George Keyworth, the Washington businessman who once served as science adviser to the President, was fond of calling on the scientific community to "get its act together" and start setting priorities. The words have the sound of reason. Surely not all science is equally important and, if scientists don't set the priorities, someone else will.

But, of course, as Keyworth must have realized, it's not that simple. It was, for example, possible for nuclear physicists to reach a consensus of sorts that the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility (CEBAF) is what they most need to re-invigorate their field. Money would not have been budgeted to build CEBAF without that consensus. Somewhere else, however, the decision had to be made that nuclear physics is worth revitalizing.

Who decides it is more important to build CEBAF than a cold neutron source for solid-state physics? Who decides that any project in physics is...

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