anything else… what other branch of science you can find a 5-sigma report? 🙂

          • Physics is at the base of the tiers with respect to precision and its closeness to definition of science. As you go up the tiers things get complicated and hence comparatively less precise.. next on the tiers is chemistry which is about atoms which is already too complex for particle physicists.. what more of atoms integrated into molecules? And then third on the tiers is biology which is about molecules integrated together and imparted with nature with mysterious thing we simply call life. The higher you go up the tiers the more complex it will be and hence will be less precise as science.

            If physics is the most precise, isn’t it logical to start in physics in developing critical thinking among kids? Why our science curriculum is biology first and physics last? Good question and there are answers and guesses… and my guess is because we are not Vulcan of Star Trek 😀

  18. yeah, space exploration got the priority over particle physics. Btw, what insight is there on the stat that there are over five thousands janitors in the usa who have Phd and thousands more on similar jobs? the guy flipping hamburgers could have master’s degree and fluent in five languages 🙂

  19. Honestly, you shouldn’t have allowed your climate colleagues and environmental colleagues to get so wacko (article today – no warming for 20 years and Hansen just came out with a new made up explanation for why he was wrong before). Science became political.

    • Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

      If there is greenhouse gases and if the greenhouse gases are increasing, there will be globe warming “for sure”. All the data saying otherwise just shows that we are using our bank account (the two poles ice reserve).

  20. Still a great site, even if I disagree with almost all of the comments here. As you see from most posters, with the exception of the LHC, Europe is worse. Only a rich society can afford spare money for research, and unless Soc Sec and Medicare and food stamps etc.. get reformed that’s just not going to happen, even if it is important. Broke is broke and 17 trillion is a very big number.

  21. What we really need to do is resurrect Bell Labs.

  22. And before I create a huge fight over climate change (which I really don’t want to do), I just want to point out that even if real and dire, “return to the stone age” is not a winning solution.

  23. There is a lecture about biology written by Erwin Schrodinger… it’s written in quaint english but still comprehensible, though some of the info might be obsolete. There is a free .pdf download, just search What is Life Schrodinger wikipedia 🙂

  24. Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

    “… asks how the United States has gone so far off course. The leading nation in a technological age has lost sight of its scientific foundation; what will be the consequences?”

    Has USA lost sight of the technological foundation? Of course Not. America is still the leader in all scientific fronts.

    For the particle physics, the public demands it to make, at least, two applications — making contact to the rise of “life” and giving explanation to the evolution of the universe. However valid that the particle physics is in terms of the gadget data, it is only a very small niche truth at this point, without any hint for contacting the life rising mechanism and even failed in terms of the Planck data.

    The collect sub-consciousness of the public (every member of the congress or every high school kid) knows exactly what the truth is. An isolated niche truth is not only with little value but is definitely not a true truth. The current “direction” for the particle physics is simply wrong, and the recent Planck data has made this point clear. Yes, “He” is wrong.

  25. “America is still the leader in all scientific fronts.

    the recent Planck data has made this point clear.”

    While I appreciate that there was very significant US contribution to the Planck mission, I would just like to point out that, actually, yes, my tax euros not your tax dollars.

    • Exactly,

      and I am happy and proud about every single one of my tax euros that goes to fundamental physics, even more of them could go in that direction 😀

  26. The administration signaled they were focusing on private-public partnerships.

    Look at Solyndra and Fisker Automotive which has more than a billion in government loans in very high risk low rewards partnerships where largely even if the loans where if the business is successful a private party profits immensely and if it fails then a public loses on a bad loan.

    Particle physicists should form a corporation and apply for a government loan on the basis that somehow they will come up with green technology because that is where the administrations focus is on.

  27. When planning new international projects for fundamental physics, one should be very wary to make the financial support not too (or completely in) dependent from US contributions…
    Even if the US politiciance say yes we want to take part in a new project today (which is very unlikely anyway), the international scientific community has to be prepared for the US contributions being withdrawn any time and should always have a reasonaple “plan B” to save the project in case it happens :-/

    US contributions to international scientific projects can no longer be trusted, I have even heard saying that they plan to withdraw any (financial) efforts to support the LHC in the future …:-/

    Take home message: dont rely on US dollars to launch new and keep presently running projects for fundamental physics going, base them on euros and other more reliable currencies!

