Science research in trouble in USA, act now!

Julian Humphries jmh3 at CORNELL.EDU
Fri Jan 19 09:57:26 CST 1996

Folks in the USA

Better read this carefully and note his admonitions.  If we don't get
on the horn to our senators and congressman you can count on serious
hurt to all research for the next year, maybe longer.  To pull out a
quote from near the end:

"One thing that has been striking during this year of budget battles
and, most recently, the shutdown, is the perceived stony silence of
the science and technology community--the universities, where most of
the fundamental research is done, and with a few exceptions, business
and industry, which depend on the knowledge and technologies research
provides.  And I can assure you that this perceived lack of concern
has not gone unnoticed in Washington."


(American Astronomical Society Meeting, Jan, 15, 1996)

"Although I would prefer to talk with you, today, in a lighthearted
and confident manner, I have come, in fact, with some serious
concerns about science, our national judgment, and America's future.
The government shutdown was senseless, wasteful, and many would say
irresponsible governance; hence my heavy heart and disgruntled
spirit. The phrase "non-essential employee," used to describe those
who were not required by law to be at work and were not allowed to
work even voluntarily--by law--and other intentionally demeaning
terms, casually and callously tossed about during the shutdown, were
deeply offensive to Federal workers.

"At  NSF, we returned from the shutdown to the sight of over 20 large
mailroom carts crammed one against the other, brimming over with four
weeks of proposals and correspondence.  The last report I had showed
over 2000 proposals in the queue (on the average, we receive and log
in about 240 proposals per day).  On a single day last week, I know
we received over 900 proposals.  So, I expect that the queue is up to
3000 by now...During the shutdown, many of our facilities, including
astronomical facilities, began to run out of money.  We considered
truncating this season's Antarctic program.  We will soon face a
decision about the next (winter) season since NSF funding runs out on
January 26.

"Many continuing grants ran out of funds, and there are likely to be
funding gaps for some renewals and substantial delays in funding new
awards.  A large number of panels, site visits and other reviews, and
a meeting of the National Science Board had to be canceled or
postponed. Some new programs may be delayed by six months to a year
or canceled. And there are many other serious and urgent problems.

"...this year cannot be business as usual. The time period we have
lost is one that is critical to the smooth functioning of the
proposal review and award process.  There is simply no way to avoid
some negative impact of a month's shutdown.  We will do everything we
can to limit the impact, but we will not lower the review standards.
We will be asking for your patience and understanding as our program
officers attempt to get us back

"The entire sordid episode has, I believe, irreversibly changed the
image of public service, and I'm very worried about the implications
for NSF as well as other agencies.  But, the shutdown reflects a much
larger set of conflicts and challenges.

"If this shutdown were an isolated occurrence, a loss of a month's
work, say due to a colossal blizzard or other act of nature, in an
otherwise healthy environment, for science, I would be less troubled.
Science in America is strong.  The American system of higher
education is strong.  NSF is strong, in part due to its efficiency,
effectiveness, and high standards of decision making through peer
review, and most importantly the support and active involvement of
the U.S. science community.  But, we are not operating in a healthy
environment for science--research or education...

"The overall cuts in spending over the next seven years (1996-2002)
are designed to help balance the budget, at least through the year
2002. However, the specific reductions and cuts by which we reach
that goal can, in fact, spell trouble or triumph.  My concern is that
these plans target major portions of the Federal R&D enterprise for
dismantlement, creating "thin ice" on which we attempt to skate
toward continued economic success.

"...we are now challenged to more clearly articulate the benefits of
federally funded research and education to a nation that is largely
uninformed about science and increasingly skeptical of federal
funding of all sorts. Now it is important that scientists move beyond
their intuitive understanding of the importance of their work and
begin to fold in anecdotal evidence from the past with the results of
careful assessments -- both existing and still to be done -- of the
tangible societal benefits of scientific research and education.

