What a cute little guy.

Screwworm Larvae

The Washington Post has a great write-up of an event on April 25th put on by an alliance of academic and scientific societies and a bi-partisan group of Congressmen that sought to highlight the incredible payoff of research that “may once have been viewed as unusual, odd, or obscure.” The event, called the Golden Goose Awards, is a spin on the long-running “Golden Fleece Awards” started by Sen. William Proxmire (D-WI) back in the mid-1970s, which Proxmire used to highlight what he thought was particularly egregious examples of wasteful federal spending. (Last year, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), launched a similarly themed attack on the National Science Foundation, mocking the agency for funding research into towel-folding robots and shrimp on treadmills, among other examples.) Instead, these Members took to the podium to cite examples of odd sounding research that produced enormous payoff. From the article:

Federally-funded research of dog urine ultimately gave scientists and understanding of the effect of hormones on the human kidney, which in turn has been helpful for diabetes patients. A study called “Acoustic Trauma in the Guinea Pig” resulted in treatment of early hearing loss in infants. And that randy screwworm study? It helped researchers control the population of a deadly parasite that targets cattle–costing the government $250,000 but ultimately saving the cattle industry more than $20 billion, according to [Rep. Jim] Cooper’s [(D-TN)] office.

Cooper was joined by Rep. Robert Dold (R-IL), Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), and Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) in standing up for odd-sounding science — hardly a collection of free-spending Members.

Cooper himself can’t be accused of being a free-spending liberal:As a member of the Blue Dog Caucus that sponsored the Simpson-Bowles plan on the House floor, his own deficit reduction proposals have garnered praise from prominent fiscal conservatives. The two House Republicans who helped him unveil the Golden Goose Awards–named after Aesop’s fable of “the goose that laid the golden egg”– also voted for Sen. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) most recent budget. But the congressmen stress that federal money spent on basic scientific research is well worth the upfront investment.

“When we invest in science, we also invest in jobs. Research and development is a key part to any healthy economy,” said Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.) at Wednesday’s press conference. “It’s critical, and the federal government has an important role to play,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Penn.), who described how injecting horses with snake venom might “seem peculiar” but led to the discovery of the first anti-venom.

The group also wants their colleagues–and the broader public–to understand that investing in science means that the research failures are part of the process, as well. “There has never been a scientific project with guaranteed success…a single breakthrough can counter a thousand failures,” says Cooper.

A good counter to Proxmire and Coburn, and just what Congress needs to hear as they figure out how to prioritize the cuts required to tame the federal deficit. Read the whole article.

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have just released their drafts (House – Senate) of the FY2013 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Bill, and the numbers look pretty decent for NSF and NIST.

Short version: NSF would see an increase of 4.3 percent overall in FY13; NIST would see increases of $54-56 million to its core research accounts; NASA would see cuts.

Here are the slightly more detailed summaries (HouseSenate):

On NSF, from the House —

National Science Foundation (NSF) – The legislation funds NSF at $7.3 billion, which is $299 million above fiscal year 2012 and $41 million below the President’s request. NSF’s entire increase is provided to core research and education activities, which are critical to innovation and U.S. economic competitiveness, including funding for an advanced manufacturing science initiative and for research in cyber-security and cyber-infrastructure.

That’s a 4.3 percent increase over FY12, 1 percent less than the President’s Budget Request. NSF’s Research and Related Activities Account would receive a 4.5 percent increase in the bill.

From the Senate —

National Science Foundation (NSF) — The National Science Foundation (NSF) is funded at $7.3 billion, an increase of $240 million above the fiscal year 2012 enacted level.

Same overall level.

On NIST, from the House —

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) – NIST is funded at $830 million in the bill, which is $79 million above fiscal year 2012 and $27 million below the President’s request. Within this total, important core research activities to help advance U.S. competitiveness, innovation, and economic growth are increased by $54 million above fiscal year 2012. In addition, the bill includes $128 million for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership program – which provides training and technical assistance to U.S. manufacturers – and $21 million for an Advanced Manufacturing competitive research initiative.

