The Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory at the old Homestake mine in Lead is a big deal to at least some of my neighbors here in Spearfish. The big science project offers some really well-paying jobs as well as commercial and educational opportunities for South Dakotans.

Investment in science can bring more economic boost than well-paid profs taking colleagues to the Bay Leaf for supper. Wendy Pitlick of the Black Hills Pioneer talks to Nobel-laureate Dr. Jerome Friedman, who says public investment in science is vital to our national prestige and economy:

"Science and engineering are the drivers of a modern economy," said Dr. Jerome Friedman, a retired Nobel-laureate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "We will not be competitive in terms of our economy unless we are a leader in science."

...He cited examples of modern technology that are directly attributable to basic science research such as: The Internet, which was developed as an avenue of communication for particle physicists; accelerators used in cancer therapy that were designed for particle physics; MRI machines that were developed as the result of scientists studying the properties of a nucleus; and the study of X-rays that yielded the development of CAT Scan technology.

"We would be very much poorer in terms of our ability to cure people, to feed people and do basic things if we didn't do basic science," he said [Wendy Pitlick, "Why DUSEL?" Black Hills Pioneer, 2011.08.29].

Pitlick cites research that finds the U.S. falling behind China and Europe in publications and patents but suggests that the appeal of austerity in Washington may keep us from answering the call to scientific greatness. Dr Friedman says austerity on science is short-sighted:

"It's a large amount of money but it's a very small investment for a country such as the United States," Friedman said. "The real issue is, can America be great in science again? It is my belief that what you will get from DUSEL in the long run will more than pay that debt many times over."

In fact, he said, most economists agree that the percentage of our national economy that depends on science and technology is greater than one-third. Some economists even say that 70 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product is attributable to science and technology investments [Pitlick, 2011.08.29].

Senator Tim Johnson has been on board with DUSEL from the start. Senator John Thune appears to want to protect the Homestake lab from disproportionate cuts, although his pronouncements on the lab seem rather measured. Rep. Kristi Noem vaguely supports what some of her crankier supporters might call science pork.

A new National Research Council report that says that underground labs like the DUSEL are the "gateway to understanding the physics of the grand unification of the forces of nature." That alone should be enough motivation to support the DUSEL with public dollars. But if knowledge and wonder can't overcome your distaste for government spending, then turn to the proven economic pump-priming power of scientific research. Science is truly an investment, not an expense.