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US Spending not that Grand September 6, 2006

Posted by gordonwatts in politics, science.
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This Sunday’s NYTimes had an article on the state of general research funding in the US: “The State of Research Isn’t All The Grand.”

Two types of research exist in the US: private and public. The private research is done almost all by companies and in most cases is directed towards new products and technology, or taking a new idea or concept and turning it into a product. Public research tends to be much more open ended. This means that researches can take more risks. If they have an idea that doesn’t pan out they won’t be the subject of a conversation at a stock holder meeting!

The research I do is 100% publicly funded. No company would support it; there is no idea for a product, there is no science goal that I’m pursuing that will be turned into something that folks can use on a daily basis.

The article is mostly about the second type of funding:

Few other investments can pay off the way research and development can. Imagine, for instance, how the American economy would have performed without enormous investment in new technologies during the 20th century.

There is a great graphic in the article that shows the US leads the world in spending on research — we should. We have the largest economy! But if you look at the spending as a percentage of our Gross National Product we are actually #7 of 10 countries in the OECD.

After several years of spending a bit more on research and development, the federal government is cutting back in some areas, after adjusting for inflation. While the government will continue to spend more on developing weapons systems and spacecraft, overall government investment in basic and applied research — the foundation of the nation’s innovative capacity — is in some ways shrinking.

There are two large agencies in the government that fund basic research: The DOE’s Office Of Science and the National Science Foundation. If you have a chance, send them some cash. Researches in the US could use it. Or better, convince your local house member or senator to send them some more money. There are a lot of fascinating things out there waiting to be discovered.

Comments»

1. Nate Bottman - September 7, 2006

This reminds me — did you see the article in the New Yorker about Grigory Perelman and the recent Fields Medal? I really enjoyed that.

2. Gordon Watts - September 7, 2006

Nate — yeah. It was a great article. There have been similar articles all over recently — news papers, other magazines. It is fascinating to see the intersection of politics and science in the math field (of all places!).


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