Where could we possibly find $4 million?

Hmmm. Estimates of the cost of the war in Iraq range from $4.4 to 7.1 billion per month. If I assume about $5 billion, it looks like we’re throwing away about $7 million per hour in that effort; so it looks like a little bit more than a half-hours worth of bloody war costs us $4 million. So let’s just stop for about 40 minutes, OK?

What was the point of that calculation? The government is threatening to shut down the Arecibo Observatory unless they can cough up $4 million dollars for its operating budget for the next three years. Wow.

The National Science Foundation, which has long funded the dish, has told the Cornell University-operated facility that it will have to close if it cannot find outside sources for half of its already reduced $8 million budget in the next three years — an ultimatum that has sent ripples of despair through the scientific community.

Shall we trade three years of science for less than an hour’s worth of war? That sounds like a no-brainer to me. The observatory doesn’t even kill anybody in normal operation. Or is that considered a strike against it?


  1. says

    Closing the Arecibo because of a lousy 4 million across three years!?!?

    Freakin Zombie Jesus, America – people with brains unite in ’08 and take back your country, dammit!

  2. sailor says

    Well they certainly are not going to get it from an anti-science president like Bush. Maybe they should put out one of those fund raising bseball bats on all the science blogs and see what they can raise from the interested. If PZ would post his daily hit rate, we could see what we would each have to pony up and whether is it is feasable.

  3. MAJeff says

    Maybe the money could come from the children’s health insurance program Bush is going to veto expanded funding for.

  4. says

    On the one hand you have the crusade against all those heathens and as a bonus you get to kill some science. To the Bush administration this must be a fab win-win situation.

  5. says

    The observatory doesn’t even kill anybody in normal operation. Or is that considered a strike against it?

    Hey – don’t be too sure about that: as we know from quantum mechanics, the very act of observing a system changes it. So it could be that by observing distant star systems, these reckless and heartless astronomers are starting a chain of events in them that could potentially lead to – yes – interstellar nuclear war!

    These astronomers simply must be stopped; if Bush plays this right, he could win the Nobel Peace Prize Prize for Peace.

  6. Brandon P. says

    I wonder how much money we’ll save if we stop spending this “Bob”damn much on chasing some guerillas around the Asian desert. It’s got to be enough to improve our health care and public education systems.

  7. Dahan says

    What a boondoggle that Arecibo is. It’s almost as bad as us having to shell out the 21 cents per year we all do for the National Endowment for the Arts. (quick back of the napkin calculation) Now the iraq war has cost me about 11,000.00 so far. But at least I’ve gotten…ah shit.

  8. Caledonian says

    You decry what the system does. How much more will the system have to do before you acknowledge that it’s incapable of acting in the best interests of anyone or anything but itself?

    Or would you rather raise taxes to pay for all the scientific research you favor and leave the war and pork spending alone?

  9. Casey says

    Additionally, all sorts of money set aside towards environmental science and restoration projects is now on the backburner. I took a class last summer on Everglades restoration and almost every scientist at these state organizations (and the Army Corps) that spoke mentioned they weren’t optimistic about getting funding for restoration strictly due to the war.

  10. S. Fisher says

    This is mindful of Bush refusing to sign the Childrens Health Care Bill, 35 billion over 5 years to insure some 6 million children who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford insurance, while pleading in congress for his 5 billion a month war in Iraq. This man is definitely the worst thing that has ever happened to the USA.

  11. Julian says

    When you think of all the good science that has come out of that telescope…. Don’t these fools understand how far ahead in physics and astronomy that place puts us? Don’t they see how much prestige we’ll lose if it closes down? At least we still have the visual observatories in New Mexico and Hawaii; we really need that dish though :(.

  12. raven says

    Death cultist treasonist:

    PZ, why do you hate America?

    The real America Haters are the death cultists. They want to overthrow the US government, set up a theocracy, bring hell to earth, and head on back to the dark ages.

