(Applause) – with regrets

In the wake of the omnibus bill, a lot of us have been working our asses off to squeeze the science out of the remaining time on our experiments. Many of us are getting ready to go to Washington D.C., to hold the Congress to the commitment it made to the nation in last year’s “America COMPETES Act”. Tonight, the President called on Congress to hold to their commitment, too. He may be an all-rhetoric lame duck, but at least on this rhetoric I agree. I wish he’d thought to veto the omnibus bill based on this principle, but . . .

Anyway, here is what the President had to say about science and competitiveness:

” To keep America competitive into the future, we must trust in the skill of our scientists and engineers and empower them to pursue the breakthroughs of tomorrow. Last year, Congress passed legislation supporting the American Competitiveness Initiative, but never followed through with the funding. This funding is essential to keeping our scientific edge. So I ask Congress to double federal support for critical basic research in the physical sciences and ensure America remains the most dynamic nation on Earth. (Applause.)”

You can find the full text of the State of the Union Address here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/stateoftheunion/2008/ .

Overall, I am pleased. The tone the President takes is encouraging to a scientist like myself. I like the idea that scientists should be empowered to pursue the breakthroughs of tomorrow. I like that the President pointed out the commitment made and broken by the Congress, all in the name of politics. Sigh.

Back to my research.

Finally! A Candidate Talks about Basic Research!

Tonight, NPR’s “All Things Considered” interviewed Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate. During the interview, Romney spent about a minute on the topic of increasing the federal basic research funding profile. He was specifically talking about energy and energy independence, but at least that topic nominally includes ITER.

The interview is here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18159620

Some quotes:

“Romney says that as a nation, the United States is going to have to start investing in energy technologies, fuel technologies, materials science and other basic areas that will help the country rid itself of dependency on foreign oil — in the same way that it has historically invested in the space program and health care.”

“He advocates increasing federal investments in energy, materials science, automotive technology and fuel technology from $4 billion a year — its current level — to $20 billion a year, over time.

To pay for these investments, Romney says he will ‘dramatically’ reduce the amount of discretionary nonmilitary funds. He would cap that at inflation less 1 percent, which he says would result in a 10-year savings of approximately $300 billion — ‘plenty of money to fund the increase from $4 billion to $20 billion that I’m speaking about.'”

It’s a start.

From Iowa to New Hampshire – Candidate Spectroscopy

With the first state’s primary over with, and Obama and Huckabee out in front in the press, it’s perhaps interesting to revisit the issue of the candidates and science. Given the recent call for a debate by the candidates about science issues, one might now begin to wonder about the implications of Iowa. Senator Obama is not exactly known or unknown for his support on issues surrounding federal support for science, or a national science program, or even science education. Mr. Huckabee has been a governor and a Baptist minister, and I am sure that many of my colleagues are concerned that he would bring more religious fervor to the White House. We could start a whole discussion about whether it’s better to have a minister or a follower in office (I suspect everybody now understands the danger of a follower), but that’s not really the issue. As I cautioned a friend of mine recently, adherence to religious belief is not in and of itself a means to judge how a person would govern a diverse people, nor how they would respect the opinions of their advisors.

The reality is that one has to study both the statements of the candidate and their former actions to judge how they might respond to AIDS policy, basic research, etc. For instance, there are a web of social issues routinely tied to money for AIDS relief; in politics it’s not always about making drugs cheaper, or prophylactics more widely available, but about trying to change people’s habits or alter their own belief system. Basic research seems unimportant to most people, until it’s too late. When it’s gone, so much else will die after it.

I think we all need to start studying people who are clearly out in front in the Presidential race. It was harder when the field was wide open. It’s going to be easier in the coming weeks, as we caucus and watch others do the same.  For instance, what legislation did Huckabee propose or approve as Governor that impacted state science support or education?Has Obama been part of any Senate bills regarding these issues? When Huckabee was a minister, was he a fervent denier of evolution, and what implications might it have if he were? Do either of them know a fermion from a boson?

There’s a lot of information out there. As the days go by, I’ll try to mine some of it myself and see what I can post here. In addition, we have to watch New Hampshire closely. Huckabee drew his support from a fundamentalist base in Iowa; such a base is a much smaller part of the NH population. It will be interesting to see how he fares when he can’t just fall back on his beliefs, and has to appeal to reason. Same with Obama, I am afraid. A lot of hope won’t do squat for education and research in this nation.