Friday, March 31, 2006

SSC and the Clinton administration

The article "The Collider Calamity" has sparked some discussions and I need to add a few words.

When the Superconducting Super Collider was aborted, I just became a sophomore in Prague. Because I knew that it was a great physics project started by the Reagan Administration to probe the structure of matter, it was a bad news. But at that time, experimental particle physics was somewhat remote to me. I was only able to view the cancellation of the SSC as a very sad event a few years later.

During my Rutgers years (grad school) I had the impression that there was some kind of silence about the fate of the SSC. No one would exactly tell you what had been going on with the SSC. Today, my interpretation of the silence is that the cancellation of the SSC was a politically sensitive issue. Virtually all of the people who could have told me what exactly happened were fans of the Democrats and I think that it was never easy for them to tell the truth.

If you open Wikipedia, the page about the SSC
tells you the following:
  • The project was eventually canceled by Congress in 1993 due to heavy pressure from President Bill Clinton. [citation needed] Many questioned the wisdom of closing down the facility, which had brought high-paying science jobs to the southern regions of the Dallas-Ft. WorthMetroplex. [citation needed] As predicted, the closing of the SSC held drastic ramifications for the area, and resulted in a mild recession made most evident in those parts of Dallas which lay south of the Trinity River. [citation needed] It is thought today that President Clinton had wanted to close the SSC all along as an economic retaliation against George H. W. Bush's home state of Texas. [citation needed] At the time the project was cancelled, 22.5 km (14 mi) of tunnel were already dug and nearly 2 billion dollars had already been spent on the massive facility.
Well, I, for one, know the right citation for most of these statements. Nearly all of these things are described in Volume 302 of the Science magazine from October 3rd, 2003, on pages 38-40. The two articles are called
You are only allowed to read the article from this website if you or your institution pays for the journal. Once you read the article, you can easily see why the CapitalistImperialistPig - who should really be called a CommunistSocialistSwine ;-) - is simply wrong, even though he is not brave enough to admit to himself that he is not right.

For example, you can extract the sentences about Bill Clinton:
  • John Gibbons, President Bill Clinton's first science adviser, thinks that the SSC's fate was sealed soon after his boss took office and that neither the White House nor the project's advocates could save it. "I briefed Clinton the same day on both the SSC and the international space station," recalls Gibbons, a physicist who served in the White House from 1993 to 1998. "He agreed to back the station and we agreed that the SSC was a goner. The momentum was all going in the wrong direction."
  • Figure: One man, few votes. The Clinton Administration didn't push hard for the SSC, admits John Gibbons.
  • It also didn't help, say supporters, that the Clinton Administration was never sympathetic to the idea of a big physics project. "I was always worried about how many of these big commitments we could afford," says Gibbons. "I recommended to the Senate that we build it, but I only testified once. And I didn't lie down in front of the train [of growing opposition]."
  • Marburger acknowledges that Clinton's 1992 victory over Bush - a Texan who served as Reagan's vice-president - was a big blow. "No subsequent administration is ever going to be as supportive to a project as the one that proposed it," he says. "The SSC had only one parent, and he was a Republican."
While the first article explains many more not entirely political aspects and potential errors that have led to the death of the atom smasher, the other article also describes the economic consequences of the SSC cancellation for the relevant regions of Texas. I find it undefendable to say that the Clinton administration had no direct responsibility for the death of the SSC. I understand that the fans of the Democratic Party often like to imagine that their party is more supportive of science than the Republicans. But we just happen to have some evidence that it's not the case in high-energy physics. It's up to you what you do with this evidence.

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