"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." -- Bertrand Russell

Friday, August 10, 2012

Show that Science is a Priority -- Sign the APS's Petition

This afternoon, I received an e-mail from the American Physical Society (APS) alerting me to some troubling events in Congress. The APS is concerned about a large number of budget cuts in the Federal government which are likely to negatively affect scientific research and has created a petition in protest. In the United States, scientific research is often funded, in part or full, by the Federal government. Corporations are unlikely to take the sorts of risks involved with certain kinds of R&D; nonetheless, this kind of research is beneficial to all of us.

The Federal funding of scientific research is largely motivated the same way that government maintenance of public parks and roads is motivated. As in the Tragedy of the Commons, single individuals cannot be expected to be motivated to maintain parks or roads even though it would be directly beneficial to all of us; corporations performing simple cost benefit analysis will often quickly find that it is cheaper for them to simply dump trash in the park, as opposed to cleaning it. Similarly, the kinds of pure scientific research that delivers insights into how the world works -- which historically have given us the computer, the atomic bomb, the Internet, transistors, radio technology, and so on -- are often very poor investments for corporations. Federal funding of scientific research, often performed at university laboratories, is crucial for our country's continued advancement.

But where did this budgetary problem originate?

According to a report from the University of Michigan's Office of the Vice President for Research:
In 2011, Congress passed the Budget Control Act (BCA) because of the mounting federal deficit due to many years of increased discretionary and mandatory spending, and a decrease in revenues.
Congress hoped to decrease the discretionary budget between fiscal years 2012-21 in order to reduce the national debt by $2.8 trillion. However, the BCA led to disagreements about the distribution of government funds. This has caused the government to go into sequestration.

Sequestration is apparently involves automatically triggering a spending cut. Again, according to the report from the University of Michigan:
Under the BCA, sequestration requires automatic across-the-board cuts to discretionary spending across all agencies starting on January 2, 2013,  to meet the requirements of the BCA.
It is estimated that the $1.2 trillion in cuts would save approximately18% in interest payments, resulting in a net of approximately $984 billion in cuts across all discretionary budgets. These cuts are divided between defense and non-defense discretionary spending and include a 2% reduction in Medicare payments.
The same reports have some interesting graphics (from a report prepared by the American Academy for the Advancement of Science or AAAS) illustrating what these funding cuts mean. The first plot to the right illustrates the percent change in budget without sequestration.

But with sequestration, the most likely result will be the second image to the left. Note that this budget plan has yet to be approved by the Senate.

Below is illustrated the budget cuts through 2021.  Note the remarkable 67% decrease in the Energy budget.

This is not good news for science, to say the least.

In addition to receiving this e-mail, I was also explaining to someone today that, as a community of atheists, Freethinkers, Humanists, rationalists, etc, we need to more publicly affirm our positive values.

Well, here's a way to do that. Communicate to the government that science is a priority by signing APS's petition, available here.

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