A New Essay on Science Funding

October 19th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

I’ve got a new essay on science funding online at CSPO in the Perspective part of their website. In the essay I describe how the federal R&D budget is tabulated and what recent data show. I argue that in terms of aggregate funding for R&D we are at the close of a “second golden age” for science and technology (see Figure 1, PDF). In addition, I hope to provide some good evidence as to why the mindless comparison of federal R&D spending to GDP is not a particularly significant measure of government commitment to science and technology (see Figure 2, PDF). A much more meaningful measure is R&D spending as a fraction of discretionary spending: “…R&D funding as a fraction of discretionary spending has increased from 11.3% in 1982 to 14.3% in 2003. Today, R&D is responsible for as large a portion of discretionary expenditures than at any time in the past 22 years.”

In the paper I write, “Of course, science policy should not be about simply “How much?” but “Why?”. However, the S&T community typically focuses narrowly on “how much?” using a three-part strategy to argue for more public sector resources. It claims crisis, even in times of plenty. It calls for balance, to limit intra-disciplinary, intra-agency debates over priorities. And it claims that societal benefits are proportional to funds invested; more funds are equated with more benefit… A focus on aggregate funding, rather than the marginal benefits of adding or cutting funding for particular programs, may prove problematic as R&D funding all but certainly cannot continue to grow at the pace that it has over the past decade, regardless of who occupies the White House, making tough choices within the scientific community inevitable”

Read the whole thing here.

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