NYT as NSF Mouthpiece

November 30th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

I must have missed the announcement, but it appears that the New York Times has merged with the public affairs office of the National Science Foundation. In an article in today’s New York Times Robert Pear editorializes rather than reports, “Congress has cut the budget for the National Science Foundation, an engine for research in science and technology, just two years after endorsing a plan to double the amount given to the agency. Supporters of scientific research, in government and at universities, noted that the cut came as lawmakers earmarked more money for local projects like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the Punxsutawney Weather Museum in Pennsylvania.”

The article includes quotes from no less than 5 advocates lamenting the budget cuts to the National Science Foundation, and gets no perspective from any independent voices, such as the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program. In a classic strawman argument the article plays the NSF cuts off of earmarks to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ($350,000) and the Yazoo Backwater Pumping Plant in Mississippi ($12 million). The article attempts to politicize the issue by observing that “Senators Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, both Republicans, defended the project …” while “Melissa A. Samet, a lawyer at American Rivers, an environmental group, said “It’s a horrible project …”.”

The article fails to note that research within NSF actually received small cuts, with the bulk of the cuts coming from “education and human resources.” The article fails to observe that NSF sits in the same appropriations subcommittee as NASA, which received an unexpected and significant 5% increase, along with funding for Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development. Also, the article fails to engage the fact (shown in a graph accompanying the print version) that the NSF budget has already about doubled over the past decade. It also includes various statements about the practical value of NSF research, but does not reconcile this with the NSF’s mission to support science for science sake. The article does not address the fact that earmarks are an issue of science policy, and were discussed in depth by the late Congressman George E. Brown in the 1990s, and more recently by the AAAS.

Lets not mince words here – this article is one of the worst I have ever seen on an issue of science policy. It is all the worse for appearing in one of the nation’s leading newspapers.

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