  28. To Nicolas Jimenez who has written off particle physics…while your view is more common today, it may prove wildly premature. Keep in mind that even present day physics admits (at least in its more honest, less pampas moments) to be completely in the dark (no pun intended) as to the nature of 95% of the universe: dark matter and dark energy. It seems prudent to get a handle on this before we dump all funds into biology and computers. Also, there are a number of particles that do stick around for more than a billionth of a second, like neutrinos and antimatter, where it is painfully obvious that we have a great deal yet to learn.

    For example, we don’t even know if antimatter falls down! (Yes Matt, and others, I’m well aware that in theory antimatter should fall like a rock; GR says so, blah, blah, blah. I’m talking experimentally – try to remember, that is what really counts, and don’t ruin my example). The discovery of antigravity would be a one time transformative event in the history of humanity, like the discovery of fire or the invention of the wheel, so perhaps it is a good example to the point of Bruce Alberts article.

    I wont go into the sad history of all the proposals to measure the gravitational acceleration of antimatter, but the latest proposals, arose about the same time in the U.S. and Europe. In the States funding for the proposal was denied, and last I heard the group (I think out of Fermilab) was trying to raise money for the experiment by the sale of antiproton cancer therapy machines to large hospitals – currently I think there are only a few such machines on the planet. However, in Europe CERN approved funding for such the experiment and just recently (see the March 2013 issue of the CERN Courier) the installation of the AEgIS experiment has been completed – and only awaits beams from the LHC in 2015 to determine the gravitational acceleration of antimatter.

    • Work from the University of Washington experimentalists on tests of gravity has for just about all forseeable scenarios rendered antimatter gravity experiments redundant.

  29. I feared this would happen. It’s off topic, but very well…

    No one on this planet has ever performed an experiment to directly test the gravitational acceleration of bulk, real antimatter (i.e. antihydrogen). Any “result” pretending otherwise is at its core ultimately relying on theory rather than direct observation. This includes theories concerning virtual particles in the vacuum, theories that bulk antimatter that repels matter would also repel light, theories that bulk antimatter that repels matter would have time move faster in a gravitational field rather than slower as it does for matter, etc.

    We will know in two years…

    • I think discussing the spending of scarce resources is on topic…. sure, *maybe* a test of gravity on antimatter would be a good, just-do-it, ignore the theorists sort of thing. Sort of like when Robert R Wilson would open up a cyclotron port real quick and stick his eye in it, so he could see what the vacuum inside the cyclotron looked like (he got bruised and bloodied around his eye).

      On the other hand, we know empirically from matter-antimatter annihilation has antimatter does not have some sort of `negative’ energy, the energy is positive. We know that the (substantial) nuclear binding energy in nuclei changes the gravitational force felt by those nuclei (the Eotvos & related experiments), just as expected. Looks like, in essence, gravity pulls on rest energy, which we know is positive (from annihilation) for antimatter.

      From the refinements done by the U Wash experiments, we have very strong empirical limits on how much of the gravitational-type force could arise due to a new type of gravity-like force coupling, say, to baryon #, or to lepton #. Baryon # and lepton # flip sign for antimatter. Take the U Wash limits, plug them in, and the prediction is pretty clear: antimatter atoms fall down.

      Sure, it all could be wrong. I even hope it is wrong. But given the really great experiments at U Wash (not theory) that have already been done, I’d not bet scarce resources on it. Finding out more about the nature of neutrino mass seems a higher-priority, higher-return endeavor.

  30. I agree that the inertial mass of antimatter is positive (we have known so for decades). Nor am I evoking negative energy to account for any gravitational repulsion between matter and antimatter; there other ways…

    The Eot-Wash experiments involve the precise measurement of the gravitational force between matter and matter at various distances. They do not employ or involve antimatter. Any conclusions drawn from these experiments with regard to antimatter are based upon theories of virtual antiparticles present in the vacuum. Those same theories predict vacuum effects 10 to the 120 times what is actually observed, and is well known as the worst prediction in physics. I wouldn’t bet the house on it.

