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Science Funding is like… November 13, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in Uncategorized.

You know how it is. You decided to by that new car on sale because it was just before the new ones came out – sales were great because dealers were clearing lots… And then the new model comes out… and it flies!!! What are you to do? You are stuck with your old car for several years; you can’t just sell it; the value has dropped so much because these new cars fly!

Science funding is about to get a new model. At least, that is what we all hope:

It is no wonder, then, that 76 American Nobel laureates publicly supported Barack Obama – nor that there has been a dramatic lightening in mood among my colleagues in New York over the past week.

Obama understands – at least, according to his campaign literature and rhetoric – that science has the power to improve lives profoundly.

He also realises that the nations that succeed in the highly competitive world economy are those that foster technological advances and nurture intellectual strength.

So there is a feeling of hope that the new president will be much better for American science, and as a result for science across the globe.

I’ve seen other articles around the web describing the new “spring” in scientists step.

There is a problem, however, for many of us: that new about to be obsolete car is still on the lot. The funding model in particle physics is done mostly by yearly grants, reapplied for every three years (with reports and oversight on a much more frequent timescale). If you and your group happens to be up for renewal right now… well, the money that the DOE and NSF have to spend on you is what is in the current, pre-Obama budget. And that is a budget from a continuing resolution – and continued at a disastrously low level.

N.B. While I will always remain optimistic (with brief interludes of bitterness) that things will get better, I am under no illusion about the current financial situation and its already real and further potential impact on scientific research in the USA. As the article says:

But it is one thing to pledge an increase of funding during an election campaign, and another to double the budget during a global recession.



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