Scientists discuss future of science in the Bush administration

02/15/05

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---The future of science is precarious under President George Bush's administration in light of looming funding cuts, said Rosina Bierbaum, Dean of the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Bierbaum gathered five scientists with long careers of working on science policy to discuss the future of environmental research and funding under the Bush administration, during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Feb. 17-21 in Washington, DC.

Bierbaum, former acting director of the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy, organized the panel, to be held 1:45 - 4:45 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 20, as the last of a three-part symposium on science, policy and politics in federal policy making.

"In previous administrations, scientists were always at the table when regulations were being developed," Bierbaum said. "Science never had the last voice, but it had a voice."

Bierbaum said many members of the science community are worried about the unprecedented politicization of science under Bush. This panel of former or current government science advisors that she helped assemble is in a unique position to discuss how things differ from previous eras, and what the next four years portend for environmental policy, she said.

For instance, Bierbaum said, federal funding for research is expected to stay relatively flat in the coming years. However, plans to cut the deficit by half, but not cut defense spending, will mean that more money must come from discretionary funding, which includes research, she said.

Bierbaum's portion of the panel talk will focus on the environmental research community and the future of some of the environmental research programs that are most important to the public and private sector. For example, despite a call by the National Research Council for an expansion in funding of the Climate Change Science Program to match the expansion in scope, no growth is indicated. NASA's Earth Science program will suffer along with the rest of NASA science programs as the President's Moon and Mars program consumes an ever larger portion of the NASA budget, she said. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration global change program is slated for a cut, and plans for crucial temperature and rainfall monitoring stations may be shelved.

Perhaps most troubling, Bierbaum said, is the overall impact the proposed budget cuts will have on the education and training of graduate students, especially in the physical sciences. If the cuts in the Department of Energy's Office of Science, NASA science, National Science Foundation education programs and even defense basic research are approved by the Congress, support of graduate students will be slashed dramatically. This is precisely contrary to the recommendations made by the Council on Competitiveness in the recent National Innovation Initiative report. That report calls for the greater support of research and graduate student training as a necessary element in the nation's ability to remain at the cutting edge of technological innovation---the key to our economic competitiveness.

Bierbaum joined the Office of Science and Technology Policy in November 1993 as a senior policy analyst and served as assistant director for environment before being confirmed by the U.S. Senate as associate director in 1998. Before that, she worked for Congress for 13 years at the Office of Technology Assessment. She became Dean at U-M in October 2001.

Other panelists include: Neal Lane, Senior Fellow, James A. Baker III Institute of Public Policy, Rice University and former Science Advisor and director of the NSF; Dave Goldston, Chief of Staff, House Committee on Science; Mark van Putten, Principal, Conservation Strategy and former president and CEO, National Wildlife Federation; John Holdren, Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government and chair of the National Academy of Science Committee on International Security and Arms Control; and Robert Watson, Chief Scientist, World Bank and former director of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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