Deficit cutting = bad news for science

You know, I pity those poor naive scientists. They believed George Bush when he announced his

You know, I pity those poor naive scientists. They believed George Bush when he announced his "American Competitiveness Initiative," in last year's State of the Union speech:

I propose to double the federal commitment to the most critical basic research programs in the physical sciences over the next 10 years. This funding will support the work of America's most creative minds as they explore promising areas such as nanotechnology, supercomputing, and alternative energy sources.

But guess what? When Congress gets out its deficit-cutting knives , science research is one of the first things to get slashed. It was true in the early 1990s under Clinton, and it's true now. William Broad had the story in the New York Times yesterday:

The failure of Congress to pass new budgets for the current fiscal year has produced a crisis in science financing that threatens to close major facilities, delay new projects and leave thousands of government scientists out of work, federal and private officials say.

''The consequences for American science will be disastrous,'' said Michael S. Lubell, a senior official of the American Physical Society, the world's largest group of physicists. ''The message to young scientists and industry leaders, alike, will be, 'Look outside the U.S. if you want to succeed.' ''

Last year, Congress passed just 2 of 11 spending bills -- for the military and domestic security -- and froze all other federal spending at 2006 levels. Factoring in inflation, the budgets translate into reductions of about 3 percent to 4 percent for most fields of science and engineering.

Representative Rush D. Holt, a New Jersey Democrat and a physicist, said that scientists, in most cases, were likely to see little or no relief. ''It's that bad,'' Mr. Holt said. ''For this year, it's going to be belt tightening all around.''

Belt-tightening all around....

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, which cheered the President's initiatives, is finally waking up:

President Bush's American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) proposal to provide large increases for select physical sciences agencies was endorsed by House and Senate appropriators, but these proposals died at the end of the 109th Congress. These and other proposed increases for federal research and development (R&D) programs have mostly become flat funding in the current budget environment. The incoming Democratic 110th Congress could make these flat appropriations final for the entire fiscal year. As a result, the federal investment in basic and applied research is almost certain to fall in FY 2007 for the first time in at least three decades.

Let me repeat that: This will be the worst year for federal funding for basic and applied research in at least three decades.

Let's have a big round of applause, folks, for the deficit-cutters in Congress. In a knowledge-based global economy, they are systematically going to destroy the seed corn in the name of fiscal responsibility. "We can't afford R&D," they say....

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