Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Scientific Pig Out

Jim Brainerd
The Astrophysics Spectator

Wednesday morning I received an e-mail from the American Physical Society (APS) advising me that I should send a thank-you note to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for giving the National Science Foundation (NSF) $3 billion and the Nation Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) $600 million of new funding—euphemistically called “science infrastructure investments”—in the $816 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Instead, I sent a thank-you note to my congressman, one of the 11 House Democrats who voted against the spending bill. Of course, my reasoning had nothing to do with the advancement of science. Reading the bill, I saw that it is simply a massive list of congressional pet projects, an expansion of socialized medicine, and further federalization of the public school system. I think the bill will harm the economy.

Over the short term, researchers in the fundamental sciences will get more money. The bill should give short-term funding to astronomy and astrophysics. The bill earmarks all but $150 million of the NASA funds for climate research, aeronautics, and the mitigation of flood and hurricane damage to NASA facilities; the remaining money is to be spend on science, so much of this will likely be spend on astronomical projects. One billion dollars of the NSF funding is earmarked for such things as the modernization of academic research laboratories, funding of the “Major Research Instrumentation Program,” and funding of the ‘‘Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction’’ program, all of which, presumably, support astronomical observatories, leaving $2 billion for unspecified scientific research. Certainly on the NASA side, and perhaps on the NSF side, some of this money will go to astronomy and astrophysics.

The joy the APS expressed over the additional NSF and NASA funding, I believe, is misplaced.

Read the Commentary HERE.

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