September 08, 2011

Read This Now: Crunch Time for U.S. Science

Our friend and colleague Dr. Jay Gulledge has a terrific piece
in the latest issue of Nature arguing
that researchers must make a stronger case for funding climate science research
against a backdrop of budget cuts and political divisiveness. (You can read the
full piece here,
but it requires a subscription.)  

does a great job emphasizing the important role that science and technology programs
play in U.S. national security policy. Reaching back into history, Jay notes that “U.S.
federal science spending has long been rooted in the national security agenda,”
pointing specifically to the establishment of the National Science Foundation
after World War II “to promote
the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and
welfare; to secure the national defense
,” and to the creation of NASA in
response to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in the late 1950s. (As a side
note, it is worth pointing out, too, that the U.S. Military Academy at West
Point was founded largely as a science
and engineering school
.) Just as it was during the Cold War, science and
technology programs are crucial to U.S. policymakers charged with protecting
U.S. national security interests. Jay writes, “Neutralizing today’s threats —
terrorism, biological and chemical weapons, nuclear proliferation, and
cyberwarfare— is an intensely scientific undertaking.”

argues that the science community writ large needs to overcome decades of
complacency in order to demonstrate why science is important to society and
worth funding in an era of increased fiscal austerity. Indeed, he notes that during
the Cold War, science and technology programs received broad bipartisan support
in part because the United States aimed to achieve scientific superiority over
the Soviet Union. Gone are those days, Jay writes, and “Unfortunately, through
decades of cold-war complacency, the scientific community has developed a culture
that runs counter to doing this.”

To be
sure, there have been great efforts taken by organizations such as the American
Association for the Advancement of Science and others to develop cross-cutting ways
of incorporating physical science and social science that is accessible to
policymakers, but more can be done. Jay goes on to discuss ways in which the
science community can reorient itself to adapt to the challenges it faces as
Congress gears up to reduce federal spending. If you don’t have a subscription to
Nature, you can get a sense of some
of Jay’s recommendations in our April 2010 report, Lost In Translation: Closing
the Gap Between Climate Science and National Security Policy

The stakes are high for climate science research. Surviving congressional
budget cuts will inevitably require science to become more policy relevant, a
point Jay makes crystal clear: “Those in academia who worry about the erosion
of curiosity-driven science should have a greater fear: the erosion of science
in general.”