Archive | January 2012

Science Outlook – If Newt won the White House

What would science look like if Republicans won the White House in 2012? (Part 1 of 2)After hearing Former Speaker Gingrich’s promise that there will be colonies on the moon by 2020, and then the subsequent parodies by various comedians and Romney, I want to ask: what did you find yourself thinking?

Although I don’t believe that we should go back to the moon to settle colonies, Former Speaker Gingrich’s pandering to the space coast got me thinking about the foundation I had for the stress that with a republican in the White House we would lose all of the momentum in R&D we worked so hard to gain these last 3-4 years.  Where did I get this feeling? Because public debates rarely go into how candidates think about science and research and development.

Now a disclaimer: this post is all speculation based on limited research. I have merely looked into the past decisions, votes, and bills introduced by Gringrich (during the 104th Congress) and cherry picked the legislation that might hint at a passion and interest in science. This post is in no way guaranteeing that this will be the agenda that he will take.  I am only looking for patterns to help guide thinking about the candidates that are bombarding the news cycles.

And of course, the candidate will not be the only one who makes decisions on science, as if he does win the White House, it will also depend on who he will appoint to his cabinet positions and other key science positions. But again, this is just a small list to begin to think about the candidates from the viewpoint of what they can do for science, because R&D is not often talked about in national debates.

Gingrich perhaps was not just pandering to the space coast, but has always found an interest in space policy, since growing up during the space race. In an interview with The Space Review in 2006, he sees a lot of potential in large monetary prizes and tax incentives to encourage businesses and the private sector to be involved. Although many of these partnerships with the private sector are already happening and have been the efforts of the current (Obama) administration.

Energy and the Environment:
This is a bit difficult to tease out as there are instances where Newt has been a proponent of climate change going as far as doing a commercial with Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi in support of Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection and even authoring A Contract with the Earth, a book on green conservatism. However in recent months in during his campaign for the presidency he is on the same side of nearly every other republican candidate, expressing that the commercial was the “dumbest single thing I’ve done in the last few years”.

In addition, his quote about changing the EPA to the Environmental Solutions Agency (ESA) is a bit convoluted as he expresses the need for this agency to work with industry to build incentives rather than punishments. One specific example to keep an eye on is his proposal to incentivize “flex-fuel” vehicles.  However, these types of vehicles would need to broaden beyond just ethanol to not be seen as choosing ethanol as the “winner”.

Former Speaker Gingrich has a very strong commitment to education. He knows that prosperity and national security are tied into education. Although he does rely heavily on the charter school system, but as does Secretary Duncan (interview with Meet the Press).

As an additional disclaimer, this post in no way endorses Newt Gingrich. I just wanted to have a discussion about the speculations on the consequence of science if republicans were to win the White House. Did you catch any other articles I should take a look at? Tomorrow: Mitt Romney, what is the outlook for science if he wins the White House?


Directing you to “Just Like Cooking” blog

During the State of the Union tonight, I began to notice that I was not getting as excited as I had been the year before, and for a while I could not quite put my finger on why. But then I realized that there was there was a significant decrease in the urgency to support science and innovation. Last year I remember agreeing with the President on many issues seemingly every other sentence about rallying up the nation like we did in the race to the moon, but in this decade it would be a race to be the top in science, in energy. But this year there was none or very little of that.

Which makes me incredibly sad, as I had written in my last post my anticipation for the 2013 budget and a question for what is in store for science in 2013? We did well in 2012…but can still do better, and we need to do better!

If feels like pushing science is not a good campaigning strategy.

Please take a look at a fellow chemistry blogger’s post here. She does a great and quick “by the numbers” of Winning the Future and America Built to Last. Although true that the two speeches need to be unique and memorable. But what is missing is that there was very few mentions of the success in energy that we made in 2011 to show that those investments made a difference! (yes, research takes time and in a year it is hard to list the successes only the failures – Solyndra – are at the forfront.) But still, I think to really show that we should be working on Winning the Future through innovation, and that we never should stop, there should not have been such a drastic drop off to support science.

FY 2012 Appropriations

2011 Federal Budget

True, wrong year, but a perfect picture listed under CC-BY-SA

It is definitely time, or well past the time, to do a (science) budget blog post. As you might have heard, just before the holiday break, Congress passed the Appropriations for 2012, and it is important to take a look at how science funding panned out.

Although, through this analysis and excitement as to how much Congress believes in basic research, I am keeping the following in the back of my mind: the deficit reduction talks will be fervent as ever for the 2013 budget.  And perhaps fuel for those that are asking for the evidence that science is an economic investment is the new publication by Georgia State University economist Paula Stephan, How Economics Shapes Science.  I can not say much about the book at the moment as I need to wait a few weeks for my library to get its hands on the publication. But this science career’s perspective on the publication was incredibly intriguing.

Most of what the public hears about the arrangements that govern research comes from reports by … top administrators at leading universities, eminent faculty members in major science and engineering departments, and high executives of large corporations — “not,” Stephan pointedly notes, “students and postdocs who could not find jobs.”

Are the funds that are appropriated by Congress to the funding agencies, that are then granted to universities and medical schools to carry out basic research and development giving us the results we want? I cannot answer that, but Stephan’s book perhaps attempts to and there will definitely be a discussion of that publication shortly.

But for now, lets not be dour and actually celebrate that at least for 2012, deficit reduction was only a platform for discussion and did not result in any actual significant budget cutting (at least in NIH and NSF’s budget). Overall, many agencies remained at or slightly above 2011 levels. However, these final appropriations were quite the loss for the Administration as they are are far below the original requests made last Feburary. Specifically, NIH’s budget remained at $30.2 billion, DOE received 4.9% increase ($209 million) from FY 2011 in the Office of Science and a 10.5% increase ($198 million) for energy programs and NSF gained a 2.5% increase for $7.0 billion.

Although the real question is, with the 2013 budget requests to be unvailed in the next month, in an election year, on the coat-tails of a year-long “deficit reduction or it’ll be Armageddon” fest, how will science R&D do?

First, Congress and the Administration seem to acknowledge that discretionary spending was neither the basic cause of the country’s deficit problem nor the principle source of savings to solve it. Second, science, especially basic science investments, remain popular with both parties, both branches of Congress and with the Obama Administration — and even more importantly with the American people. Just how popular remains to be seen.

The above is from a recent live chat attempting to shed light on the questions: “Can Science Spending Survive Partisan Politics?” The panelists outline some good points for scientists to push so that both sides of Congress can agree with. For example to present translatable research or to show that long term investments lead to information like monitoring weather systems can make the difference in evacuation efforts.

But overall the conversation was just speculation. Without knowing (yet) the Administration’s budget requests or (ever knowing) the motives of Congress, we cannot know for sure how science will do in 2013.

The answer to the concluding question is very poignant:

As long as the Federal Govt is going to spend in excess of $130 billion on research and development annually, and taxpayers will be the ultimate source of that money, politics will be an inherent part of the science funding enterprise.

Science will always be a part of politics. The goal is to find a system where both are able to most efficiently benefit each other.