"Recently we have had strong validation of both our intuition and
data.  The President's Council of Economic Advisors issued a report
in October entitled "Supporting Research and Development to Promote
Economic Growth." The economy is not the only benefit to be derived
from R&D, but it is an important one. The report stresses that every
federal dollar spent on R&D adds much more to the economy than simply
a dollar of R&D.

"The report goes on to state, (quote) "Investments in research and
development are the key to increasing productivity, accounting [in
recent history] for half or more of the growth in output per person."
(end quote) And it has long been accepted that improved worker
productivity is the key to the increased competitiveness of a
business, and of an industry, and of the general economic environment
within a state.

"Further recognition of the importance of productivity came from the
Economist Magazine which did a special survey on American business in
its mid-September, 1995 issue.  The report states, (quote) "What
really matters is a country's ability to raise its own productivity.
That is the only way in which a country's industries can sell their
wares in international markets while raising their workers' wages."
(end quote)  The article also quotes Stanford economist Paul Krugman
on this same issue.  He says, (quote) "Productivity is not
everything, but in the long run it is almost everything." (end quote)

"And so here we have this tightly integrated cycle.  R&D investments
in science and technology, for the most part, advance productivity
through improved processes and products.  Highly trained technical
workers are required for the kinds of jobs that research and
development help create. This all comes together when you put skilled
workers into high-value jobs and promote economic growth.  All well
and good if, among other things, the umbrella investment in federal
R&D is maintained at a healthy level and the workers get the
education they need.  As Shakespeare would say, "aye, there's the

"The federal investment in non-defense R&D is projected by the AAAS
to decrease by approximately 33 percent in real terms by 2002, and
the cuts in education are larger.  In essence, this nation is getting
ready to run an experiment it has never done before--to see if we can
reduce the federal investment in R&D by one-third and still be a
world leader in the 21st century.  Nobody knows the outcome.  But it
seems pretty high risk...

"Mother Nature may have shut down Washington with a pair of
blizzards, but before that the entire nation suffered something of a
"whiteout" by the shutdown of the federal government on two occasions
for a total of four weeks.  In this last go-around, several agencies
or programs that are politically visible and popular were pulled out
of the usual appropriations bills by the Congress and given targeted
appropriations, i.e., long-term C.R.s, through the end of the fiscal
year.  NSF was not one of them; nor was NASA--we are in business only
through January 26...

"My message to you today is that if you don't take it as one of your
professional responsibilities to inform your fellow citizens about
the importance of the science and technology enterprise, then that
public support, critical to sustaining it, isn't going to be there.
Who knows more about science, its complex relationship with
technology, the linkage between research and education, the often
unexpected benefits to society, than you?  Who has greater
credibility in discussing science, not just astronomy but science,
than you?  Who understands better than anyone the price our nation
will pay if we fall behind in science and technology in the effort to
downsize government?  Is it self-serving to advocate support for
science? Perhaps.  But if the "self" is the American people and the
position of leadership of the U.S. in all fields of science and
technology in the 21st century, then I wouldn't worry too much about
appearing self serving.

"One thing that has been striking during this year of budget battles
and, most recently, the shutdown, is the perceived stony silence of
the science and technology community--the universities, where most of
the fundamental research is done, and with a few exceptions, business
and industry, which depend on the knowledge and technologies research
provides.  And I can assure you that this perceived lack of concern
has not gone unnoticed in Washington.

"Clearly, this is a time of great challenge for science and
technology in America.  But, I believe we can seize this time as one
of opportunity to work together in ways we have never done before, to
raise our voices, together, to send out a clear and coherent message.
This is not the time to plead for biology vs. chemistry or astronomy
vs. engineering, or even basic vs. applied research or technology.
It's a time to speak out about the importance of the Federal
investment in science and technology, in research and education, in
universities, in national laboratories and other institutions--and in
the partnerships that have been formed with industry and other
sectors that use the knowledge and technologies for the public

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