Of all the irresponsible aspects of the 2005 budget bill that the Republican-led Congress just passed, nothing could be more irresponsible than the fact that funding for the National Science Foundation was cut by nearly 2 percent, or $105 million.
Think about this. We are facing a mounting crisis in science and engineering education. The generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians who were spurred to get advanced degrees by the 1957 Soviet launch of Sputnik and the challenge by President John Kennedy to put a man on the moon is slowly retiring.
But because of the steady erosion of science, math and engineering education in U.S. high schools, our cold war generation of American scientists is not being fully replenished. We traditionally filled the gap with Indian, Chinese and other immigrant brainpower. But post-9/11, many of these foreign engineers are not coming here anymore, and, because the world is now flat and wired, many others can stay home and innovate without having to emigrate.
If we don’t do something soon and dramatic to reverse this “erosion,” Shirley Ann Jackson, the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic and president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, told me, we are not going to have the scientific foundation to sustain our high standard of living in 15 or 20 years.
Instead of doubling the N.S.F. budget – to support more science education and research at every level – this Congress decided to cut it! Could anything be more idiotic?