More Money for Research? We All Need Good Reasons
At the Chronicle’s Brainstorm blog, Dan Greenberg lamented the annual petitions from scientists to policy makers for more science funding. His critique appeared less than a week before two congressional hearings on the National Science Foundation’s budget for FY2009. Part of his criticism rests on the demands researchers make for funding without paying attention to the political realities of allocating money for their programs:
Their perennial complaints about inadequate financial support by Washington are generally disregarded as standard, selfish clamor from government dependents.
His characterization highlights the point that communicating the importance and public good of scientific research is a responsibility of scientists and policy makers alike. Basic research is important, and supporting it is one component of bolstering U.S. competitiveness in a global economy. But scientists and decision makers in the federal government must also draw clear connections between the policy issues that attract public attention–like health care, the economy, and green energy initiatives–and the technological innovation that underscores each.
Science Progress advisors John Irons and Tom Kalil noted in January columns that federal research funding has not kept up with the rate of inflation for several years and private industry support for basic research has been declining for a decade. Targeting increases in the research budgets for federal agencies can expand R&D programs developing energy solutions for a low-carbon economy while expanding industries that will create more “green collar” jobs. Increasing support for NIH-funded research can build on the promise of fast-moving work in regenerative medicine. Supporting university-industry collaborations can both make up for the decline in high-risk, high-return research private industry has abandoned and encourage investment in regional economies. Improving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education, especially for students in undeserved demographics, can boost young people’s success in a competitive economy.
Those fruits of increased funding hardly amount to a “selfish clamor”–they serve the interests of the entire country. But when scientists and policy makers are asking for more money, it certainly doesn’t hurt to connect the promise of research to positive outcomes.
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