The government shutdown….

I haven’t written yet about this partly because, as a scientist, I’m so frustrated with the quite real effect on research, particularly at the NIH. But science has become truly global and, as a result, if its not done here in the States, it will get done elsewhere–although the results may then not accrue to advantage of the US.

I’m even more concerned about the debt ceiling issue. I’ve written about that issue before in the context of sequestration. I’ll simply reiterate that the brinksmanship is a very bad thing for the global economy.

Ultimately what I’m most worried about is the political dysfunction in governance at the federal level. This has manifested throughout the Obama Presidency in one form or another. Many others have written how the dysfunction we are seeing now is reminiscent of that seen before the American Civil War. That’s not a good precedent.

Where’s the Change We Can Believe In?

ScienceInsider slams the Obama Administration here for not releasing science policy reviews such as the NASA manned space flight review headed by Norman Augustine.

Money quote:

The so-called Augustine report is the latest in a series of analyses of pressing issues affecting the research community—scientific integrity and biosecurity being the others—that the Obama Administration has chosen to keep under wraps. The pattern of asking experts to study an issue and then not disclosing their recommendations seems at odds with the repeated promises of President Barack Obama to maintain a culture of openness in government.

Give them an inch….

From today’s SCIENCE magazine:

A frantic grant-writing effort that has consumed biomedical research scientists this spring came to an end last week, resulting in a huge pile of new applications—more than 10 times larger than expected—to be reviewed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). After this enthusiastic response, there will be many disappointed applicants: The rejection rate could run as high as 98%.

How important is federal investment in science?

I’ve started many talks with remarks about FDR’s science advisor, Vennevar Bush, who in his report Science, The Endless Frontier, advocated forcefully for substantial federal investment in science R&D as a driver of the economy. In the present context of economic crisis, and in light of the Obama Administration’s very significant move towards funding science in the Recovery Act, now would be an excellent time to return to Bush’s thesis and attempt to generate data showing the relationship between federal investment in science and economic activity (as measured say by GDP). I’m particularly interested in whether it would be possible to tease out a causal relationship between the two–that is, does federal science R&D actually accelerate GDP growth and by what mechanism?

It seems to me that if a case could be made, one that uses recent data and that demonstrates some causality, that would be an extraordinarily powerful argument to bring before the US general public and their elected officials. It would also strongly buttress the new Administration’s policy moves to put science front and center of their agenda.
Who would fund such research? And how important would it really be?

Harold Varmus on the Daily Show

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Reading the tea leaves

There’s an awful lot going on at the same time this week as far as science funding is concerned. Besides the Recovery Act, there’s the Omnibus Bill for the FY09 budget and then the blueprint for the FY10 budget–it’s all hitting at the same time and so this is not the time for drawing conclusions.

But it’s certainly the time to be preparing our faculty to move rapidly in terms of new opportunities for sponsored federal funding. Accordingly, just as we are retrenching in response to the economic crisis, we’re simultaneously brainstorming about the new science that might be possible with proper federal investment.
To my mind, science investment, is a major driver of the economy. In the current unprecedented conditions (at least in my lifetime), it’s the commonsense way to drive forward towards new technologies that will open up new opportunities, while at the same time educating our citizens to compete in an increasingly dynamic world. I hope the Obama Administration agrees.

Decade of the Mind IV, V and beyond

We returned to Washington on the red-eye from Long Beach Airport and arrived on Monday morning, in time for the festivities–although we didn’t brave the crowds on the Mall. I note that President Obama clearly mentioned science in his inaugural address–that and his high quality appointments make me very optimistic about this administration.

The money quote:

The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. All this we will do.

The Decade of the Mind IV meeting went better than I could have ever expected–just a superb set of presentations, Q&A sessions and off-line discussions. The picture is of the New York Times’ science reporter George Johnson and Director of the National Museum of Health and Medicine Adrianne Noe. Dr. Noe is also the current chair of the Krasnow Advisory Board. I’m in the middle. The river in the background is the Rio Grande with the Sandia Mountains as the backdrop.

Decade of the Mind V, will be held in Berlin Germany on September 10-12 of this year. I’ll have more information soon, so stay tuned. And in the meantime, we’re working on future plans to keep the momentum moving into Asia.