    They say so themselves, frequently. They have even made a good start at it, owning the president and near majorities of the congress and supreme court.

    I read a study once that stated that the death cultists are motivated by a generalized anger and desire to tear down everything around them. Don’t know if this is really true but given their goals and activities, it is believable.

    The winners should they succeed would be the competitors and enemies of the United States. The Euros and Moslem extremists would love to see the US become a third world banana republic.

  13. Ian H Spedding FCD says

    Just tell the government, the telescope is looking for signs of God’s work in the heavens. You should get all the money you need.

  14. S. Fisher says

    I think Ian is on to something here. This could work in all kinds of areas of research. Maybe just replace the word “research” with “worship” in grant proposals.

  15. andy says

    Simple reason the USA can’t aford it. Arecibo is being used to search for Earth-crossing asteroids. That means that if USA seismometers pick up some kind of anomalous vibration, we can check the list of Earth-crossers to check whether it was an impact.

    With Arecibo gone, there’s no-one to tell the US president that the impact wasn’t an unauthorised nuclear test, and get in the way of the USA waging another war for make benefit glorious corporation of Halliburton.

  16. Ken Mareld says

    That’s awful. Everyday we get another example of screwed up priorities in the federal budget. Wasn’t there a projected surplus once upon a time? Oh, that was just a fable. There seems to be no end to finding ways to toss money at Bush cronies and pork projects. The only way to get federal money for something is if a Bush friend can be enriched by it. How rich would science projects get if money slated to unaccountable ‘faith-based’ initiatives were instead slated to good quality science?

  17. Beth B. says

    I think Ian is on to something here. This could work in all kinds of areas of research. Maybe just replace the word “research” with “worship” in grant proposals.

    Now that’s what I call framing!

  18. MH says

    Raven #20 wrote: The Euros and Moslem extremists would love to see the US become a third world banana republic.

    This particular ‘Euro’ would hate to see that, and I think the vast majority of my fellow ‘Euros’ would agree with me.

  19. robotaholic says

    ugggh, this fuckin’ makes me wanna puke…uhghhhhh, humankind makes me so so so sick that I am just boiling right now

  20. Robert Madewell says

    I think Ian has something there too! Tell them that the observatory in on the “verge” of proving that the universe is only 6000 years old. The money will start pouring in. “Kenny Ham the Ham Head” may even get into it. Just imagine if arecibo had that money it cost AiG to build that brainwashing facility in Kentucky (code name Creation Museum).

  21. jufulu, FCD says

    Maybe they would fund it if it were a weapon. Yea, thats it, its a death ray and will win the war for us.

  22. says

    How rich would science projects get if money slated to unaccountable ‘faith-based’ initiatives were instead slated to good quality science?

    Faith Based projects get about $2 billion/year. That’s about 1/6 NASA’s annual budget, and 1/3 the NSF’s budget. So it’d be a nice increase, but nothing overwhelming.

  23. Hexxenhammer says

    They need to get another James Bond movie filmed there. That should make them some cheddar.

  24. Mike L says

    The Iraq war has nothing to do with it. 4 million in 3 years is chump change in 2.8 trillion dollar annual federal budget.* They could find the money of they thought it was worth it. The reason this is happening is that there are currently people in the government who think that the government shouldn’t be doing science of this kind (or probably any kind). Maybe they wouldn’t be able to cut these kinds of programs if they didn’t have the Iraq war as an excuse…but sadly I kind of doubt that.

    *that is 0.00005% of the federal government spending.

  25. Arnosium Upinarum says

    katie #17: “…is this the same observatory that Jodi Foster ran in Contact? Just curious…”

    Yes, it was one of them, the great big single unsteerable one in Puerto Rico (which remains the largest and most sensitive) which Jodie Foster’s character tried to stay at to pursue her research near the beginning of the story.

    In the movie her academic boss, the sinister all-ambitious ‘postmodern-mad-scientist-bureaucrat’ Tom Skerrit nips her funding in the bud, explaining (in one of the many ludicrous moments in the film) that SETI research would never find anything other than “noble gases”.

