Friday, 12 April 96 Washington, DC
1. DOE: BASIC RESEARCH MISSION FACES DISASTER IN THE OUT YEARS.
Both Congress and the White House fervently declare their passion
for basic research, which they see as embodied by NSF and NIH.
But in physics, DOE supports as much basic research as all other
agencies combined. DOE also originated the human genome project
and continues to provide a third of its federal support. And if
you include its progenitors, the Atomic Energy Commission and the
Energy Research and Development Administration, DOE funding has
led to more than 60 Nobel prizes. Nevertheless, while Congress
is still mired in FY 96, DOE administrators have been given a
spending plan that would cut basic research programs by 25% over
the three-year period from FY 98 to FY 2000, while increasing
development and commercialization programs by a similar amount.
2. U.S. COMPETITIVENESS: "ENDLESS FRONTIER, LIMITED RESOURCES."
The message was not new: shrinking federal budgets, fading Cold
War rationale for research dominance, a shift toward short-term
research goals and the growing research strength of our foreign
competitors, combine to put the U.S. innovation system at risk.
The big story was that CEOs of some of America's major high-tech
companies were concerned enough to take time out from downsizing
their laboratories to voice their concerns in person. The Council
on Competitiveness, a forum of chief executives, held a press
conference Wednesday to release a report urging new approaches to
partnerships between government, industry and universities.
3. SCIENCE LITERACY: "THE DISSOLUTION OF GENERAL EDUCATION."
A study by National Association of Scholars finds that in 1964 90% of colleges and universities had requirements in biological
and physical sciences. By 1993, only 34%. And it's still
4. OPENING THE SPACE FRONTIER: A GIANT LEAP FORWARD FOR MONKEYS!
Just two weeks ago, NASA released its "strategic plan" for "Human
Exploration and Development of Space." It's full of grand talk
about human sojourns to the Moon, Mars and elsewhere in the solar
system. Alas, reality is in a lower orbit; NASA proposes to join
France and Russia in the "Bion Project" to study the effect of
weightlessness on monkeys. It would be the first use of simian
astronauts since the US shot a Rhesus monkey named Ham into space
35 years ago. Taxpayers for Common Sense has no qualms about the
use of monkeys, after all, they get paid less than humans. But
TCS wonders what can be learned from a monkey in a 14-day mission
that wasn't learned from human missions lasting up to 400 days?
The story is that humans balk at surgically implanted electrodes;
PETA, the animal rights group, insists Bion is cruel. Moreover,
research on weightlessness is usually justified as preparation
for travel to other planets; however, a soon-to-be-released White
House space policy lists no plans for human travel beyond Earth
orbit. In which case, you may ask, what's the space station for?