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Scientists Write An Open Letter About the Sequester

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Did you see this in the Atlantic a few days ago? If not, well, here it is.

basic scientific researchPaul Alivisatos, director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Eric D. Isaacs, director of Argonne National Laboratory, and Thom Mason, director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory wrote an open letter, published on the Atlantic website, stating their view that the sequestration will set back basic research for a decade. You may be saying to yourself, no big deal. Let private companies take over. Except private companies have decreased their research budgets dramatically over the last decade. Or you could say, well, what’s so important about all that research? Or even, oh, they’re just exaggerating. Maybe. Guess we’ll find out. Just remember, while we’re cutting research funds, China is increasing them.

Here’s their letter.

The Sequester Is Going to Devastate U.S. Science Research for Decades

Cutting the meager amount the federal government spends on basic science would do little to meet short-term fiscal goals while incurring huge costs in the future.

Most of the talk about sequestration has focused on its immediate impacts — layoffs, furloughs, and cancelled White House tours in the days and weeks ahead. But one severe impact of the automatic spending cuts will only be felt years — or even decades — in the future, when the nation begins to feel the loss of important new scientific ideas that now will not be explored, and of brilliant young scientists who now will take their talents overseas or perhaps even abandon research entirely.

Less than one percent of the federal budget goes to fund basic science research — $30.2 billion out of the total of $3.8 trillion President Obama requested in fiscal year 2012. By slashing that fraction even further, the government will achieve short-term savings in millions this year, but the resulting gaps in the innovation pipeline could cost billions of dollars and hurt the national economy for decades to come.

As directors of the Department of Energy’s National Laboratories, we have a responsibility both to taxpayers and to the thousands of talented and committed men and women who work in our labs. We are doing everything we can to make sure our scientists and engineers can keep working on our nation’s most pressing scientific problems despite the cuts. It’s not yet clear how much funding the National Labs will lose, but it will total tens of millions of dollars. Interrupting — or worse, halting — basic research in the physical, biological, and computational sciences would be devastating, both for science and for the many U.S. industries that rely on our national laboratory system to power their research and development efforts.

Instead, this drop in funding will force us to cancel all new programs and research initiatives, probably for at least two years. This sudden halt on new starts will freeze American science in place while the rest of the world races forward, and it will knock a generation of young scientists off their stride, ultimately costing billions in missed future opportunities.

New ideas, new insights, new discoveries — these are the lifeblood of science and the foundation of America’s historic culture of innovation and ingenuity. The science community recognizes the importance of those new ideas, so we have systems in place to make sure great new ideas get a chance to thrive. Every ongoing federally funded science program is reviewed regularly to make sure it’s on track and likely to yield results. Each year, stalled programs are terminated to make room for more promising lines of research. Under sequestration, we will continue to review and cull unsuccessful research efforts, but we won’t be able to bring in new ideas to take their place.

Every federal agency that supports basic scientific research is facing this impossible dilemma. The National Science Foundation — which funds 20 percent of all federally supported basic research at American colleges and universities — just announced it is cutting back on 1,000 new research grants it had planned to award this year. The Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the nation’s largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences, will have to shut the door on hundreds of new proposals as well. The impact will multiply as long-planned and overdue supercomputer upgrades and other necessary investments in our scientific infrastructure are stretched out, delayed, or put on hold indefinitely.

The National Laboratories aren’t just crucial to America’s scientific infrastructure. They are also powerful engines of economic development. Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Solow has calculated that over the past half century, more than half of the growth in our nation’s GDP has been rooted in scientific discoveries — the kinds of fundamental, mission-driven research that we do at the labs. This early-stage research has led to extraordinary real-world benefits, from nuclear power plants to compact fluorescent bulbs to blood cholesterol tests. Because the United States has historically valued scientific inspiration, our government has provided creative scientists and engineers with the support, facilities, and time they need to turn brilliant ideas into real-world solutions.

Basing funding decisions solely on short-term fiscal goals risks the heart of America’s scientific enterprise and long-term economic growth — diminishing our world leadership in science, technology and in the creation of cutting-edge jobs.

Sequestration won’t have an immediate, visible impact on American research. Laboratories will continue to open their doors, and scientists and engineers will go to work. But as we choke off our ability to pursue promising new ideas, we begin a slow but inexorable slide to stagnation. We can’t afford to lose a generation of new ideas and forfeit our national future.



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Now that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has finally been discovered by the national media as a result of its authorship of the Stand Your Ground and Voter ID laws, we should examine some of the other policies and laws ALEC has formulated.

Here is a short list of ostensibly economic measures ALEC has supported in the past:

  • State union-busting measures- to prevent workers from collectively bargaining
  • Repealing minimum wage laws – so workers earn even less
  • Privatizing public lands – such as Yellowstone, Everglades, Grand Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks
  • Repealing capital gains taxes – so millionaires who live on their investments pay no taxes
  • Repealing the estate tax – enabling a permanent over-class of inherited wealth
  • Fighting any efforts to address manmade climate change while touting “the many benefits of atmospheric CO2 enrichment”
  • Repealing paid sick day laws around the country – not exactly a family friendly policy
  • Requiring a super-majority to raise taxes – to create even more legislative deadlock that we already experience and potentially destroying America’s ability to solve its fiscal problems
  • Pushing rules that deem that kids eating rat poison is an “acceptable risk” – truly YUCK

I consider myself a fairly center left person and I find most of these policies proposals disgusting. Children eating rat poison an “acceptable risk”!?! Give me a break!!!!! Taking away paid sick days for Moms and Dads are forced either to accept lower incomes or leave their sick kids alone at home? Yeah, that policy really exemplifies family values…maybe in Somalia but hardly here in the United States. And excessive CO2s are good for your health? Ask the millions of people suffering from asthma how good all that CO2 air pollution has helped them breathe better.

This list is just an example of the kinds of laws ALEC pushes to its member companies and lawmakers. While these policy proposals are very corporate and wealthy friendly, they’re not exactly friendly to middle and working income families, and, quite frankly, would harm the economy and American families long term.

The policies ALEC pushes must be recognized as a concerted effort to return to the 1890’s era when corporations and the wealthy knew no bounds and suffered no regulations on their activities or their treatment of their employees.

And here I thought the people of the United States – the world’s one important country that put into writing the value of equality of justice and opportunity – had evolved towards more equality and justice for all and the recognition that no one is superior to any other person because of wealth or status.

For more information on ALEC, check out:

Exposing ALEC: How Conservative-Backed State Laws Are All Connected in the Atlantic Magazine
– And by the same Atlantic correspondent, this article
The Big Money Behind State Laws
Embarrassed by Bad Laws
American Legislative Exchange Council, Ultra-Conservative Lobby, Loses 2 Major Funders
ALEC Exposed – which lists many, if not most, of the actual ALEC proforma bills that state legislators have used

Written by Valerie Curl

April 18, 2012 at 11:06 AM

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