Sunday, December 05, 2004

Dept. of "Speak now, or forever hold your peace"

From the NYT (emphasis mine):
Congress has cut the budget for the National Science Foundation, an engine for research in science and technology, just two years after endorsing a plan to double the amount given to the agency.

Supporters of scientific research, in government and at universities, noted that the cut came as lawmakers earmarked more money for local projects like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the Punxsutawney Weather Museum in Pennsylvania.

David M. Stonner, director of Congressional affairs at the science foundation, said on Monday that the reduction might be just the beginning of a period of austerity. Congress, Mr. Stonner said, told the agency to expect "a series of flat or slightly declining budgets for the next several years."

In renewing the legal authority for science programs in late 2002, Congress voted to double the budget of the science foundation by 2007. The agency finances the work and training of many mathematicians, physicists, chemists, engineers, computer scientists, biologists and environmental experts.

The $388 billion spending bill for the current fiscal year, approved by both houses of Congress on Nov. 20, provides $5.473 billion for the National Science Foundation, which is $105 million less than it got last year and $272 million less than President Bush requested.

In the Sunday Op-Ed by Tom Friedman:

Think about this. We are facing a mounting crisis in science and engineering education. The generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians who were spurred to get advanced degrees by the 1957 Soviet launch of Sputnik and the challenge by President John Kennedy to put a man on the moon is slowly retiring.

But because of the steady erosion of science, math and engineering education in U.S. high schools, our cold war generation of American scientists is not being fully replenished. We traditionally filled the gap with Indian, Chinese and other immigrant brainpower. But post-9/11, many of these foreign engineers are not coming here anymore, and, because the world is now flat and wired, many others can stay home and innovate without having to emigrate.

If we don't do something soon and dramatic to reverse this "erosion," Shirley Ann Jackson, the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic and president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, told me, we are not going to have the scientific foundation to sustain our high standard of living in 15 or 20 years.

Instead of doubling the N.S.F. budget - to support more science education and research at every level - this Congress decided to cut it! Could anything be more idiotic?


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