Monday, November 03, 2008

This one's easy.

Has Bush been good for science? I agree with ZapperZ: No. How Marburger can argue that research funding has kept pace with inflation is beyond me, given the last three years of continuing resolutions, unless one (a) fudges the definition of research to include a lot of military development, and (b) fudges the definition of inflation to ignore things like food, fuel, and health care costs.

Could Bush have been even worse? Yes.

11 comments:

Aaron said...

Assuming Obama does indeed win today, it will be interesting to see how his alternative energy initiative affects overall science funding. Will we see a major shift in funding away from basic science to fund more R&D work on renewables, or will we see an increase in these funds independent of other science funding? Any thoughts?

Doug Natelson said...

Well, assuming an Obama win, I think it comes down to how sincere he was when stumping about the importance of basic research. One encouraging sign is that Obama at least responded to Physics Today's requests for comments on science policy. The McCain campaign didn't, despite repeated requests. Tells you something about the priorities of their staffers. Obama also unambiguously stated that he wanted to ramp up basic research in the physical sciences. McCain's staff said essentially, "get in line with everyone else". They later refined that to sound more encouraging. So, if Obama really means what he and his staffers have been saying, signs are somewhat hopeful (tempered by the financial mess). If he was just saying it to get the votes of scientists, then we'll be disappointed.

Doug Natelson said...

One more point. Sarah Palin was stumping about how bio research involving fruit flies was a boondoggle. Again, this tells you something about the McCain-Palin campaign depth of knowledge about research. An enormous number of medical advances have come about because of research on model systems like the fruit fly and the zebra fish.

Anonymous said...

If he is elected, I put my money on Obama backing out of most of his campaign promises. Even during the election he backed out on things he promised such as public financing. Obama has no record on anything except for the fact that he comes from one of the most corrupt political classes - the Chicago political machine. The country is taking a big gamble electing a junior senator with no experience and no background just because they want "hope and change". Also doesn't the Democrat Congress have any responsibility for the continuing resolutions or is that all Bush's fault?

Aaron said...

Uh oh, I didn't want to turn this into a political debate on whose the more evil presidential candidate. I think it is a very serious issue, though, how our next president and (more importantly?) Congress views the relationship of US energy independence and basic science research. As you alluded to, Doug, the current financial mess and the bailout will certainly effect what actually happens with science funding. In a time when congressman will be ultra-sensitive to fiscal responsiblity labels, will they be too afraid to support both basic science and alternative energies with the funding both need to be successful?

Andrew said...

What fraction of the NSF budget is now devoted to direct military development? Certainly there has been a major problem with continuing resolutions in the past few years. But, at least on paper, the NSF budget grew fairly substantially in Bush's first few years. How much of this is real research growth, and how much is some form of funny bookkeeping? My biased view is that it was mostly the latter, but does anyone know some real numbers?

Anonymous said...

Get in line.

This is a billion dollar president, bought and paid for. Wall street execs have inside priority on all tax payer money...next up is insurance/auto industries, universal health care, and bailing out irresponsible mortgages taken out by those living way beyond their means.

Any trickle left for science will go to solar, hydrogen, and stem cells, so unless you are starting a program in one of those areas Doug, I am placing your liklihood of increased funding levels for basic physics at around 5%.

Doug Natelson said...

Andrew - the NSF doesn't fund military R&D. It is interesting to ask, though, what fraction of the NSF budget increases in the FY02 and FY03 were tied to big facilities (e.g., the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge) rather than research grants. Overall, look at the numbers here. NSF budgets have either gone down or been level-funded (which is a cut, since inflation has exceeded 2%) since FY04.

Anon2 - you may be right, but Obama and the Congress both claim to support the America Competes initiative. We'll see. The odds have to be better of getting something passed without the threat of a veto.

Anonymous said...

Here is the federal R and D budget with defense and non defense spending in chart form which we scientists can understand. http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/federalscibud.jpg
It was flat under Clinton and Carter.
Also keep in mind many of us, I am a professor at a research 1 university, use defense money to do a lot of basic research.

Doug Natelson said...

The military funds plenty of good basic research. If anything, I'd imagine that inertia will keep overall defense spending from falling much, and removing (over time) the pressure of fighting two wars would actually improve the prospects for defense-related R&D funding. There's no question that the Iraq war has stretched DOD resources.

CarlBrannen said...

I voted for McCain, but there are things that Obama seems likely to do that I'd be in favor of. One of those is radically reducing military spending. That would include research reductions most of all.

But as far as increasing funding for non miltiary physics research, I doubt that there is going to be much money for it. The US is approaching bankruptcy. Up to now we've gotten by because foreigners have taken our paper, but as we decrease our purchases of their goods, they will be that much less willing to take our paper. Eventually we end up having to run an actual balanced US government budget and a trade surplus. At that point, there will be no money for anything Obama or anyone else has promised, and less money for things they didn't mention.

For example, Obama wants to take money from the rich to reduce taxes for lower incomes. But the stock market is down considerably. Rich will just sell their stocks with high gains before the new law takes effect. Money for new programs is not going to come from the rich.