Thanks to Spaf and Dave Farber’s Interesting-People list for the pointer to this column by The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait taking Congress to task for approving a cut to the National Science Foundation while at the same time allowing more dubious pork-barrel spending to flourish. It’s more than a little partisan, but still interesting. Here’s a bit:
The new evidence is that Congress voted last month to cut the budget for the National Science Foundation, or NSF, which supports basic scientific research. This means that next year the NSF will have about 1,000 fewer research grants. This comes at a time when scientific experts worry that the United States is losing its worldwide primacy in science and technology.
Now, some of you righties may be saying to yourselves, “Great! We scaled back another big government program.” But, remember, Republicans over at least the last decade have flaunted their support of science and technology. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich used to go on about dinosaur research and giving poor people laptop computers. Bush grandly promised a new mission to land humans on Mars in his last State of the Union address.
And the GOP commitment to science, at least until recently, very much included the NSF. Two years ago, the Republican Congress voted to double the foundation’s budget by 2007. At the time, Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard wrote that the White House considered the NSF to be one of the few “programs that work.” Its grants go out on a competitive basis.
Mitch Daniels, then Bush’s budget director, told Barnes that the NSF “has supported eight of the 12 most recent Nobel Prize awards earned by Americans at some point in their careers.”
Still, you say, don’t we face a huge deficit now? Indeed we do, but cutting support for scientific research is an incredibly mindless way to solve that problem. Deficits are bad because they represent a form of borrowing against the future. Every dollar we spend beyond our means today is one less dollar that we’ll have to spend someday down the road. But scientific research is an investment in future prosperity. Cutting the NSF budget is like a family in debt pulling its children out of college but keeping its country club membership.
Read the whole thing here.