Science slash protested

Federal funding for scientific researches take a plunge as Republicans plan a cut in the budget

Published: Saturday 30 September 1995

MIT campus: maladjustment to p (Credit: USIS)AFTER it has been brewing for a while now, the Republican-dominated Congress in the us launched a determined drive to cut-back federal funding for civilian sciences since early this year. Some of their most radical moves have been a proposal to disband the Department of Energy (doe) altogether and to eliminate the social, behaviourial and economic sciences directorate of the us National Science Foundation. Both met with vociferous protests from the scientific community.

The current Congressional budget plans are designed to slash federal grants by 30 per cent to 40 per cent. Those most badly hit are research units of universities. The authorities of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, were in a state of shock when it was informed that a congressional sub-committee was planning to cut off funds for its Bates Linear Reactor. Four other university-run accelerators, at Yale, Texas a&m, the University of Washington and the Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory in North Carolina, face closure if the doe's wings are clipped. The Republicans argue that those who do basic research in the universities have not done enough to adjust to today's fiscal realities. The university system over-expanded its research capacity and under-emphasized its education mission. "There are far too many laboratories and far too much 'pork'. We badly need a laboratory closure commission," declares John Kaisch, Republican Congressman, and chairman of the House Budget Committee.

The scientific fraternity, meanwhile, is making a valiant attempt to convince the Congressmen to reverse their stand. They argue that continuity in today's basic research is vital to the nation's economic competitiveness, health care and the environment. Robert Walker, chairman, House of Representative's Science Committee, and a Republican party member, has nevertheless, been championing the cause of the scientists. He has been urging his partymen to reconsider their strategy. "Tomorrow's new products and capablities depend on today's research," he claims.

Others like Phillip A Griffiths, director, Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, is offering viable alternatives to the Congress, admitting that the universities had slipped a bit in the past. But cutting down drastically on money allotted for basic research is certainly not the solution. He suggests that basic research should be jointly developed by both the private sector and the federal agencies. The federal agencies themselves would continue to conduct only that portion of research needed for directly supporting their missions. And technology development would be driven by the private sector. This, says Griffith, will help to clear the lacuna, provided the Republicans pay heed to him.

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