# Beginning of the end for government-funded scientific research [in America]?

• News
Late last night, I got an email from the APS news thing (American Physical Society I believe). I'm a member, so no doubt those of you who are also members got this email. For those that didn't, here it is:

APS said:
URGENT ALERT TO THE APS MEMBERSHIP: THREAT TO AMERICAN SCIENCE

THE ISSUE IN BRIEF: Last Friday, House Republicans, who hold the
majority, introduced a detailed plan to slash $100 billion from the non-defense portion of the FY 2011 discretionary budget. The plan, which amounts to a reduction of about 33 percent in federal spending during the balance of the fiscal year, would devastate significant portions of federal commitments to science. It is critical that you contact your member of Congress NOW in order to avoid severe disruptions of research grants, cessation of national user facilities operations; halting of major science construction projects; initiation of layoffs, furloughs and termination of laboratory personnel; and reductions in support for science education. DETAILS: The Continuing Resolution under which the federal government has been operating since October 1, 2010 and which is set to expire on March 4 contains approximately$530 billion for civilian programs
out of a total budget of $3.54 trillion. With only 7 months of the fiscal year remaining, the$100 billion House reduction would be
taken from unexpended balances totaling about $300 billion. The legislation, H.R. 1, prepared by the House Republican leadership at the behest of extreme fiscal conservatives, would have the effect of slashing the remaining balances of the NSF and NIH budgets by almost 10 percent and the DOE Office of Science and NIST by more than 30 percent. Applied science programs would be hit even harder. Program reductions are summarized in the links provided on the Website of the House Appropriations Committee: http://appropriations.house.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=PressReleases.Detail&PressRelease_id=261 [Broken]. ACTION REQUIRED: Contact your member of Congress IMMEDIATELY to emphasize the devastating impact on American science, innovation and economic growth the House plan would cause. To assist you in framing your message, we have provided a pre-written message to your Representative, which you should personalize or rewrite as you deem appropriate: http://www.congressweb.com/cweb2/index.cfm/siteid/APSPA/action/TakeAction.Contact/lettergroupid/90. See web page pointers below for further instruction. WEB PAGE POINTERS: (1) While individualizing your letter is not essential, we ask that you make minor edits to the subject line and the first line of the text of each email. (2) If you are a government employee, please do not use government resources, such as a government computer, to send your communication. (3) Your browser will take you to a page where you will enter your name and address. (4) After entering your address, click the "Edit/Send Email button." A window with an individual email message to the office will appear. Click "Send Emails" to transmit the communication. (5) Electronic submission is preferred. (6) For further help, email the APS Washington DC office: opa@aps.org. Just to give an overview if you didn't read it all, there are some major cuts being made by the Republicans in Congress to NSF and DOE, something like reducing it by 10%. That's huge. What does this mean to science being done in the US? I was just reading the NASA thread, two-fish made a relevant comment that it may happen that the US cuts funding now, which stunts our economic growth, which in turn requires Congress to cut more funding and so on. Basically, are we screwed? Your thoughts. Last edited by a moderator: ## Answers and Replies fss As long as there is war there will be some form of government-funded science. Caramon Yes, the United States has little to no chance of recovering back to what it once was. I suggest all scientists attempt to make their way to Canada and Europe. Shackleford Well, apparently, the APS enjoys sucking on the government, teet, too. I guarantee they're cutting a lot of useless projects we shouldn't be funding. When we can afford it, I'm all for us investing into groundbreaking R&D. caffenta Well, apparently, the APS enjoys sucking on the government, teet, too. Obviously, we're in serious need of punctuation research. Cause, it ain't, work;ing too, well. I guarantee they're cutting a lot of useless projects we shouldn't be funding. When we can afford it, I'm all for us investing into groundbreaking R&D. And who exactly decides what we should and shouldn't be funding? You? Yes, the United States has little to no chance of recovering back to what it once was. I suggest all scientists attempt to make their way to Canada and Europe. Brain drain. That's probably what they want. Get us eggheads out of here... Last edited: Gold Member And who exactly decides what we should and shouldn't be funding? You? I think the basis of this thread answers that. Should it be the APS? Can someone say conflict of interest? twofish-quant As long as there is war there will be some form of government-funded science. Unfortunately/fortunately, there isn't. In the past, you could route science spending through DOD, but that's not working any more. The other problem is that most of the graduate students that do the grunt work of science research are Chinese which leads to some interesting conversations. A: We must fund science so that we can keep the