Bush Embraces Science (Non-April Fools Edition)

Sure enough, Bush did the "science" thing last night. I've already preemptively explained why he's not a credible messenger on this topic; so has DarkSyde (and I'm sure many others on the blogs). Still, let's parse the president's message a bit more:

First, I propose to double the federal commitment to the most critical basic research programs in the physical sciences over the next 10 years. This funding will support the work of America's most creative minds as they explore promising areas such as nanotechnology and supercomputing and alternative energy sources. Second, I propose to make permanent the research and development tax credit to encourage bolder private-sector initiative in technology. With more research in both the public and private sectors, we will improve our quality of life and ensure that America will lead the world in opportunity and innovation for decades to come.

Third, we need to encourage children to take more math and science and to make sure those courses are rigorous enough to compete with other nations. We've made a good start in the early grades with the No Child Left Behind Act, which is raising standards and lifting test scores across our country. Tonight I propose to train 70,000 high school teachers to lead Advanced Placement courses in math and science, bring 30,000 math and science professionals to teach in classrooms and give early help to students who struggle with math, so they have a better chance at good high-wage jobs. If we ensure that America's children succeed in life, they will ensure that America succeeds in the world.

All of this will be wonderful (if truly executed as promised). But Bush cannot get around two points that do severe damage to his message, and his credibility, on this subject.

First, Bush himself has severely assaulted American scientific education by endorsing the teaching of "intelligent design" in classrooms. Having more science teachers would be great, but we can't have a president telling them to teach non-science or even anti-science, or to undermine basic instruction in biology. That kinda ruins the whole thing, you know?

Second: The Korean scandal shows that the U.S. is not as far behind in the stem cell field as previously suspected. Nevertheless, Bush's policy has clearly restrained research and thus global competitiveness in this field. Once again: It's hard to be the "competitiveness" president when your actions have actually damaged scientific competitiveness--you know?

Let's hope that other commentators join in holding Bush's feet to the fire on this stuff. I'm generally cautious about using words like "hypocrisy," but I think it's probably warranted here.


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"[...] ensure that America will lead the world in opportunity and innovation for decades to come."

I do understand that this statement is the "politic" sugar spoon to help republicans accept these changes. But it is also the one that undermines the full message.

It is clear that the Bush administration is not doing it for the sake of Science (and in my opinion Science is rarely good if not forsaken in that perspective) but for the sake of U.S. so called "imperialism".

Today, Science is an international effort, requiring open interaction between countries. It should not be the sterile competition of, for example, stealing brains from the communists etc... that we have seen two decades ago and still haunt our research community.

It's applied science, engineering and technology he is talking about - where is basic science? Why only physical science?

Not to mention the absence of any direct discussion on the topic of global climate change. That's especially hypocritical after James Hansen's recent allegations.

I think that he specifically mentioned physical sciences because the NIH budget has already doubled several times over since the mid-90s. They fund the biological and medical sciences, NSF funds the physical sciences (mostly).

I can't remember if he promised the NSF budget would double, but if he did it hasn't.

Congress passed a bill that the NSF budget would double in 5 years, in 2002. Hasn't come close to that. There was a nice jump the next year, but the increases since are barely above flat. However, in 2002 I don't think that there were Administration statements stating or endorsing the NSF double.

2002 Total NSF budget: 4.774 billion

2003: 5.369 billion

2004: 5.578 billion

2005 (requested): 5.745 billion (3.0% increase over 2004).

Not quite on track.

The NIH budget doubled under Bill Clinton primarliy thanks to the former director of the NIH, Dr. Harold Varmus to a total of $27 billion per year. In more recent years increases to the NIH budget (which funds nearly all life science research in this country) have not even kept up with inflation. As a result, nearly 90% of of R01 applications (standard investigator initiated grant applications) are not funded in a typical funding cycle. Grants can be resubmitted two more times - there is, however, typically a delay of one year between submissions.

The end result is that there is an enormous amount of outstanding science that is not being done due to lack of funding. It is very demoralizing and is driving more Americans out of the field.

I think you lose the main policy that Bush intend to use to "advance" science at USA: TAX CUTS...

It is there, Bush said it: "Second, I propose to make permanent the research and development tax credit to encourage bolder private-sector initiative in technology."

Yes guys, again, TAX CUTS for the rich and for the corporations. That is Bush's true intentions. Again.

My guess is that tax cuts will not halp scientific research because the corporations will use it (if they use it...) only to promote thecnological research, not basic science.

João Carlos

Sorry my bad english, my native language is portuguese.

By João Carlos (not verified) on 01 Feb 2006 #permalink

I was bothered by Bush's comments about embryonic stem cell research. It sounded to me like he was going to push for legislation to ban essentially all ES research. This is very different than the current ban on NIH funded research, which is bad enough. Currently scientists can use private funds - it is tough since exisiting equipment purchased with NIH funds cannot be used for ES work, but at least it can be done. If I correctly understood what Bush said, he is going to try to ban private funding of ES work, as well.

The more specific news I've heard (via a CRA mailing list) is that Bush is proposing to double the budgets of NSF, NIST, and DOE, over the next ten years. Great news, if true and if successful.

Good catch PZ! I didn't see the whole speech--I just went straight to the science part, and missed this. That's an outrageous claim by Bush on chimeras.

Just to be clear - the NIH has about $27 billion for external research (internal NIH money is different), whereas the NSF has about $5 billion. NIH tends to fund life sciences (i.e. cancer, immunology, genetics, development, etc.) whereas the NSF is somewhat more geared towards physical sciences (i.e. geology, astronomy, etc.). There are other goverment funding sources for life sciences - for example the Department of Defense (oddly enough) has a budget to fund some breast and prostate cancer work.

One basic question: he wants to train 70,000 teachers and attract 30,000 new teachers, but I didn't hear word one about how he was going to pay for it. Is he figuring that flooding the market with more teachers would just produce excellence, as opposed to the failed English majors and football coaches who generally teach science in Texas high schools (and I speak from personal experience), or is he planning to pull the money from behind the same hemmorhoid where he found evidence of WMDs in Iraq?

NIH has risen rapidly for a long time, with a little flattening recently. It sells well, everyone wants to fix Uncle Earl's diabetes. Physical science research has not kept up with inflation for about 20 years.
And for someone who said,
"where is basic science? Why only physical science?"
I'd mention that physics is the most fundamental science there is. Not only do organisms work on physical principles, all the fancy new equipment that makes research possible in medicine is mostly applied quantum mechanics. Now: whether Bush will follow thru is a different matter. NSF does fund considerable fundamental research in biological sciences, at about half the level of physical sciences. But they don't do medical, only fundamental biology.

Another thing that happens at NSF is that increasing fractions of basic budgets are eaten by either education and training programs, or by congressional earmarks which are porked out of the investigator-intiated grants.

By Adrian Melott (not verified) on 02 Feb 2006 #permalink