    (Pardon me while i take a moment to brush my teeth thoroughly…)

    The other radio observatory is the Very Large Array in New Mexico, with which she detects an ET signal.

    Speaking of which, PZ, I have not seen such an elegant argument put forward to illustrate the absurdities in this country’s spending policies since Carl himself passed. Well done.

  26. says

    I find it more than a little depressing that this sort of brainless travesty no longer seems to have the power to shock me.

    I have come to expect this government to fully fund their efforts to force their fundy empire down the throats of the world, while completely ignoring the things that truly make a difference in the world like science and art.

    There is no point in doing a cost/benefit analysis on a war, as no one benefits but the profiteers at the top of the oligarchy, but those same profiteers will certainly shut down good science based on a budget that doesn’t fit their narrow agenda.

    What then must we do? United States citizens no longer seem to have the will to rise up and throw these bastards out of power, as a matter of fact, most people don’t even know who their local elected representatives are, let alone take the time to contact them and express their political views/demands. It is this apathy that will undo our democracy, in the same way that it is our apathy that allows religious fundamentalism to continue to infect the minds of our children in their classrooms.

    Sad, tragic, and unnecessary.


  27. Majikthise says

    Tell Bush the dish is actually a weapon to zap attacking alien terrorists with. They will hardly be able to move for cash afterwards.

  28. David Harmon says

    Carbonfish: I have come to expect this government to fully fund their efforts to force their fundy empire down the throats of the world, while completely ignoring the things that truly make a difference in the world like science and art.

    Oh, it’s worse than that, because they’re not “ignoring” science and art, they’re actively attacking them. Specifically, they are methodically destroying or crippling every US institution that could possibly tell them “no” about anything whatsoever. US leadership in science represents a direct threat to their sense of control, because it means that some of those “uppity eggheads” have international status and influence, completely independent of The Administration.

  29. flame821 says

    Andy #23, that scares the bejebus out of me because I can actually see them doing something so stupid.

    David #37, your ‘uppity egghead’ comment made me wonder if Bush et al are living out their frat boy revenge on the rest of the world.

    Send the jocks (who beat them up) to war to be killed, make the bando/bandies and art students (who got all the girls) suffer for lack of artistic programs and grants, and make all the geeks (who constantly made them realize just how stupid they were) scream in frustration at the lack of science, education and the rewriting of history.

  30. Troublesome Frog says

    We can’t just say that the observatory may somehow be useful at detecting a potential alien invasion, thus making it an issue of national security? Or is there a way to weaponize it?

  31. HPLC_Sean says

    FIVE BILLION bucks per month could buy every single American the very best universal health-care system in the world.

  32. AlanWCan says

    FIVE BILLION bucks per month could buy every single American the very best universal health-care system in the world. Hey HPLC_Sean, What are you a commie or a terr’ist? Why do you hate amuhrikuh? I bet you don’t even have a magnetic ribbon

  33. says

    Irak monetary cost for a lost war remember me the Camus issue in his french book “le Absurde” of Mersault a murder in “The Stranger”.He dont feel guilty about the kill of a person.
    When the judge ask him about the reasons he said:”I dont know but I dont feel any kind of remorse at all”.

  34. markbt73 says

    So basically, a cease-fire during the next episode of American Idol would cover it?

    Any chance? Nope.

  35. Linda Gross says

    Why not just donate. If everyone who loves science would send in just $25.oo it would be a start. Where can we
    donate?????? Love your blog. Linda

  36. George E. Martin says

    While I hate the Bush administration, this problem can not be laid entirely at their feet. Well they could start doubling the NFS budget every few years, but I doubt that would fly very well even without the Iraq war.

    What sort of happened was that a couple of years ago the NSF Astronomy division foresaw a shortage of of operating funds beginning the in the next decade. Beginning in the next decade some major Astronomy projects switch from construction to operation, requiring operating funds from the NSF. There was going to be a major budget crunch.