    Look, given that the AEgIS device has already been constructed would you not run the experiment in two years, regardless of your confidence of what the result will be?

    More to the point of Matt’s question: If on top of the discovery of the Higgs, the European’s shake the foundations of physics and stir the imagination of people world-over with the discovery of antimatter antigravity it will be abundantly clear that the pendulum of discovery has swung back to Europe.

    But do not fear my fellow Americans, we have put the dark and empty tunnels and caverns of the Texas Super Collider to good use – I read that we are using them to grow mushrooms.

    • I’m pretty sympathetic to the just-do-it type of experimentation… but Eot-Wash nicely probed a conjecture that some part of the gravitational force arose from baryon # and/or lepton #, which do flip sign for antimatter.

      Baryon # per inertial mass varies among nuclei, as does lepton #/inertial mass.

      Not clear at all to me if there is any phenomenology behind AEgIS at all, and if they do find that antimatter falls up, I’ll be in the front row cheering.

      But I think the odds are far, far less for AEgIS than the odds that some neutrino Majorana mass might exist, or that there will be CP violation in neutrino masses. When funds are tight (and I surmise that funds are tight in Europe) I’d not place a bet on AEgIS.

  31. Ervin Goldfain

    Dark Halo and S. Dino,
    The only conceivable way to test the antimatter-antigravity hypothesis is to produce heavy clumps of antimatter in ultra-strong gravitational fields. Most likely, this is not possible on Earth but in extreme conditions where quantum gravity is relevant, possibly near Black Holes. All our theories break down in these regimes.
    Also, some words of caution: applying the CPT theorem to General Relativity is very problematic. GR is a classical field theory with no field operators or wave-functions and where antiparticles cannot be unambiguously defined. For more details on the flaws of the whole antimatter-antigravity hypothesis, see http://arxiv.org/pdf/1108.5117v1.pdf.

  32. Funny that you bring that up Ervin:

    I do not believe that applying the CPT theorem to General Relativity (GR) as Villata did is a valid approach to account for antimatter antigravity, should such exist, and I agree completely with the paper you cite by Daniel Cross (and others since then) that GR is simply not compatible with antimatter antigravity. If AEgIS does find antimatter antigravity then GR is NOT the correct theory of gravity.

    Villata tries to maintain the validity of Einstein’s principle of equivalence along with antimatter antigravity by proposing that antimatter is time reversed relative to matter. This hypothesis was popular in the 1940’s (check the dates of Villata’s references in his paper!) before we were able to maintain the existence of antimatter for any extended period of time. Today, in an era where the existence of antihydrogen has been maintained for several minutes it seems clear that antimatter is moving in the same direction of time as matter (i.e. it doesn’t disappear into the past upon creation). Yet, much to my surprise, Villata’s theory has gotten a lot of traction.

    In discussing this theory last year, a friend noted: “Maybe its nonsense Dino, but its tailor made for the ‘Einstein: Too Big to Fail’ crowd, an easy bail-out. In case of emergency (AEgIS finds antimatter antigravity) break glass (rally round Villata’s CPT theory). This way they have all the bases covered. In fact Dino, should AEgIS find antimatter antigravity, don’t be surprised to read a headline: “General Relativity predicts antimatter antigravity”. The Devil himself couldn’t think of a better way to torture you.”

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  34. Atanu Maulik

    Maybe Bruce Alberts should travel more widely around the world and also look at actual data. Then he will know that US in particular, and the west as a whole, remains the best place to live and work and to do research. Actaul data measuring the quality of science research (citations per paper) shows that US is continuing to hold its own, Europe has improved a lot over the past decade also, it is in fact in India and China where one can seen no improvement in quality and infact a deterioration in many cases

    http://www.dst.gov.in/whats_new/whats_new12/report.pdf

    • Mr. Alberts is one the science envoys of the Obama administration, I didn’t see his itinerary but I assumed he travels a lot.
      http://biochemistry.ucsf.edu/labs/alberts/

      • Atanu Maulik

        In that case he should have known better. We would all love governments to do more for science (especially for our pet projects). But that is no reason why we should have to sound apocalyptic all the time. One also expects scientists to focus more on ACTUAL FACTS and NUMBERS.

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