APS News

Inside the Beltway: A Washington Analysis

Physics in the Headlines But Not in the Usual Way

By Michael S. Lubell, APS Director of Public Affairs

Michael S. LubellSuddenly physics, more precisely the physical sciences, math and engineering—but that's too much of a mouthful, so I'll stick with physics—is back on the agenda of politicians, policy makers, industrial leaders and the media.

It's not the discoveries and the Nobel prizes of the last few years that are creating the buzz, though they haven't hurt. Rather, it's the growing recognition in the circles that count that the nation really does depend on physics discoveries to stimulate the economy, enhance security and improve the health of the populace. And further that the physics enterprise is under significant stress from two decades of federal neglect, growing competition from abroad, and a tangle of education and workforce problems, which, left untreated, will seriously compromise the future of America.

Why the issue is suddenly gaining traction is a story in itself, one that would take too many words to tell in this column. Suffice to say that the threat is real and that physics advocates—many of them readers of "Inside the Beltway," I trust—have been able to break through the political cacophony and journalistic prejudice that usually relegate science and science policy to the back benches and the back pages.

A few examples deserve mention.

  • Dateline, March 17, 2004, Wall Street Journal: Competitive Edge of U.S. Is at Stake in the R&D Arena.

  • Dateline, Washington, March 29, 2004, C SPAN, "Washington Journal," Former Lockheed/Martin CEO Norman Augustine: Can Science Save U.S. Jobs?

  • Dateline, Washington, April 8, 2004, Roll Call, "Pennsylvania Avenue," by Morton M. Kondracke: Kerry, Congress Should Fight Bush Science Cuts.

  • On stage at the National Press Club, April 20, 2004, Intel CEO Craig Barrett, Association of American Universities President Nils Hasselmo, High Voltage Engineering CEO Russ Shade, Nobel Laureate Richard Smalley and Council of Competitiveness President Deborah Wince-Smith: Task Force on the Future of Innovation Launches Advocacy Campaign to Illustrate the Importance of Basic Research.

  • 29th Annual AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy, Washington, DC, April 22, 2004, Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle: "Today, we stand at a pivotal moment. For all our past successes, there are disturbing signs that America's dominant position in the scientific world is being shaken."

  • Dateline, April 27, 2004, USA Today, "Editorial/Opinion," Intel CEO: Let's End Political Games and Compete.

  • Dateline, Washington, April 28, 2004, Roll Call, Task Force on the Future of Innovation Ad: Economics 101 Innovation is America's Economic Heartbeat, Don't Flat Line Our Future!

  • Dateline, May 3, 2004, The New York Times, William J. Broad: U.S. Is Losing Its Dominance in the Sciences.

  • Dateline, May 5, 2004, The New York Times, William J. Broad: National Science Panel Warns of Too Few New Scientists.

  • Dateline, May 7, 2004, The New York Times, "Editorial": Losing Our Technical Dominance.

  • Factoid, Washington, DC, May 11, 2004: 56 Senators Sign Letters to Energy and Water Appropriators Calling for 10% Increase in DOE Office of Science Budget.

The federal government may be swimming in red ink, but apparently some opinion makers don't think it's worth sacrificing our future by shortchanging the physical sciences, mathematics and engineering. I agree. If you do too, "Speak out!"


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