Chinese from taking over the world! B: But doesn't much of the funding go to fund Chinese graduate students that are eventually going to end up in China and work their their military-industrial complex? A: Ummm... Urrrr... Uhhhh... caffenta I think the basis of this thread answers that. Should it be the APS? Can someone say conflict of interest? I don't know about APS, but if people who actually know the subject (i. e. scientists) don't have a say in what should or shouldn't be funded, who is capable of making these decisions? Politicians with an MBA or law degree? I have no conflict of interest since I do not get funded by research grants (being in industry), and I still think cutting NSF, DOE, etc. by such a large margin is extremely shortsighted. twofish-quant Well, apparently, the APS enjoys sucking on the government, teet, too. You say this as if something is wrong it with that. One thing that China has going for it is that "big government project" isn't a dirty word. When there are lots of people unemployed in China, the Chinese government builds a highway. When there are lots of scientists unemployed, the Chinese government opens up a research park. The reason for this is that there are no meaningful elections in China, and keep people employed means that they don't have time to hold mass demonstrations the way that they did in Egypt. I guarantee they're cutting a lot of useless projects we shouldn't be funding. Just because someone is self-interested doesn't mean that they are wrong. Also, the thing about science is that you don't know what is useless. Science is fundamentally an expensive and wasteful effort. If I could see into the future, I could tell you out of the 100 projects that get funded which are the 98 that go nowhere and 2 that change the world. If you kill 100 projects because 98 are wasteful, then you kill the 2 that end up changing the world. When we can afford it, I'm all for us investing into groundbreaking R&D. If you take that attitude, you'll never be able to afford it. zero research -> no economic growth -> no money for research -> less economic growth -> less money for research This is total madness. twofish-quant I don't know about APS, but if people who actually know the subject (i. e. scientists) don't have a say in what should or shouldn't be funded, who is capable of making these decisions? Politicians with an MBA or law degree? Ultimately, voters make these sorts of decisions. I have no conflict of interest since I do not get funded by research grants (being in industry), and I still think cutting NSF, DOE, etc. by such a large margin is extremely shortsighted. I have massive conflicts of interest, but just because I'm self-interested doesn't mean that I'm wrong. Shackleford Obviously, we're in serious need of punctuation research. Cause, it ain't, work;ing too, well. Huh? And who exactly decides what we should and shouldn't be funding? You? Taxpayers. I'm one of the taxpayers. Are you? Gold Member Someone made a good suggestion either on this forum or some place else. They said just cut all funding everywhere by 10%. That's how corporations do it, just across the board cuts. Everyone can make a convincing argument why they're the only reason the country's economy exists, so why bother trying to sort through the nonsense. Shackleford You say this as if something is wrong it with that. One thing that China has going for it is that "big government project" isn't a dirty word. When there are lots of people unemployed in China, the Chinese government builds a highway. When there are lots of scientists unemployed, the Chinese government opens up a research park. The reason for this is that there are no meaningful elections in China, and keep people employed means that they don't have time to hold mass demonstrations the way that they did in Egypt. This isn't China. Big government projects should exist only when necessary and desired, not for any other reason. Also, the thing about science is that you don't know what is useless. Science is fundamentally an expensive and wasteful effort. If I could see into the future, I could tell you out of the 100 projects that get funded which are the 98 that go nowhere and 2 that change the world. If you kill 100 projects because 98 are wasteful, then you kill the 2 that end up changing the world. Sure you can. You're misunderstanding my use of the word useless. http://caps.fool.com/blogs/100-worst-stimulus-projects/428539 We should be careful about what we the taxpayers choose to invest our money into. Just because someone is self-interested doesn't mean that they are wrong. If you take that attitude, you'll never be able to afford it. zero research -> no economic growth -> no money for research -> less economic growth -> less money for research This is total madness. Wrong. There's a time when we can afford to invest. Do you know what a balanced budget is? I'm well-aware of the total productivity factor. Increasing efficiency always leads to economic growth. Research is not always performed by the government. Don't setup that straw man. Science Advisor Often when some group of people want something from the government (ie change laws to suit them, monetary benefits, business deals with government etc), they get a powerful lobby group to lobby for their cause. Big business do it, maybe the scientists could do it to. Only shortcoming I see (and it is a big one), is that you need money (money talks) and maybe connections to do it. Play the political game by the rules that currently