Thursday, February 05, 2004

Whiny Whiners and the Whiners Who Whine

Apparently, the staff at the journal Nature isn't happy that the U.S. government isn't increasing the amount of funding for U.S. science research as much as some would like.

Bush's belt-tightening budget offers science slim pickings

I love that title. It implies that science in the U.S. is really getting squeezed by that neanderthal, Bush eh? Yeah, those cowboy Americans don't care much for science. Just look at how they're cutting the funding for critical scientific projects! Uh huh.

A decade of strong growth in US research funding came to an abrupt halt on 2 February, when President Bush released a budget proposal that attempts to confront the nation's massive financial deficit.

The budget for the 2005 fiscal year, which begins on 1 October, offers little new money for researchers. Funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) would struggle to keep up with inflation, and programmes at most other major agencies are cut.

Ok, they key here is little NEW money for researchers. Ergo, funding for the NIH and NSF will not be cut, but the increase in funding is not as much as is desired from the scientific community. But if you were to leave it up to the scientists, they would want infinite increases in funding. In fact, one of my thesis advisors who is a Nobel laureate met with Vice President Cheney and other Nobel laureates to talk about sustaining the increases in funding for NIH. When asked what programs should be cut in order to meet their request, " unanimously rejected the premise."

Administration officials put a positive spin on the numbers. John Marburger, the president's science adviser, told a briefing at the National Academies in Washington DC that the budget allocates a record $132 billion to research and development in 2005 — 5% more than last year.

But science advocates point out that almost all of that extra money goes to evaluating military equipment. The budget for 'federal science and technology' — the definition set by the National Academies as the measure for innovative research and development — would be $60.4 billion, 0.5% less than 2004 (see chart). "This is a slight, across-the-board cut for science," says Mike Lubell, director of public affairs at the American Physical Society.

Sure, why increase funding for important stuff like military equipment when that money can be used to research the brains of London taxi drivers and the effects of pigeon droppings on bronze statues.

At the NIH, which funds most biomedical research in the United States, funding would increase by 2.6% to $28.6 billion. Much of the new money is directed at biodefence research, which would grow by 7.5% to $1.7 billion. NIH director Elias Zerhouni called the current budget climate "difficult" because the agency must contend with bioterrorism, while continuing to fund multi-year research grants. The NIH plans to fund only about 250 new research grants in 2005. "They are spreading resources more thinly," says Pat White, head of federal relations at the Association of American Universities.

Come on folks. We have to prioritize here. I mean it's sad that some budding scientists won't be able to fund their project to map city noise like the French do, but in this post-9-11 world military and bioterrorism research, and homeland security technology do take precedence. And there are plenty of private sources of funding. Not all scientific projects are worthy of funding with tax dollars. If a researcher is having problems getting funding, then chances are the project is not that interesting and not that important.

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