    One such project is the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). See for example http://www.alma.nrao.edu and other links found there.

    NSF convened what was called the Senior Review Committee which consisted of several prominent astronomers to examine all NFS funded Astronomy in light of what is currently available, what is coming on line in the near future, and what was preceived as the need of the astronomical community.

    Along with Arecibo, and the briefly mentioned Very Long Baseline Array in the article PZ linked to, a number of facilities got hit, some recommended for closing. Among the recommendations from the committee was that Arecibo and the VLBA secure funding from other than the NSF for half of their operating budgets by 2011. For Arecibo that would be four million per year beginning in 2011 based on its current budget.

    You can find out who was on the committee, its report, and various responses to the report by using Google to search for Astronomy and Senior Review Committee.


  37. nature223 says

    th blg rffrd t;”vltn, dvlpmnt, nd rndm blgcl jcltns frm gdlss lbrl”

    wll,cnsdrng tht “n Gd W trst” nt gd ngh fr y?..t’s n vry bt f ppr crrncy nw n crcltn.
    thn y DNT nd r mny,n fct y shld RFS GVRNMNT FNDNG……
    nw s tht k fr “gdlss lbrl”???

    nd THRTY yrs w hd “ww” n wht?? 1977 n th frqncy f HLM???
    “Th Ww! sgnl ws strng nrrwbnd rd sgnl dtctd by Dr. Jrry R. hmn n gst 15, 1977 whl wrkng n ST prjct t th Bg r rd tlscp f h Stt nvrsty.”

    nd t wsnt vn rcb gt tht n rght,t flls wth rn nd nly hts th sm spt TWC yr…..t’s ntqtd s hll,nd nds LT mr thn pltry 4M t vn B p t snff……gt prvt fndng.
    bg srs…y gys gt mr thn tht n yr mv-n.cm ccnts…

    [what a vile little cretin — not only was his rant stupid and wrong, he included a malware link. Goodbye, nature223.]

  38. George E. Martin says

    And what’s his alias ranted:

    and it wasnt even Arecibo got that one right,it fills with rain and only hits the same spot TWICE a year…..it’s antiquated as hell,and needs ALOT more then a paltry 4M to even BE up to snuff……get private funding.
    bug soros…you guys got more then that in your move-on.com accounts…

    So much rant, so little knowledge.

    Arecibo doesn’t fill with rain! It’s surface is a mesh. A quite course mesh actually, but it only observes up to about 6 cm wavelengths if my memory is correct. Arecibo completed a major and very successful upgrade in the late 1990s so it is hardly antiquated. Rather than seeing the same point in the sky “TWICE a year”, it see the same point in the sky 366 times a year. (I’ll leave it as an intellectual exercise for what’s his alias as to why it’s 366 and not 365 times a year.) And of course Arecibo can track an object away from zenith.

    By the way, isn’t it moveon.org rather than move-on.com?

  39. Steve_C says

    nature223 is a little unhinged aint he.

    There’s a Pyramid and a Floating Eye on the dollar bill too.
    Should we have to all be Freemasons too?

    Fucking twit.

    Why is this country cursed with so many dumbass conservative reactionaries?

  40. Ichthyic says

    he’s more than a sick individual, he’s a hacker trying to get your personal information off of your ‘puter.

    that message should be immediately deleted for violating every spam rule in the book!

    doubtless PZ isn’t paying attention to this, but seriously, treat that post as entirely radioactive.

  41. Ichthyic says

    I rather suspect the poster is more interested in generating a response that makes people click on the link to his “site”, which is really just a front for a bunch of scripts that try to hack your email information and passwords.

    I know, because I clicked on the link, and if I wasn’t prepared, my machine would be fucked right now.

    I could isolate the scripts trying to access my files while his “picture parade” of aborted fetuses jumped about.

    nasty, nasty little hacker.

    in fact, what the little shit has done is quite illegal and reportable.