exist. Shackleford Someone made a good suggestion either on this forum or some place else. They said just cut all funding everywhere by 10%. That's how corporations do it, just across the board cuts. Everyone can make a convincing argument why they're the only reason the country's economy exists, so why bother trying to sort through the nonsense. Ridiculous. Worst cop-out ever. Gold Member Ridiculous. Worst cop-out ever. Well, can't argue against that logic. Shackleford Well, can't argue against that logic. There's a fundamental difference between corporations and government. Anything unprofitable and extraneous is typically cut before it's necessary to make cuts. That's what businesses do by nature. Government is not like that. It doesn't have to turn a profit. The federal government has been growing excessively and outside its constitutional framework for well over a century. It's infamously grossly inefficient, incompetent, and wasteful. We should take the time to wade through its expenditures and cull what's unnecessary. caffenta Ultimately, voters make these sorts of decisions. Taxpayers. I'm one of the taxpayers. Are you? Do they really? I don't remember ever voting on NSF funding or research projects myself. And the average taxpayer is even more clueless about science. How would they make educated choices? It's just ridiculous to pretend that taxpayers actually make these decisions. Gold Member There's a fundamental difference between corporations and government. Anything unprofitable and extraneous is typically cut before it's necessary to make cuts. That's what businesses do by nature. Government is not like that. It doesn't have to turn a profit. The federal government has been growing excessively and outside its constitutional framework for well over a century. It's infamously grossly inefficient, incompetent, and wasteful. We should take the time to wade through its expenditures and cull what's unnecessary. Except you have to get real. Everyone will try to argue that they don't deserve a cut and what they do is vital to the existence of the universe. The government is like a pathetic child, it wants everyone to be happy. Representatives are that way as well, they want their constituents to love them so they can stay in office. Everyone wins if you can just pass the buck to the next generation. By the way, what happened to all the "we're mortgaging our children's future!" complaints from when Bush was around spending freely. If our government was a family, our financial adviser would have cut up our credit cards long ago. caffenta Research is not always performed by the government. Don't setup that straw man. Then who does? Do you have actual data that shows basic research being funded by industry? With the ever shorter ROI requirements in industry, it's hard enough to get targeted research done. Science Advisor A: We must fund science so that we can keep the Chinese from taking over the world! B: But doesn't much of the funding go to fund Chinese graduate students that are eventually going to end up in China and work their their military-industrial complex? A: Ummm... Urrrr... Uhhhh... How about an argument via diplomacy? But ideally that would mean lots of Americans doing graduate studies in China too. twofish-quant There's a fundamental difference between corporations and government. Anything unprofitable and extraneous is typically cut before it's necessary to make cuts. That's what businesses do by nature. Government is not like that. It doesn't have to turn a profit. Right, which is why corporations are awful places to do fundamental research. If you are a corporation, you have a strong incentive to boost profits by shifting your costs to someone else. So you cut basic research and the shift those costs to the government. That actually works pretty well until the government stops doing research. The federal government has been growing excessively and outside its constitutional framework for well over a century. It's infamously grossly inefficient, incompetent, and wasteful. We should take the time to wade through its expenditures and cull what's unnecessary. Unnecessary = "someone else can do it" That works fine as long as someone else can do it. But in any case, we aren't going to convince each other, and so now it becomes a matter of who can get the most votes. To be quite honest, I don't think that people that agree with me have as many votes as people that agree with you which is why I'm quite worried about the future of the US. twofish-quant Do they really? I don't remember ever voting on NSF funding or research projects myself. You can vote for congressman for which NSF funding is either important or not-important. If you show up at your congressman's office with campaign contribution checks from people who think that NSF funding is important, that's how you get involved. And the average taxpayer is even more clueless about science. How would they make educated choices? Well, that gives you an argument for public education... It's just ridiculous to pretend that taxpayers actually make these decisions. Politics is really messy, but it boils down to the interaction of a lot of special interest groups. If you think that something is important, get organized, form a PAC, talk to your Congressman, and become educated as to how the process works. If you don't get involved, then the decisions will be made by the people that do get involved. caffenta So you cut basic research and the shift those costs to the government. That actually