APS News


Budget Numbers Speak for Themselves

I would like to add a few thoughts to the continuing discussion of budget priorities that has appeared in the APS News, mainly in reaction to the May 1997 Back Page piece by Senator Domenici. The above talk about science funding vs. entitlements completely forgets about other forms of corporate welfare. The following numbers from World Watch (Jan/Feb 1996) may be of interest:

Net amount the U.S. government paid to manage publicly owned land used by cattle ranchers for grazing livestock in 1994: $76 million. Amount the U.S. government spent to build and maintain roads through national forests, largely for use of timber companies in 1994: $100 million.

Net amount paid by the world's governments to subsidize their fishing industries in one year $27 billion.

Mineral value of the Mount Emmons molybdenum deposit in Colorado $3 billion. The U.S. government will charge the Cyprus-Amax company for the right to extract and keep this wealth, although the land belongs to the U.S. public.

The numbers speak for themselves. There is clearly room to free up money for scientific research without cutting defense too much and without overdoing the capping of entitlements.

Edith Borie
Institut fur Technische Physik
Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe

Only Lean Budgets Will Encourage Reform

Congressman George Brown, bless his heart, is at it again: talking sense (Back Page, APS News, August/September 1997). The problem is, who is listening? He has championed academic science, he has written and spoken eloquently on scientists' needs to relate to their patron society in every way. Brown now clearly shows that excessive federal funding of science has created a "runaway" situation. More research dollars equals more universities chasing those research dollars, which in turn means more PhDs, more demand for money, more proposals, more wasted time, and less money per researcher. It also means less emphasis on education (especially undergraduate) as a result, and hence - you guessed it - more pleas for more money for education.

To fix this, Brown says, "... reform requires the active involvement of the higher education community (HEC)." Having spent 50 years in that group, I know that the HEC has only one value or goal in common: more money for academic science, however it is defined. But Brown has been around long enough to know that "metanoia" without repentence and restitution in action is hollow.

Here is another example of life in the HEC. Every speech by every university president, every analysis, every report of higher education, has harped on the mantra of "Interdisciplinary research" for 40 years. Brown, as an observant sympathetic scientist, has written about it. Yet today, literally billions of dollars of federal bribes later, the HEC is as discipline-dominated as ever. I write from experience. With a group of colleagues I started the first interdisciplinary graduate program in materials in 1959. The HEC is not intrinsically committed to it in any way.

The forces for real change, based on new ideas, reason, and argument within the HEC are miniscule, weak and pusillanimous. Well-intentioned supporters of reform in the universities have all unwittingly made the problem much worse by providing far too much money, which merely reinforces the status quo. Only lean times will focus the HEC mind on real reform.

Furthermore, no one in Congress has dared to simply demand accountability in objective data from the university for results. Show us your interdisciplinarity in tenured professorships, and we'll reward you. Show us your new broadened undergraduate program in action, and we'll reward you. Quantify for us your coupling to industry in research dollars received, and we'll reward you. No more promises.

Brown's article has the seeds to the correct answer to the problem: less money from the federal governmnt. Thank you, George Brown, for helping us to think the unthinkable questions.

Rustom Roy
Pennsylvania State University

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin