Monday, February 07, 2005

Science funding

I noticed that Bush's new budget cuts both the DOE and NSF budgets (the former in nominal dollars, the latter in real dollars).

If I were a billionaire I would set up a foundation whose main mission is to increase Federal spending on science and engineering research - a kind of sci-tech PAC.

Existing organizations, like the Sloan or Packard Foundations, already fund promising individual scientists, or support popular science programs like NOVA. But, we might get bigger bang for our non-profit buck from making Congress more aware of the positive return on research (i.e., direct lobbying), and supporting those politicians that are most pro-science. A few billion allocated to science PACs could produce a lot of good for society in the long run. Supporters of science have to face the reality of how our government works, and how the levers of power are manipulated. If the NRA or anti-abortion lobby can hold the majority of Americans hostage over fringe issues, why not a pro-science PAC that operates in the long-term interest of America?

This foundation could also produce economic policy papers documenting the return on government investment in research, and publish a list of the 50 least supportive representatives and senators each year. In the current environment, a dollar spent on lobbying for federal resources may have a greater return for science than a dollar spent directly on research.

Editorial from Chemical and Engineering News: "U.S. leadership in science and technology used to be a foregone conclusion. No longer. The European Union, China, Japan, India, Russia, and other nations are rapidly building scientific capabilities that rival ours--as evidenced by more U.S. companies moving science and engineering jobs and facilities offshore and by fewer international students applying for U.S. graduate programs in science and engineering.

Is our technological leadership slipping? If so, how will that affect our ability to generate future breakthroughs and high-wage jobs? These questions are not being asked often enough in Washington, D.C. Instead, the President's budget request cuts basic research at the Departments of Energy and of Defense, and the House of Representatives recently slashed National Science Foundation research. Because these agencies dominate federal investments in nonmedical research, our elected leaders are running a very risky national experiment at a pivotal time in U.S. history.

Like a thoroughbred in a race without a finish line, science runs nonstop for the American people. Our military supremacy, industrial strength, and quality of life depend heavily on it. However, if we leave critical areas unexplored, we will fall back in science and create a void other nations are certain to fill. To keep pace, we must make sustained and smart investments in basic research.

The trend toward flat research budgets is troubling because basic research supported by NSF and other agencies ensures a steady stream of scientific discoveries that can transform entire industries and even create new ones. While the nation's sluggish job growth is gaining much attention, too little attention is being paid to America's long-standing reliance on innovative new industries to create high-wage jobs. No one knows which next big innovation will produce a wave of new jobs, although biotechnology, nanotechnology, and renewable energy are strong contenders. But we do know that major job-producing innovations stem from strong basic research investments.

The American public believes in job growth through innovation. In fact, in a recent poll, more than 70% of Americans said the nation spends too little on basic research. If the U.S. is to continue to lead the way in the creation of new technologies and jobs, we can't afford to put federal research on hold. Today, federal research investment is less than 1% of GDP--less than half the rate of the 1960s. In other nations, the rate is much higher."

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Right right right.

Anne

Anonymous said...

http://www.palemale.com/

Smile.

Anne

Carson Chow said...

Wait a minute, didn't you just post a while ago about how you would definitely discourage your niece (and I would presume nephew) about going into science? How can we engender interest in science if our own scientists are negative on the profession? Come clean Steve, if you had a chance you would do it all over again, wouldn't you:).

cc

steve said...

Hi Carson,

Science R&D is good for the country but not necessarily an optimal career choice for my niece! In fact, one of the positive benefits of having strong research infrastructure here is that it attracts talent from overseas. This benefits our nation in the long run, but also depresses the wages of home-grown science geeks like me. (Who should know better than to go into academic science, and, unlike a kid born in rural China, have the option of pursuing a career at Goldman Sachs instead!)

I might also say that we benefit from giving Mexicans guest worker status in the U.S., without suggesting to my niece that she try to find a job picking grapes ;-)

Anonymous said...

Anne: What a beautiful bird!

Regarding career in science, I agree a career in (at least some fields) science is getting harder these days (as opposed to the 60s ---`Sputnik money').

Now for an ode to basic science. While I am no longer doing science in academia, I consider myself fortunate to have had an excellent science education (theoretical physics). I think I appreciate the applied work I do a lot more than if I had had an engineering education.

Plus, it makes me 'gasp with awe and laught with joy'(Coleman) when I think of how much of the universe can be explained by rather 'simple and beatiful ideas' of general relativity and quantum field theory. The 'unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics' is truly magical!

And I do not even have any idea about what is going on in biology, perhaps going to be the dominant field in this century.

So, Steve, why would you you want to deprive your nephew and niece of such exquisite joy?;)

MFA

Anonymous said...