works pretty well until the government stops doing research. It's not just basic research anymore. Now even targeted research is being shifted to universities, although there is some funding to go with it (from corporations). Since government funding is getting sparse, universities take this gladly, but there is often friction. Universities want to publish (obviously), but companies want to keep the results to themselves (also fairly understandable since they paid for it). So lawyers have to get involved (sigh). If you don't get involved, then the decisions will be made by the people that do get involved. I completely agree with you, but unfortunately it is the loudest voice (aka the irrational screamers) and special interest groups who usually "win", not necessarily the majority voice. And very often, electing someone who claims to be for science ends up not doing anything or just going against it. Last edited: twofish-quant This isn't China. Big government projects should exist only when necessary and desired, not for any other reason. So you say. We should be careful about what we the taxpayers choose to invest our money into. The trouble is that if you end up investing in nothing, then you have a problem. Wrong. There's a time when we can afford to invest. Do you know what a balanced budget is? Yes. Do you know what supply-side economics is? It's something that Reagan invented. Research is not always performed by the government. Don't setup that straw man. Look I've worked in industry for 20 years. It's not a straw man. Industry does not do basic research. They got out of that business in the 1970's because it's expensive and not profitable. This wasn't such a bad thing, because shifting costs from corporations to academia and government labs still meant that the research was done. Once you kill academia and government labs then no one does the research. twofish-quant Often when some group of people want something from the government (ie change laws to suit them, monetary benefits, business deals with government etc), they get a powerful lobby group to lobby for their cause. That's how the game is played. Big business do it, maybe the scientists could do it to. Scientists do it it. Scientists are an extremely powerful lobby, because if you can get a group of physicists to say "look if you do X, I can't guarantee that the US will still be able to make nuclear bombs that work", then people will listen to you. Scientists also have very powerful allies among big business and the military. If you get a dozen physicists to say "this is just going to kill your profits" then CEO's start to listen. The only problem here is crying wolf, but the wolf is coming this time. Only shortcoming I see (and it is a big one), is that you need money (money talks) and maybe connections to do it. You don't need a huge amount of money to play politics, and as far as connections, physicists have them. Also if you are interested then do what the letter says. twofish-quant It's not just basic research anymore. Now even targeted research is being shifted to universities, although there is some funding to go with it (from corporations). Since government funding is getting sparse, universities take this gladly, but there is often friction. Universities want to publish (obviously), but companies want to keep the results to themselves (also fairly understandable since they paid for it). So lawyers have to get involved (sigh). You are preaching to the choir, but sometimes it just feels good to talk to someone that agrees with you. All of this makes things even more inefficient. You have lots of lawyers trying to figure out who owns what, and because funding is so low, you have scientists spending most of their time working on grant proposals rather than doing any real research. Because you can't fund everything, you end up with huge meetings and political fights deciding where the tiny bits of funding go. I completely agree with you, but unfortunately it is the loudest voice (aka the irrational screamers) and special interest groups that usually "win", not necessarily the majority voice. Then scream loudly and form a special interest group. The majority doesn't care, so loud minorities beat a silent majority. This fact helps scientists since scientists tend to be passionate. And very often, electing someone who claims to be for science ends up not doing anything or just going against it. That's why you have to have lobbyists talking to and monitoring people. The good news is that scientists aren't babes in the woods when it comes to politics. Also right now we are in damage control mode. The cuts are going to wreck US science, and I don't see how this is going to be avoided. The goal right now is to minimize the damage so that in a few years when China starts kicking rear end, that the US will be able to reverse the damage. AsianSensationK I'm thinking these politicians spent way too much targeting the small time and letting the worst offending programs off with a free pass. A 2-3% defense spending cut from Obama's proposal is pure BS when budget deficits are like this. The worst part about the bickering that's going to occur between the house republicans and the Obama administration is that neither group seems ready to address the elephants in the room, defense, social security, medicare, and medicaid. Just as an example, social security will spend$56 billion more than it takes in the current fiscal year(p5 of the summary tables from gpoaccess.gov). Medicare is even worse.