From the Senate —

 National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) – NIST is funded at $826 million, which is $75 million above the fiscal year 2012 enacted level. The bill provides an increase of $56 million for NIST’s laboratories and technical research while maintaining strong support with industry partners including $128.5 million for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership and $14.5 million for the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia (AMTech)

So, both have healthy increases for NIST core research.

NASA doesn’t fare as well in the House. On NASA, from the House —

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) – NASA is funded at $17.6 billion in the bill, which is $226 million below fiscal year 2012 and $138 million below the President’s request. This funding includes:

  • $3.7 billion for Exploration – $59 million below fiscal year 2012. This includes funding to keep NASA on schedule for upcoming Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Space Launch System flight milestones and to maintain progress in a reconfigured commercial crew program.
  • $4 billion for Space Operations – $249 million below fiscal year 2012. The legislation will continue the closeout of the Space Shuttle program for a savings of $503 million.
  • $5.1 billion for NASA Science programs – $5 million above fiscal year 2012. This includes $1.4 billion for planetary science to ensure the continuation of critical research and development programs that were imperiled by the President’s request. This also includes $628 million, as requested, for the James Webb Space Telescope.

NASA research also sees cuts in the Senate bill —

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is funded at $19.4 billion, an  increase of $1.6 billion over the fiscal year 2012 enacted level. The large increase results from a reorganization of operational weather satellite procurement from NOAA into NASA. Without the funds for weather satellite procurement, this level represents a $41.5 million cut from the fiscal year 2012 enacted level.

The bill provides $5 billion for Science which is $69 million less than fiscal year 2012. Within Science, the bill restores $100 million of a proposed cut to robotic Mars science programs, resulting in a total of $461 million for Mars robotic science.

So, on the whole, good news for the agencies we care most about in this bill, except for NASA. The bills have some marked differences in the way they treat other programs in the bill — NOAA satellites paid for by NASA, for example and differences in the way some Dept of Justice programs are funded — that might cause some rejiggering of funding levels as these bills go to the floor and into conference. But it’s always better to start with a big-ish number and work from there, rather than starting with a smaller number. Also important is the verbiage used by both committees in summarizing the increases. Our arguments about the importance of NSF and NIST in promoting US innovation and competitiveness still resonate loudly with both sides of the aisle.

More details as they become available!

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Enrollments in undergraduate computer science programs rose 9.6 percent in the 2011-12 school year, the fourth straight year of increase, according to new data released today by the Computing Research Association.Average CS majors per U.S. CS Department

The data, found in the CRA Taulbee Survey report Computing Degree and Enrollment Trends, 2010-2011, compares schools that responded to both this year’s survey and last. Overall enrollment — including schools that did not participate in the survey last year — increased by 11.5 percent per department compared to the 2010-11 school year. The report also suggests that student interest in computer science may even be higher than the enrollment statistics indicate, noting that enrollments at some schools are constrained by enrollment caps in computer science departments. Free of these caps, in place because of faculty or infrastructure limitations, the report suggests that enrollments might have reflected even larger increases.

The number of bachelors degrees in computer science awarded by U.S. schools also increased by 10.5 percent in the 2010-11 school year, according to the report. Among schools who responded to both year’s surveys, the increase was 12.9 percent.

Total Ph.D. production in computing programs held steady in 2010-11, with 1,782 degrees granted.

The CRA Taulbee Survey is conducted annually by the Computing Research Association to document trends in student enrollment, degree production, employment of graduates, and faculty salaries in academic units in the United States and Canada that grant the Ph.D. in computer science (CS), computer engineering (CE) or information (I). CRA today released its Computing Degrees and Enrollment Trends, 2010-2011 report. The full Taulbee dataset will be released to the public in May and published in CRA’s Computing Research News.