Then I will encourage your niece to become a scientist, or for that matter just what she may wish. The last painting has not been painted, the last pelican not been traced to the fish she catches. Of course, biologists are only semi scientists and artists no scientists at all, but still :)

Anne

Anonymous said...

Are we supposed to always agree with you because you own the blog :)

Anne

Anonymous said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/08/international/asia/08korea.html?pagewanted=all&position=

2 Koreas Forge Economic Ties to Ease Tensions
By NORIMITSU ONISHI

SEOUL, South Korea - The first products made jointly by South and North Korea since the peninsula was divided half a century ago - stainless steel pots priced at $19 a pair - went on sale at a department store here recently. They sold out in two days.

The kitchenware was made in a special economic zone inside North Korea, just north of the demilitarized zone that divides the peninsula, by a South Korean company employing North Korean workers. A maker of semiconductor parts also began operating there late in 2004, and 13 more South Korean companies are scheduled to follow this year.

For the two Koreas, the opening of North Korea's first economic zone is filled with real and symbolic significance, which was not lost on the many shoppers who snapped up pots to give to relatives, friends and South Koreans whose ancestral towns are in North Korea. The zone is inside the ancient capital of Kaesong, the burial place of some of Korea's kings, and is reached by a new road that links the two Koreas by passing a few miles west of the truce village of Panmunjom, the enduring symbol of Korean division.

"The two Koreas have literally taken a different road toward eventual unification," said Jean-Jacques Grauhar, the secretary general of the European Union Chamber of Commerce here, who has lived in South Korea for 11 years and earlier lived in the North for 7. "The Kaesong industrial complex represents cooperation between the two Koreas, without the interference of any outside power. This would have been unthinkable just five years ago."

To many government officials and businessmen here, the opening of the economic zone represents a major step in further engaging North Korea, which has carried out market reforms and established diplomatic, economic and cultural ties with many Western nations in recent years. That has put South Korea uncomfortably at odds with the Bush administration's policy of confrontation and isolation in its campaign to force North Korea to abandon its nuclear program....

Anne

Anne

Anonymous said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/08/business/worldbusiness/08yuan.html

Lax Management at China's Banks Remains a Concern of Regulators and Investors
By CHRIS BUCKLEY

BEIJING - China's top regulator laid out proposals on Monday to cut bad loans and bank fraud, but also had harsh words for a state-owned bank that acknowledged recently that a manager had embezzled $102 million.

The proposals came in response to the admission last month by the Bank of China, which plans to go public this year, that a branch manager in northeastern China had embezzled 840 million yuan from several bank accounts before fleeing the country.

This latest scandal barely stands out in China, where cases of bank corruption involving hundreds of millions of dollars seem to pop up regularly. But it comes at an especially tense moment for China's state-owned commercial banks as the Bank of China and the China Construction Bank prepare to become the first banks here to sell stock in their domestic operations.

Investors have been scrutinizing the banks' preparedness for their stock market debut, and the recent case of theft does not help, analysts said. "It may be small compared to the bank's size, but it raises major concerns about whether the Bank of China has proper internal controls," said Ivan Chung, managing director of Xinhua Far East China Credit Ratings in Shanghai. "At this stage, so close to the I.P.O., it's still a shock to the market."

Anne

steve said...

MFA/Carson: I am not entirely serious about my "don't become a scientist" warnings. Certainly, some people get more enjoyment and satisfaction from the subject than any amount of money could ever buy. However, this isn't necessarily the case for many (most?) kids who set off to become the next Einstein or Mayr. I know a lot of super-talented people who, in their mid 30's, after PhDs from top places and many years of postdoc, eventually left the field. By that age they could already have become very successful doctors, lawyers, financiers, etc. had they chosen a different career path. (And indeed, they might have ended up contributing more to society as an MD or JD with the brain of a physicist than just another mediocre researcher.) Whether they would have done things differently is up to them, but I think the answer is in many (most?) cases yes.


Anne: No, you certainly should not agree with me just because it's my blog! (It should be based on my powers of persuasion! ;-)

Anonymous said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/08/arts/dance/08joyc.html?pagewanted=all&position=

In Modern Dance, Reflections of a Restless China in Flux
By ANNA KISSELGOFF

In a country where the arts are expected to support government policy rather than exist primarily as independent forms, China's still-young and rapidly expanding modern dance has a distinct advantage. It is a wordless means of individual expression, especially open to ambiguity and interpretation.

When the Beijing Modern Dance Company, founded in 1995, makes its New York debut tonight at the Joyce Theater, with "Rear Light," a piece choreographed to music from "The Wall," the 1979 rock album by Pink Floyd, viewers will certainly spot the general aura of alienation. It may be less easy to agree about specifics.