I've heard a columnist recently mention that "when you're in a hole, you don't keep digging and you can't borrow your way out. You have to grow your way out." I agree with that. Along those lines, I'm not sure the republicans here have done anyone a service suggesting so many mindless cuts while ignoring the chance to tackle some big issues. After all, if the biggest line items don't get addressed, what's the point?

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ParticleGrl
This isn't China. Big government projects should exist only when necessary and desired, not for any other reason.

So what is more desirable (both to corporations and the nation)- a strong infrastructure and low unemployment, or a balanced budget? The US has been letting our infrastructure (including basic research) slide for decades.

As a tax payer, I prefer roads, a solid power grid, the amtrak, and the innovation that comes out of research.

Do you know what a balanced budget is?

Are you familiar with the fact that the US runs a huge trade deficit (largely because the dollar is the world reserve currency, because of Bretton-Woods and the aftermath)? Twin deficits tell us that this deficit has to be held somewhere, since private debt is dropping right now, public debt will go up. Contracting spending now without addressing the trade deficit will just create a downward spiral of less GDP -> less revenue -> less spending -> less GDP.

Government debt is not the same as household debt. Right now, the US dollar still tenuously holds a privileged place amongst the world's currency. We can exploit it to our advantage, or ignore it to our peril.

I think the worst part about the bickering that's going to occur between the house republicans and the Obama administration is that neither group seems ready to address the elephant in the room, social security, medicare, and medicaid. By the summary tables I found at gpoaccess.gov, social security will spend \$56 billion more than it takes in the current fiscal year(p5 of the tables). Medicare is even worse.

I've heard a columnist recently mention that "when you're in a hole, you don't keep digging and you can't borrow your way out. You have to grow your way out." I agree with that. I'm not sure the republicans here have done anyone a service suggesting so many mindless cuts while ignoring the chance to tackle some big issues. After all, if the biggest line items don't get addressed, what's the point?

All in all, I think our politicians here have missed a real opportunity to be leaders because they're afraid it will lose them votes.

All in all, who do you think is responsible for the mess that has been created?

When the financial collapse happened, in my view, the people that made the bad bets should have gone under. If a mom and pop operation or some other small business did what these other people did, then they would have filed for bankruptcy.

If I was a mortgage broker and I found some family living on welfare and I knowingly gave them a loan that given their current situation and common credit history for the average person in their current situation, no matter what excuse or how stupid I am, I would know that the loan would never be paid off with the deal that I had made with them (ie teaser interest and then ridiculous interest soon thereafter).

What surprises me though is that (as far as I know) there was no regulation to stop this kind of thing happening. You don't have to be a financial analyst or a PhD in a mathematical discipline to know what the end result is.

If people are allowed to act like this (ie financial institutions) and play the "casino game" and not fail, then you really have to ask why.

twofish-quant
When the financial collapse happened, in my view, the people that made the bad bets should have gone under. If a mom and pop operation or some other small business did what these other people did, then they would have filed for bankruptcy.

The problem is that they were making bad bets with your money. If you had let the banks collapse, your checking and savings accounts would have evaporated. You got bailed out big time.

In a normal bankruptcy, the creditors get soaked, but that would not have worked sense you are a creditor to the bank.

If I was a mortgage broker and I found some family living on welfare and I knowingly gave them a loan that given their current situation and common credit history for the average person in their current situation, no matter what excuse or how stupid I am, I would know that the loan would never be paid off with the deal that I had made with them (ie teaser interest and then ridiculous interest soon thereafter).

