The Sciences

Help make the sausage

Cosmic VarianceBy Daniel HolzFeb 4, 2009 5:22 AM


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Over 100 years ago, Otto von Bismark declared: "Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made." John has been detailing the development of the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009 (HR 1)" here, here, and here. The bottom line is that the House version of the bill will reinvigorate basic science in this country. The Senate version of the bill is not as encouraging. According to an email alert sent out by the APS, the Senate summary

...did not offer many details about how much funding science would receive in that package. However, we are receiving troubling signs that science may not receive the same levels of funding as in the House package and would even, in some scenarios, be cut or even eliminated. We are therefore urging the Senate to follow the House lead in helping to ensure American competitiveness in the 21st century by making critically needed infrastructure investments.

Science Magazine has compiled a side-by-side comparison. For example, the House bill funds the NSF at $3 Billion, while the Senate version is at $1.4 Billion. The DOE Office of Science (which is the largest source of funding for basic research in the physical sciences in the US) gets $2 Billion from the House, and $430 Million from the Senate. These are huge gaps. And note that all of the CV bloggers are funded, at least in part, by these agencies (for doing science, not for blogging). The AAAS analyzes the differences between the two versions of the bill in some detail here. A staggering amount of national treasure is about to be spent in an attempt to stimulate our economy. [The picture below is of one billion dollars, in $100 bills (hat tip to commenter Carlos).]

Although one can certainly criticize the idiocy that has brought us to this crisis, and second-guess the appropriate dollar amounts, few would question that some sort of action is appropriate. Congress is currently being bombarded with suggestions for how to spend our national treasure. Roads and bridges will most certainly be built. However, I believe a compelling case can be made for funding science, both as a way to create short-term jobs and benefits, but also as an essential path to ensuring the future vitality of our country (both economically and spiritually). Fortunately, this message has already been heard, and Congress is struggling to do the right thing. But scientists are notoriously bad at contacting their representatives, and reminding them that we exist and are worth supporting. This is a participatory democracy, after all. So, what is to be done? CV readers have had an easy time of it thus far, enjoying the spectacle, chiming in on occasion, and generally basking in the glow of their monitors. But now it's time to get off your duffs and click a few buttons. (Non-American readers are off the hook.) The APS has made it simple and painless to send emails to your Senators encouraging them to support basic science. Just click on the link, change the subject and a line or two of the form email, and click submit. These emails really do make a difference, especially if there are many of them. This is why the NRA and the AARP have so much clout. Spend a minute on the web form. If you are slightly more ambitious, you can also call your Senators. A friendly young staffer is eagerly awaiting your call, and will jot down another checkmark next to the "fund basic science" entry on their ledger. Every checkmark matters. Then you can rest easy, knowing that you've put in your two cents on the way your government spends your hard-earned tax dollars.

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