If not Dominance, then What?

October 8th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Alan I. Leshner, CEO of the AAAS, is the author of the lead Editorial in this week’s Science, titled “U.S. Science Dominance is the Wrong Issue.” Leshner comments:

“…globalization of science is cause for celebration. Better still, more countries are making productive investments in their science infrastructures, and this portends well for the future of all humankind. At the same time, recent weeks have seen strident laments from many American quarters, to the effect that the United States may be losing its longstanding global preeminence in science. Some of that concern was triggered when the U.S. National Science Board issued its Science and Engineering Indicators, 2004 report last May. It showed that the United States is no longer the largest producer of scientific information. The European Union is outpacing the United States in the total number of papers published. Moreover, the U.S. share of major science prizes has decreased significantly over the past decade. For those Americans who take an overly nationalistic view of the scientific enterprise, this might be bad news. From a more global viewpoint, however, these facts signal a long-awaited and very positive trend: Better and better science is being done all over the world.”

Leshner concludes: “The United States should not be wasting energy right now on the question of its global scientific dominance.” This is a position we’ve commented on occasionally here at Prometheus (e.g., here and here).

Leshner’s posits that one of the real problems facing U.S. science is … money! He writes, “How can we recruit the best young people to science careers if they foresee a grim funding picture for their future work?” Of course, it might be possible to argue that $130 billion in funding might still allow the recruitment of a few of the best young people. (Note: Leshner also laments the “overlay of politics, ideology, and religious conviction on the U.S. climate for science.”)

What Leshner’s argument fails to acknowledge is that most of the concern about the U.S. losing its global dominance in science is expressed as a justification for increasing science budgets. (Some examples of such arguments, from many, can be found here and here and here.) So when Leshner argues that we should be less concerned with global dominance and more concerned with budgets, he is taking away one of the key arguments used by advocates who support more federal funding for science and technology.

As Leshner takes away one of the usual justifications for increasing science budgets he does not tell us why instead we should be concerned about current projections on decreasing funds for science. Of course, such projections say nothing about science per se but reflect the fact of projected decreasing funds for just about every area of discretionary government spending. Leshner focuses our attention on the question of “How much?” but not “Why?”

Comments are closed.