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Friday, October 07, 2005


Will they rename Lead "DUSELdork?"

Bill Harlan in the Rapid City Journal provides an account of how the proposal to turn Homestake into a deep, underground science and engineering evolved.

He leaves one aspect out. Wick Haxton was the lead scientist among the many nationally prominent physicists who were drooling over the opportunties Homestake could provide to do some intense, high-protocol research down there in the depths. When Barrick Gold turned off the pumps that keep the mine dry and legislators started yammering about economic development as a prime reason for the conversion, Haxton quit and turned his attention to another site, Icicle Creek in Washington State. Nearly all the scientists who initially promoted the conversion followed his lead. The circumstances were a very convincing expression that science, research, and scholarship, which are primarily what the scientists want to do, have a very low priority among those who envision Homestake as the nucleus of an expanding economic universe.

I track the Homestake development with great interest. I have been a technical writer and report editor. I have worked with experiments at Red Canyon and White Sands where we toiled in quonset huts in 100+ degree tempertures wearing bath towels tucked in our shorts to keep the sweat from dripping all over and where sidewinders kept slithering across the floor to get out of the midday sun. I covered the building of the Fermi Lab where condensation kept dropping from the tunnel onto the magnets and blew them up. I have an interest in all research and scholarship. Homestake is a real opportunity to do something right. I think its conversion to a DUSEL could lead to some of the biggest advances in science since the University of Chicago abandoned its varsity football program and let scientists use Stagg Field for the first nuclear chain reaction.

The problem is that people in South Dakota do not like scientists and other intellectuals very much. They regard their teachers as akin to slaves, or at least bonded servants. This attitude that people in the academic and intellectual endeavors have to be kept in some state of servitude is reflected in the idea that a DUSEL's main justification should be to contrive some economic benefits from it. As one respondent to one of my posts put, "Are we asked to be a collection of rubes for Physicists' personal pleasure?" That kind of resentment against intellectually-based endeavors pervades South Dakota, and it is a very good reason for scientists and other intellectual workers to stay the hell out. It expresses that there is no real understanding or support or, even, tolerance for the kind of work researchers and scholars do.

Having a bunch of promoters and supporters of the DUSEL peering down the mine shaft asking if the workers have come up with any money-making ideas is not the condition under which any real scientists I know of can do their work. It was this attitude that made the South Dakota proposal for the ill-fated superconducter-supercollider the laughing stock of the science community.

It would be great to have industries build up around the products that DUSEL research produces. But to judge the purpose and worth of the endeavor on that basis would interfere with the scientific objectivity and the freedom to fully test hypotheses that is requisite to true science. When scientists make economic production the ultimate goal, the science is inevitably bad.

If the people of South Dakota think that they are being reduced to rubes if they support endeavors in pure science, then South Dakota is not the place to do science.

South Dakota has a very good chance of being the site for the DUSEL if it does things right for a change. Kevin Lesko of the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, which is run by the University of California for the U.S. Dept. of Energy, took over from Wick Haxton in keeping the Homestake proposal alive.

Why has no one asked these men and others who have been involved in the Homestake proposal what they think? Why do the opinions and ideas of the scientists who are doing the work that Homestake could house get no attention?

Oh. I forgot. They are merely professors and scientists. What do they know?

"Why has no one asked these men and others who have been involved in the Homestake proposal what they think? Why do the opinions and ideas of the scientists who are doing the work that Homestake could house get no attention?"

David, do you know this is the case? Or is this an assumption resulting from the apparent desire of Rounds and company to use the "mushroom" treatment on us ala Janklow and the cement plant sale?

I don't see the main problem being the awareness that some promoting this idea could give a rat's rear about the science aspect and are only interested in the economic benefit. The main problem I see is that we are not getting all the information on the agrements and the need for spending millions on "insurance" for liability of Barrick Gold.

This project is going nowhere if secrecy is maintained and there is no push toward openness and conspicuous accounting, etc to make sure this doesn't turn into another huge boondoggle for special interests and GOP large contributors.
You are right on all counts, Doug. The secrecy is a symptom. However, I have been on the participant list since DUSEL was a NUSEL, and the big question is why no one is consulting with the scientists. They were all on board and signed a letter of endorsement to the NSF before Barrick started threatening and turned off the pumps. The plan now is to ask for the extra money and then solicit interest from the scientists. Kevin Lesko took up the lead scientist's task in drawing up the proposal for the lab, but he is not even mentioned. Is it secrecy, or is science being left out of the picture? None of the people I know who were endorsing the project have been consulted or even informed about the configuration of the lab. Some, whose names were bandied about in the original promotion, are miffed.

Something is not right. And I strongly suspect that it has been turned over to a bureaucracy that loves to grow mushrooms.
David, please take the time to check out
I think you may be surprised.
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