Last week’s issue of Science included a number of short articles on the effects of the budget crisis on science funding in the United States. Most emphasized the challenges that budget cuts present for administrators at NSF, NASA, NIH, and other science agencies who must determine the priorities for research funding. As I read the essays, I wondered about the contributions that taking a longer perspective on American science funding or the agencies involved might provide to these debates.
I suspect that this is a debate that has been ongoing for a long time (those out there who are more familiar with NASA history can tell me), visible not only now but also at other points in the agency’s past when funding dollars have seemed short. What would a look back at tradeoffs made in previous decades tell us about the effects of supporting flagships over small programs — or even about the rhetorical power of claims to maintaining and training scientists versus inspiring interest in aerospace science, both within the agency and among a broader public?
Or, to take another example, a piece by David Malakoff pointed out that the association of oceans and atmosphere in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is causing problems for ocean scientists, whose research budgets are pinched by the expensive satellite-based research programs associated with weather and climate monitoring.