True. However, one thing that made it easy for him to be stupid was that he wasn't lending his own money. He was lending yours. Once that money evaporates, then he doesn't take the lose. Absent a bailout, you take the loss when your bank account evaporates. What's worse, once people realize this, everyone goes to the bank and start withdrawing all of their money, and then things really start falling apart.

If people are allowed to act like this (ie financial institutions) and play the "casino game" and not fail, then you really have to ask why.

Because they the people whose money they are using (i.e. yours) are unaware that about what is going on.

twofish-quant
After all, if the biggest line items don't get addressed, what's the point?

The point is that the reason that defense, social security, medicare, and medicaid are off the table is because you have millions of people scream like hell when their turkey is on the table. If you shut up when your turkey is on the table, then you are the one that is going to be sliced.

It's not fair. It's not rational. The only good thing about the system is that no one has thought of a better one. But if you are in a representative democracy and you don't organize to protect your special interests, then you are going to get steam-rollered by people that do.

twofish since we're on the subject could you comment (since you are in finance) about the reserve requirements for banks? I've read that they are either ridiculously low or non-existent.

Your comment with withdrawing is valid and I wouldn't expect a bank to have 100% reserve requirements, but the fact is most banks have hardly any reserves.

If a bank run did happen I agree there would be chaos, but I'm wondering what your viewpoint on the matter of reserves is (ie do you agree/disagree with reserve requirements?)

twofish-quant
twofish since we're on the subject could you comment (since you are in finance) about the reserve requirements for banks? I've read that they are either ridiculously low or non-existent.

Usually around 10% cash.

If a bank run did happen I agree there would be chaos, but I'm wondering what your viewpoint on the matter of reserves is (ie do you agree/disagree with reserve requirements?)

In US banking they were mostly irrelevant for the crash, since most the money goes through the securities markets. One thing that you have remember about the banking system is that it's a system. If the US has tight regulation of banks, and Germany doesn't, then German banks will pay more interest, the money will move there, and when everything blows up in Germany, it's still going to pull you down. It turned out that Germany will let you put risky assets into bank reserves, as long as those assets are insured, which is fine, until the insurance company that insures those deposits nearly goes under...

Your typical bank has 50% loans, 40% mortgage securities and 10% cash. When they run low on cash, they sell loans and securities on the open market. That totally broke down during the crash, so the banks had to sell loans and securities straight to the Federal Reserve.

One problem with money is that money is a collective illusion. If everyone thinks that a bar of gold is worthless then a bar of gold becomes worthless. That's sort of what happened in the crash. Everyone got scared and then suddenly all of the loans and securities that the banks had were worthless. The only thing that kept the system from totally unraveling was that the central banks came in were willing to buy up loans and securities at reasonable prices until people stopped panicking.

Bank reserves are like kitchen fire extinguishers. If you have a fire in your kitchen, then they can save your rear end. If you happen to be in the middle of a raging forest fire because someone else didn't have their extinguisher, they aren't going to help much.

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fss
Unfortunately/fortunately, there isn't. In the past, you could route science spending through DOD, but that's not working any more.
"It's not working" ? DARPA produces plenty of useful things for the military and intelligence community. You just don't (and won't) see it in your living room for 20 years.

The other problem is that most of the graduate students that do the grunt work of science research are Chinese which leads to some interesting conversations.
Citation needed.

Taxpayers. I'm one of the taxpayers. Are you?
Last I checked (early November, 2011), a great many taxpayers voted to cut spending. So yes, taxpayers ultimately do decide how the government dollar is divided up.

We should take the time to wade through its expenditures and cull what's unnecessary.
You can't keep espousing the point of view that things are "unnecessary" or "necessary"- arbitrary terms that leave you wide open to criticism. In government, these matters are subjective. Montana's constituency doesn't need to keep developing a second engine for the F-35, but John Boehner's constituency in Ohio does. Average Joe Yahoo in rural Oklahoma doesn't need DOE to maintain funding levels for High Energy Physics, but the Boston HE Consortium does. It's all relative.