APS News

Council Statements Address Research Funding, Power Lines, and Advice for Congress.

At its April meeting, Council passed three statements expressing the views of the Society on a variety of issues. One statement dealt with research funding for the sciences, another with alleged hazards of electric power lines, and a third with the need for Congress to obtain adequate and timely advice on scientific and technical matters. The text of the statements follows.

Physical Science Research Funding

Federal investments by agencies such as DOE, NSF, NASA, DOD and NIST are indispensable to the vitality of our nation’s research programs in physics and the physical sciences. The investments are essential for maintaining economic growth and generating jobs; ensuring national, homeland and energy security; educating and training the workforce of the future; and contributing to disciplines such as biomedicine and engineering.

The American Physical Society urges increased federal support of the physical sciences. Recent policy reports identify this as a critical need.

The American Physical Society calls specific attention to the following statements embodied in these reports.

  • "Federal support of science and engineering research in universities and national laboratories has been key to America’s prosperity for more than half a century. A robust educational system to support and train the best US scientists and engineers and to attract outstanding students from other nations is essential for producing a world-class workforce and enabling the R&D enterprise it underpins. But in recent years federal investments in the physical sciences, math and engineering have not kept pace with the demands of a knowledge economy, declining sharply as a percentage of the gross domestic product. This has placed future innovation and our economic competitiveness at risk."

    –The Knowledge Economy: Is the United States Losing Its Competitive Edge? (The Task Force on the Future of American Innovation, February 2005)

  • "Increase significantly the research budgets of agencies that support basic research in the physical sciences and engineering, and complete the commitment to double the NSF budget. These increases should strive to ensure that the federal commitment of research to all federal agencies totals one percent of US GDP."

    –Innovate America (The Council on Competitiveness, December 2004)

  • "…[T]he US government has seriously under-funded basic scientific research in recent years… [T]he inadequacies of our systems of research and education pose a greater threat to US national security over the next quarter century than any potential conventional war that we might imagine. American national leadership must understand these deficiencies as threats to national security. If we do not invest heavily and wisely in rebuilding these two core strengths, America will be incapable of maintaining its global position long into the 21st century."

    –Road Map for National Security: Imperative for Change (Phase III Report of the Commission on National Security/21st Century, January 2001)

Electric and Magnetic Fields and Public Health

On April 23, 1995, the American Physical Society issued a policy statement concerning Power Line Fields and Public Health. The APS concluded that "the conjecture relating cancer to power line fields has not been scientifically substantiated." Since that time, there have been several large in vivo studies of animal populations subjected for their life span to high magnetic fields, and also epidemiological studies, done with larger populations and with direct, rather than surrogate, measurements of the magnetic field exposure. These studies have produced no results that change the earlier assessment by APS. In addition, no biophysical mechanisms for the initiation or promotion of cancer by electric or magnetic fields from power lines have been identified.

Science and Technology Analysis for Congress

Science, engineering and technology are increasingly important components of the issues that come before the US Congress. From long-term energy security to decisions about nuclear weapons policy and the exploration of space, it is imperative that congressional decision-makers have access to good technical advice. However, members of Congress and their staff report gaps in the advice currently available to them. They have identified a need for advice that:

  1. addresses problems that require significant study but must be acted on within a matter of months; and 
  2. effectively supports policy development with expert technical assessment.

Therefore, the APS encourages Congress to enhance the capabilities of its support organizations or create other mechanisms to carry out timely technical analyses of policy options.

 



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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff