Stand With Science: A Call to Congress

[Video Link] John Edgar Park says:

You might have heard that congressional debt supercommittee has officially failed its mandate to reduce the federal deficit. As things currently stand, mandatory budget cuts going into effect in 2013 will slash 9% of all federal R&D funding (about $13 billion).

The US can't afford to stop investing in science. A group of grad students at MIT has launched a Stand With Science campaign to ask Congress to protect federal funding for innovation. They've gathered almost 10,000 signatures via university listservs and word of mouth, but we need your voice. Congress still has time to enact other deficit reduction measures instead. We must make sure every last Representative and Senator realizes the value of research, and realizes the public supports it.

Stand With Science: A Call to Congress


  1. Science R&D is horribly, horribly important. But so are a lot of other things the government may be cutting.

    Personally, I’d rather see 10,000 signatures on a petition to, well, ask them to actually do their job (which is to say, come up with a budget that the parties in question can compromise on). Otherwise the systemic issue is ignored, and we end up with a popularity contest, seeing which important program can gather enough mind-share to protect it. Notice the phrase “Congress still has time to enact other deficit reduction measures instead.” That’s a bit ominous and telling, IMO. One bad thing about the popularity-contest approach is that, frankly, R&D would probably lose it.

    I’m not a fan of automatic cuts, but 1) 2013 is forever away in the political landscape, so I’d be really surprised if we got there and they really did cut trillions (ever notice how many cuts are placed years in the future, a future we never get to?), and 2) in a way, I kind of wish they would kick in. Sure, it would/could make things hellish or a few months, but if the pain made the electorate see and feel just how had their official are at actually doing their job, perhaps they’d be willing to actually elect better candidates the next time out!

    1. One party has compromised, the other has bowed to Grover Norquist.  While many cuts in service would be quite painful, the cuts in science wouldn’t be felt for years.  By that time, the congress people involved will be highy paid lobbyists.  Scientific work underway now may not be completed.  Cures will be delayed, other countries will move quickly in discovering new technology while we stand still.  It should be pointed out to everyone who has a sick friend or relative that Congress is putting the brakes on developing new cures/treatments.  It should be pointed out to the unemployed and to industry leaders that Congress is letting other countries develop technology that could have been developed here.  It should be pointed out to those concerned about defence that others are going to be moving forward while our R&D twiddles its thumbs.  Congress critters are stupid and greedy enough to eat the seed corn of R&D, if it means they get a cushy job for another few years.  If you’re waiting for them to see reason, you have a long wait ahead of you.

  2. I think I agree with your ideas here.  R&D is very important, and the programs that stem from research groups are tasked with advancing our society in a multitude of ways.  My hat’s off to these students for rallying behind what they believe in, but it almost seems neive to think that their area alone is worth saving from budget cuts.  There are going to be many groups that have their budgets reduced by as much if not more than the R&D sector, and I’m sure they can come up with lots of signatures too.  Who is to say which groups money is more important than the other?  Should every group be allowed to keep their money if they come up with enough signatures, and should we  just wait around until there is absolutely no money left, and the country as we know it is lost?  A lot of cuts are going to have to be made somewhere if our country is to survive.  At this point I don’t know that we can just get signatures to save ourselves from the hard parts anymore.  Things are going to have to get harder if we are to get to the easier, and maybe that means losing government funding now so that our children might have it later. 

    1. Jasonc and Ambiguity, I think you’re both making a potentially disastrous mistake.  That mistake is being reasonable.  No not really.  The mistake is expecting others to be as reasonable as you.  If science is the one group that doesn’t say we deserve it, we will be ignored and cut off.  They will then compromise over the gutted corpse of what used to be science.  People in general don’t really understand how science helps them. If we don’t continually say  “we built your phones, computers, games, advanced medicine, military hardware, food security, cars” no one will value science.  The neccessity of cuts in this year is a political fiction.  If it’s such a dire neccessity, where were these deficit hawks up till now?   We can eliminate the Bush tax cut, we can raise some taxes on those who can afford it. 

  3. I can assure you that the cuts felt to science would be immediate.  The past few years have been absolutely brutal for trying to get science accomplished.  Fighting constant battles to even maintain flat budgets (which are practical shrinking budgets) has become a sad reality.   If you analyze the economic results of science and technology investments, I can’t understand why this minuscule fraction of the “discretionary” spending is so contentious.  Defense and entitlements are the massive drains and instead there are all these insane portrayals of “wasted” money on science.  When a day in Afghanistan funds nearly any full research institution for a year.  An odd thing, when you actually think about it instead of gobbling up headlines.

  4. I think you have a valid argument Snig, and I have no doubt that science and technology do contribute  alot to our society.  My argument is that every other department will have an argument just as good and valid as yours, and also contributes much to our society.  It’s not that science and technology alone hold up our society.  Others will say that the agriculture department can’t have cuts because of reason x and reason y.  The Defense Department will say they are certainly needed and that we would be crazy to make large cuts on their end, and their argument would be quite valid.  If every department is exempt from the cuts, than no cuts will be made at all, and we’ll be back where we started and perhaps worse off than when we began.  Maybe now is  a time to look at things more objectively and with sacrifice in mind.