  42. Kseniya says

    Figures. A talk-radio parrot with the ethics of a jackal. The wildly inaccurate claims about Arecibo, the spittle-flecked librulhater boilerplate and the obligatory salivating-dog reference to George Soros complete the picture nicely. There are millions of cretins just like him, and many of them vote. And just lookit.

  43. Kseniya says

    Ooops, I clicked on it. What sort of trouble am I in? I killed it fairly quickly, but it was doing something (lots of disk activity).

  44. Owlmirror says

    Hm. What OS & browser combo do you use?

    I am looking at the source, and I don’t see anything that specifically grabs stuff. However, the main page loads a couple of flash files and a Java applet, which might exploit various vulnerabilities. And I might have missed something, because Privoxy rewrites javascript, and something might be loaded by something secondary which I am not seeing.

    I didn’t actually load the pages or flash files in a browser, but rather grabbed them using wget.

    This means that they might do something in a real browser that is obscured. I am obviously reluctant to investigate too deeply.

  45. Owlmirror says

    WinXP Pro w/ IE 6.0 SP2


    Most vulnerable precisely because it is most common. Not even Firefox?

    I hope you at least have the most recent updates and such? And a good antivirus package?

    The source code of the various pages refers to an organization which claims to be a group of deliberate trolls. Their preferred activity appears to be deeply obnoxious trolling rather than cracking systems. But there’s always a first time, and potential malice might hide under an assumed name.

    I’m trying to think of how to determine whether or not something bad has in fact happened.

  46. Kseniya says

    Yeah. IE. It’s not my computer, unfortunately.

    Geez. I’m always so careful. Almost always. I must have inadvertently pushed the spacebar or clicked on the player to satisfy the “click here to activate control” prompt. Gah.

    Yes, updates are pushed down regularly via an enterprise software delivery system, and AV heuristics engine updates and virus sigs are updated daily if available. Of course, trojans or phishbot scripts may not trigger any red flags, but the firewall may have prevented information from being sent OUT.

    I’m sure our troll is going to enjoy our little conversation here, LoL.

    Actually most of the sensitive info is either encrypted, or refers to locations that would be inaccessible from outside a certain intranet anyway. That’s assuming the hack didn’t upload a certain text file called “my_superimportant_unencryped_login_info.txt”. Heh.

  47. Ichthyic says

    Not even Firefox?

    even firefox wouldn’t have saved you from this one; I’m using the latest version and the scripts bypassed it entirely, which i don’t see very often, so this is an advanced script kiddie.

    best advice:

    download and install a free virus checker, like AVG Free:


    do a scan on your machine (complete)

    once that finishes, download a free spyware checker, like Spybot Search and Destroy:


    (make sure you don’t download that spam ripoff thing called spyware search and destroy – that just adds more spyware!)

    run that to remove any resident spyware.

    you should be doing this periodically anyway, so if you haven’t, now’s a good time to start.

    that should remove anything the scripter tried to install.

    However, he still might have gotten your email login and password, so you might want to change those (again, something you should do periodically anyway).

  48. Owlmirror says

    The only other thing I can think of at this time is to use the utilities from Sysinternals (now a subdiv of MSFT)


    I would use Autoruns to see if anything suspicious has been added to run, and the Rootkit Revealer to see if anything has hidden itself, and the Process Explorer to see if anything is running that should not be (this can be tricky; there are some weird looking processes that are fairly innocuous, and of course, vice versa).

    That’s all I can think of at this time. Must sleep now.

  49. Kseniya says

    Thanks very much, guys. Cleanup and recovery in progress. (So far, no sign of anything untoward, but I admit I’m unnerved by the “emptying recycle bin” wav sound I keep hearing every ten minutes or so for no apparent reason. I put some junk in the recycle bin and emptied it myself. The sound is very similar but I’m not convinced it’s identical. Anyways, it stopped occurring after I closed an explorer Search window, so… maybe it was a sound the little animated search-helper character made. I dunno.