The sight of young people placed "up against the wall" and of crime-scene body silhouettes painted on the floor as well as dancing that veers between turbulence and regimentation may all evoke the 1989 repression of demonstrators in Tiananmen Square.

Yet there is also an intimate male-female duet and a wild disco scene, usually with audience participation onstage. For Willy Tsao, the company's Hong Kong-born artistic director, this disco episode is not just a release but also a critique of mindless youth. "It shows a wild bunch of kids enjoying themselves," Mr. Tsao said. "They don't know what's going on around them. They hide from the truth."

Any recent visitor to China who has run into the night life in Shanghai and Beijing or seen the pop art in official museums that portrays Maoists and punk rockers side by side will understand that artists who do not want a return to the past may also be unhappy with China's rediscovery of materialist values.

An allegorical transposition of the original tale about an alienated rock star in the 1982 movie version of "The Wall," "Rear Light" is at a far remove from a realistic dance about peasants in the fields that was included in the 1991 United States debut of the Guangdong Modern Dance Company, the seedbed of Chinese contemporary dance....

Anne

Carson Chow said...

Anne: How did we decide that biology is semi-science? According to Popper, there is definitely more science currently going on in biology than in say string theory. If anything, biology has too much science. It dogmatically follows the scientific method of hypothesis, experiment, evaluation, and new hypothesis. What is often missing is speculation.

Anonymous said...

Of course, you are right, Steve :)

I think it is a matter of timing/luck (apart from abilities, of course) when it comes to getting academic positions (what sub-fields are 'hot', open positions etc). I myself could not afford the luxury of doing a post-doc with its attendant uncertainities, and so promptly moved out of academia after my Ph.D. So I don't feel I wasted too much time before contributing to society :) But you have been able to traverse both worlds (academic and applied), common in engineering faculties, but rare in theoretical sciences, I think.

Carson: 'String theorists don't make predictions, they makes excuses' (Feynman?):)

MFA

Anonymous said...

Carson Carson,

Teasing was the point, though I am forever listening to students explain that there's more prestige in physics or chemistry than biology. However, you have made a most important comment: "What is often missing is speculation." When I read Origin of Species, I realized how surprisingly imaginative Charles Darwin was. I do agree with you, but there is always reason to play a bit.

Anne

Anonymous said...

Carson

How slow I am. I just found your blog, and what a nice blog to visit often :)

Anne

Anonymous said...

Steve Hsu asks an interesting question about whether we are able to account for speed of evolution. How long might it have taken for a molecular soup to become bacteria, and so on? Is the age of the earth itself enough to account for speciation?

I must ask and think simply about whether answers to such questions may be knowable.

Anne

Anonymous said...

The above article on modern dance in China is excellent, so I thought to say so.

Anne

Anonymous said...

Toward a New Philosophy of Biology
Ernst Mayr [1988]

The complexity of living systems.

Living systems are characterized by a remarkably complex organization which endows them with the capacity to respond to external stimuli, to bind or release energy (metabolism), to grow, to differentiate, and to replicate. Biological systems have the further remarkable property that they are open systems, which maintain a steady-state balance in spite of much input and output. This homeostasis is made possible by the elaborate feedback mechanisms, unknown in their precision in any inanimate system.

On the average...organic systems are more complex by several orders of magnitude than those of inanimate objects. Even at the molecular level, the macromolecules that characterize living beings do not differ in principle from the lower-molecular-weight molecules that are the regular constituents of inanimate nature, but they are much larger and more complex. This complexity endows them with extraordinary properties not found in inert matter.

Systems at each hierarchical level have two properties. They act as wholes (as though they were a homogenous entity), and their characteristics cannot be deduced (even in theory) from the most complete knowledge of the components, taken separately or in other combinations. In other words, when such a system is assembled from its components, new characteristics of the whole emerge that could not have been predicted from a knowledge of the constituents. Such emergence of new properties occurs also throughout the inanimate world, but only organisms show such dramatic emergence of new characteristics at every hierarchical level of the system.

Anne

steve said...

Mayr on complex systems:
"...their characteristics cannot be deduced (even in theory) from the most complete knowledge of the components, taken separately or in other combinations."

This goes a bit too far - in *practice* these characteristics can't be deduced (i.e., the behavior of a hawk from the properties of atoms), but we reductionists think that in *principle* they can.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. I am learning, and anticipated such a response. Nice.

Anne

Anonymous said...

You should tell that guy who funded the Perimeter Institute. If he spent the $100 million on lobbying it would have done physics alot more good than spending it on Lee Smolin and loop quantum gravity garbage. Such a waste.

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