    1. I offer you homeland security and (using your example) the massive subsidies for the farming industry, corn in particular.   Yes, of course, cuts have to be made, but not all are “equally valid”.  That’s a false tautology.  

  5. This just shows what the agenda of the US Government really is. It’s military budget is insanely high, far more than all other countries combined, yet it’s cutting out scientists.

    They want an impoverished nation that does very little thinking, but are good to die for the war machine and mindlessly follow orders.

    Welcome to your Corporatocracy. Democracy is dead.

    1. Um, this same debt reduction deal is cutting $600 Billion dollars from the defense budget.  It’s an across the board cut to pretty much everything, although given Boing Boing’s focus, only the science budget gets mentioned.  It’s not like all it’s cuts are to research though.

  6. Cut the military, cut law enforcement, remove some freaking laws, and raise taxes on the wealthiest.  What is so freaking hard about this?  We do need some serious cuts in addition to increased revenue.  Make those cuts.  Kill programs that are fat, but more importantly, cut into the meat of “defense” (have to “defend” against those Canadians!) spending and needless law enforcement.

    We can’t “win” the war on drugs so lets just surrender and let the hippies smoke a few joints and tax them.  Fighting “terrorism” with trillions of dollars and liberal application of freedom fondles and prOn scanners is like swatting a fly with a bazooka. How about we just tell Americans to stop being such fucking cowards, suck it up, and accept that they have a one in a few million chance of being struck dead by a terrorist?  If a bunch of teenagers can storm a beachhead knowing that they have a 50/50 chance of being struck dead, the average American can stop being such a child and soldier on with their bowels firmly clenched knowing that their airplane stands a one in a few million chance of exploding because a random terrorist blew up the airplane instead of their own dick or foot (as they tend to do).

    Basically, if we could just ignore the bleating of cowards and prudes for a few years, our budget problems would be solved.

    1. When have we come to equate the US and the US government? Did we not have science before government started using taxes to subsidize it, or aside from those tax-funded efforts?

      I tried to read the paper you linked — I really did — but it was riddled with so many conceptual errors I just couldn’t get very far. As an example from the first couple of paragraphs:

      “People are excluded from the benefits of theoretical science because of the fact that they are not all equipped with the necessary scientific background to understand it and be in a position to use it meaningfully.”


      If we look at Quantum Mechanics, for example, that was a pretty theoretical pursuit from the beginning. And people’s lack of understanding of it prevents them from benefiting from the technology that it enables — like the transistor — in what way again?

      What’s more, the paper seems wholly to equate the value of science with the value of the engineering and technology it enables. I think this is fundamentally wrong, but there is no reason to argue that point, as it is a deep, ethical issue that argument isn’t going to bring agreement on.

      1. Agree. That paper is really thinly sourced, almost all going back to one academician (Terence Kealey), who has a bugaboo about public funding of science.  He’s a libertarian crackpot (I don’t always think that’s a redundancy, but he’s more crackpot), who believes free education is a bad thing and that civilization has really gone downhill since the Stone age.  Britain crafts lovely crackpots.

        1. I’ll ignore the ad-hominems out of courtesy. Kealey makes four points in his talk (linked above). Maybe you can address his arguments.
          The first one is a recent OECD comparative analysis of growth between countries with regards to the amount of government funding of science. It shows no positive effect in countries with heavier government funding, whereas it shows positive effects when there is more private R&D investment.
          The second one is that economic growth trends do not improve when government become involved (before/after comparison).
          The third is the disappearance of “secret publication” of science in favor of the current open model well before governments became involved in science (ie. scientists themselves find it advantageous to share, it is not a disincentive as suggested by the “public goods” argument).
          The last one is slightly off-topic but highlights the ill effects of patents on R&D (effect of Wrights brothers patents on aviation industry in the US, compared to other countries, and subsequent effect of lifting of patent enforcement for a 50 year period on the field of aviation).

      2. The common argument in favor of government funding of science is that the research can be re-used at little or no cost, whereas the discovery is expensive. The point of your quote above is that this is not the case. Making use of someone else’s discover is not free or cheap. In fact it requires a heavy investment to come up to speed before you can use that knowledge to build anything.

    2. I’m a metallurgist (big cigars!) and therefore not qualified to speak for capital “S” science. On more of the engineering – us people feel it every day – side of things, it seems like government is left to do the dirty work. The huge research centers of the steel and aluminum makers have fallen prey to ROI for the next quarter’s financial reports.

      Since Loomis at Tuxedo Park, how many “Patrons of Science” have we had?

    3. One out of every 6 FDA-approved drugs began with basic science at the NIH. That’s hardly a “private good” or “wasteful.”

      I just read a blip in Time magazine the other day that, due to massive government investments in R&D, China is expected to exceed the US in scientific publications in 2013.

      1. The flaw in your argument is you simply ignore the unseen. The problem is not to show that government funding of science produces something (NASA did produce some benefits), but whether it produced any net benefits (ie. compared to the alternative).

