March and April were busy months for scientists working on behalf of the proposed Presidential science R&D budget for FY2001, which calls for an increase of 17.3% for the National Science Foundation. The Presidential request also calls for balancing the increase between focused research initiatives in nanoscience, information technology, biocomplexity and science education, on the one hand, and the core research programs in the traditional disciplines on the other. The scientific community has been quick to speak out in favor of the proposed NSF increase, as evidenced by a three-pronged effort this spring.
In March, the APS Executive Board agreed to co-sign a statement supporting the FY2001 proposed NSF budget generated by the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), which maintains that such an increase "is imperative to expanding the opportunities for more successful science and technological breakthroughs in the future." The CNSF statement cited the major role federal R&D support has played in sustaining U.S. economic growth, along with its belief that the NSF is badly in need of a generous increase.
For instance, throughout the 1990s, the NSF's basic research budget grew at an annual rate of between 1.9% and 3.2%-less than the 5.1% (in constant dollars) annual growth rate enjoyed by the agency during the 1970s. "It is clear that many of the technology innovations enjoyed today are based upon research done 20-30 years ago, and that innovations 20-30 years in the future will be based upon present-day research." Along with a recognition of the cross-disciplinary nature of much of present-day frontier scientific research, the statement also spoke of the importance of maintaining the "knowledge continuum," expressing concern at the declining number of U.S. students opting to study science, mathematics and engineering.
APS President James Langer also weighed in with his support in a personal letter to NSF Director Rita Colwell on April 19th, assuring her of the Society's active commitment to convincing Congress of the need for such a generous increase to ensure the nation's continued economic health. "There is little doubt that nanoscience and information technology will be at the cutting edge of future research, and we therefore strongly support the new initiatives identified in the President's request," he wrote. "At the same time, we are much encouraged by your goal of using half of the NSF increase for the improved funding of core research. Only by maintaining a wide base of scientific knowledge can we prepare ourselves to tackle the new frontiers, wherever they may appear."
Finally, Robert Richardson of Cornell, Chair of the APS Physics Policy Committee, represented the APS during April Congressional hearings before the House Subcommittee on VA, HUD and Independent Agencies Committee on Appropriations. His testimony was part of a collaborative presentation with representatives from the American Chemical Society, the American Mathematical Society, and the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, and echoed many of the same sentiments as the CNSF statement and Langer's letter, particularly on multidisciplinary research. "The boundaries between the traditional disciplines have become increasingly blurred, and the advances in the different disciplines have become increasingly interdependent," he told subcommittee members. "The scientific frontier no longer seems to fit conveniently into one discipline or another. For this reason, we strongly support initiatives that cut across disciplines, such as those the President identified this year."
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