A Lack of Faith in the Future?

Posted by: Michael Mandel on June 22

Faith comes in many different forms. In its purest form, it embraces belief without the need or even the desire for immediate proof.

Faith is usually thought of as a religious notion. But scientific research and exploration of the frontiers of technology demand faith as well. The seemingly endless hunt through scientific blind alleys and technological projects that don’t work can be terribly discouraging, unless you have faith that somewhere out there is a pot of gold.

Researchers usually have that faith. Unfortunately, in today’s market-driven world, the funders of research have to have faith as well, and that seems to be eroding.

According to the Computing Research Policy Blog, the Senate wants to give the National Science Foundation only the tiniest of budget increases:

Details are scant at the moment -- we'll know more when the committee report accompanying the Senate bill is released later today or tomorrow -- but from the committee's press release it appears NSF would receive $5.5 billion for FY 2006, an increase of just $58.1 million over the FY 2005 estimated level, but $113 million less than the House approved last week. Given that some portion of the $58 million will have to be used by NSF to cover their new obligation to reimburse the U.S. Coast Guard for icebreaking efforts in support of the Foundation's polar programs, it's not clear that the agency's research programs will benefit much, if at all, from the subcommittee's increase

Assuming that inflation runs at 2.5% over the next year, the NSF would need $140 million just to keep up with price increases.

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Reader Comments

Jack Krupansky

June 22, 2005 04:31 PM

Memo to Deaf Ears in DC:

First, let me simply add my vote and voice in favor of more research, the more basic and pure the better, so we can be seeking out new frontiers and not simply scrambling to patch up old broken systems.

Hey, lets even have more research in economics, as dismal a science as it is. Let's solve the "conundrum" of low long rates once and for all (but probably not until the conundrum dissipates on its own.)

Maybe we were spoiled by the wonders that came out of research labs in the 50's, 60's, and 70,s, and now we're coasting, fueled by fumes and with a false sense that grand new ideas either pop up out of thin air (on convenient little cocktail napkins, no less) or can simply be derived using a spreadsheet function in a business plan.

More basic research - now!

-- Jack Krupansky

David Beck

June 23, 2005 12:44 PM

It seems obvious that the U.S. needs to emphasize basic research spending to remain globally competitive. I doubt the U.S. can, or even wants to, compete globally as a supplier of low cost labor producing the products conceived in other countries. Historically the U.S. government has been the fundamental source of basic research spending and should remain so as private research spending cannot, or choses not to, take the high risks of hoping for a short-term payoff from basic research. I suspect that historically U.S. Defense funded basic research has dwarfed all other government research spending, and this is probably more true today than ever before. Anyone have statistics on the proportion of defense to non-defense (such as the NSF) government research funding?

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Michael Mandel, BW's award-winning chief economist, provides his unique perspective on the hot economic issues of the day. From globalization to the future of work to the ups and downs of the financial markets, Mandel-named 2006 economic journalist of the year by the World Leadership Forum-offers cutting edge analysis and commentary.

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