        As pointed out by Kealey, there is no clear empirical evidence that increased government funding gives a country an edge. In particular, the 2003 OECD study which finds “a marked positive effect of business-sector R&D, while the analysis could find no clear-cut relationship between public R&D activities and growth, at least in the short term.”

  7. Congress?  What about the Obama administration? 

    Obama readies to blast NASA

    “Word has leaked out that in its new budget, the Obama administration intends to terminate NASA’s planetary exploration program. The Mars Science Lab Curiosity, being readied on the pad, will be launched, as will the nearly completed small MAVEN orbiter scheduled for 2013, but that will be it. No further missions to anywhere are planned.”

  8. You know, oddly, the Gov. research for the condition I have is done by the Army. I can’t recall if that falls under DoD spending, or something else. I know the private org that funds research usually alerts people when the budget bill comes up in congress.

    Anyway – I am totally for science research. Frankly the amount spent on NASA and the like are a drop in the bucket. Countless things we use everyday had their start or early development from gov. projects.

    And I have this observation – a civilization is remebered for three things:

    1) Their science, engineering, and architecture discoveries and use.

    2) Their art.

    3) The wars they fought, and lands conquered.

  9. Pah!  What did “science” ever do for me?

    Well, other than computers, the internet, vaccines, medical treatments, safer foods and water, automobiles, modern life in general…

    1. And Doritos. The spray nozzle that blasts each chip with micro-cheese powder (without clogging) was invented by NASA.

  10. In other, non-hysterical news:
    The “super-committee” and any cuts coming from it, or in event of it failing to reach a consensus, was a lost cause from the start. Those future, *DRASTIC* cuts are a drop in the bucket when the deficit is running into the trillions of dollars and the budgets being submitted just keep going higher and higher. 

    And as you see with the video above, no one wants anything cut – 
    “Not my science funding!” 
    “Not my liberal arts programs!”
    “Not my space research grant!”
    “Not my drug enforcement funds!”
    “Not my military budget!”
    “Not my healthcare assistance!”

    And so nothing gets done, and shit just gets worse. People need to wake up and realize the tap has been gushing for far too long and the governments in this country are spending without any conscience. There are hundreds of billions of dollars to be saved if we stopped trying to patrol the world, solve every problem in useless committees, and micro-manage every aspect of a citizen’s lives. 

    1. Stop being hysterical yourself.    Tax folks at the rates that Reagan taxed people at, this manufactured budget crisis goes away.   We survived Reagan. “spending without any conscience”?  It’s actually having a conscience that leads people to helping the sick and hungry and improving the world.  Whining about lower tax rates is not a virtue. 

      1. I don’t think Layne is being hysterical, he (or she) just happens to disagree with you.
        Do you really think there is no wasted money, AT ALL, in government grants for scientific research?

        Even within scientific research, we all have our own little “untouchable” areas. Mine is space. And medicine. Oh, and sociology. And oceonography. And marine biology…..

        1. He represented himself as reporting things from a  “nonhysterical” perspective, which is why I mentioned hysteria. I don’t think Layne is in any sense an isolated case, I believe he’s expressing a common anti-tax hysteria that is politically popular among some people, but fiscally unsound.   Certainly money is wasted in research, but on average is well spent.  I  think the money wasted in research is pretty miniscule compared to that wasted in the military or in drug enforcement.  Do you think there’s no area in science,  AT ALL, that’s underfunded?

          1. Layne said “In other, non-hysterical news:”
            You called HIM hysterical. There’s a difference, as far as discussion goes.

            for the rest…
            Do I think that Head Start is underfunded? yes
            Do I think VA Hospitals are underfunded? yes
            Do I think job training programs are underfunded? yes

            There are LOTS of things that are underfunded, and deserve more funding.
            Personally, I’m massively in favor of tax increases, (note I didn’t say “massive tax increases’, heh).

            I’ve pointed out before that we seemed to have lots of entrepreneurship when the max tax rate was 70%; I’m not anti tax at all.

            But I’m also in favor of doing something about our out of control spending.

            When one has a deficit problem, and is considering tax increases AND cutting spending, then on the cutting side, it’s rational to make a lot of little cuts, because nobody wants their pet area cut.

            Except drug enforcement. That we can cut massively. Such a waste.

        2. I probably agree with you more than disagree with you.  But while democrats have agreed to spending cuts, republicans have refused to allow any tax increase.  Allowing tax increases would decrease the deficit.  Maybe intransigence is a better word than hysteria, but it’s an inflexible position that is at the heart of the budget crisis.

  11. Let’s hope that more science in school will help otherwise smart kids who hate/fear math and its applications in engineering and who major in non-math subjects instead, but who are fully tuned into the zeitgeist of techno-paranoia that imbues our mass media whether it’s reporting on CO2, or vaccines, or crack babies, or background radiation, for the purpose of increasing audience share by making every thing a prelude to the end of the world,  adept at seeing beyond the fear and see that we are going to be gods and we’d better become good at it. If we are going to be good at using a tool we gotta stop being a tool.  

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