Monday, February 11, 2008

The Candidates on Science Funding

Neither of the Democratic candidates have pushed science funding as a major theme in their campaigns, but I pulled out the sections about non-medical funding from their websites below. Upshot: Clinton has a far more detailed plan, but offers only half as much additional funding as Obama.

Read Obama's first sentence. Bush gets his "anti-science" label because he often ignores scientific arguments in policy decisions. But Bush has tried to fund science, proposing budgets to double the NSF just as Obama claims he himself would do. But science has become one of the casualties of a weak incumbent.

Given the large domestic agendas of Clinton and Obama, we cannot know now how hard they would push for science funding if elected. Bush has proposed a 14% increase in the NSF for 2009 and we should push Congress to appropriate these funds. It might be the last chance for a while to get a much needed funding increase for science.

Barack Obama:

Invest in the Sciences: Barack Obama supports doubling federal funding for basic research, changing the posture of our federal government from being one of the most anti-science administrations in American history to one that embraces science and technology. This will foster home-grown innovation, help ensure the competitiveness of US technology-based businesses, and ensure that 21st century jobs can and will grow in America. As a share of the Gross Domestic Product, American federal investment in the physical sciences and engineering research has dropped by half since 1970. Yet, it often has been federally-supported basic research that has generated the innovation to create markets and drive economic growth. For example, one recent report demonstrated how federally supported research in fiber optics and lasers helped spur the telecommunications revolution.
Hillary Clinton:
Increase the basic research budgets 50% over 10 years at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the Defense Department. The increased investment can be accomplished through a combination of new and reallocated funds. At present, federal expenditures on basic research total $28 billion, $13 billion of which is spent outside of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
  • Increase research focus on the physical sciences and engineering. Funding for research in the physical sciences and engineering have remained relatively flat for over a decade, while other nations have stepped up spending. Hillary Clinton proposes to direct the federal agencies to commit a large portion of their budget increases to research in these areas.
  • Require that federal research agencies set aside at least 8% of their research budgets for discretionary funding of high-risk research. It is critical to support unconventional research that has the potential of producing break-through results. Under the Bush administration, agencies like the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have reduced support for truly revolutionary research. This is a problem because DARPA has played a major role in maintaining America’s economic and military leadership. DARPA backed such projects as the Internet, stealth technology, and the Global Positioning System.
  • Ensure that e-science initiatives are adequately funded. E-science has transformative potential, and we must accelerate the pace of discovery and investment to ensure that America leads the emerging field. E-science is research that links Internet-based tools, global collaboration, supercomputers, high-speed networks, and software for simulation and visualization. The potential of e-science is great. For example, researchers could one day model climate change by constructing scale simulations of the Earth’s systems. The NSF commits approximately 3% of its budget, or $200 million annually, to the support of e-science through its Office of Cyberinfrastructure.
  • Boost support for multidisciplinary research in areas such as the intersection of bio, info, and nanotechnologies. This is an area of potentially unique competitive advantage for the United States. Few countries have the depth and breadth of our excellence across different scientific and technological fields.

Direct the federal agencies to award prizes in order to accomplish specific innovation goals. The federal agencies should regularly use prizes to encourage innovation when there is a clearly defined goal and when there are multiple technological paths for achieving that goal. Prizes can attract non-traditional participants and stimulate the development of useful but under-funded technology. Hillary Clinton proposes to make prizes a part of the budgets at the research agencies.

Triple the number of NSF fellowships and increase the size of each award by 33 percent. At present, the NSF offers approximately 1,000 fellowships per year, similar to 1960s levels, although the number of college students graduating with science and engineering degrees has grown three fold. The NSF fellowship is the key financial resource for science and engineering graduate students. Hillary Clinton proposes increasing the number of fellowships to 3,000 per year. She also proposes increasing the size of each award from $30,000 to $40,000 per year (simultaneously, she proposes to increase the NSF award to each recipient’s school from $10,500 per recipient to $14,000 per recipient to help cover educational costs). It is estimated that this would increase the annual cost of the program from $122 million to $500 million. [Richard Freeman, the Hamilton Project, "Investment in the Best and Brightest," December 2006]

Support initiatives to bring more women and minorities into the math, science, and engineering professions. Increasing the educational attainment of women and minorities, particularly in math, science and engineering, is critical to our future as an innovative nation. Women comprise 43% of the workforce but only 23% of scientists and engineers. Blacks and Hispanics represent 30% of the workforce, but only 7% of scientists and engineers. Unless women and underrepresented minorities develop strong math, science, and engineering skills, the average educational attainment of the American worker will decline. Hillary Clinton proposes that the federal agencies adopt criteria that take diversity into account when awarding education and research grants. She also proposes that the federal government provide financial support to college and university programs that encourage women and minorities to study math, science, and engineering.

I can find nothing from John McCain or Mike Huckabeee about non-medical science funding.


  1. "Increase the basic research budgets 50% over 10 years"

    Why plan for 10 years when you will be elected for 4? Even assuming reelection, that's still at most 8.

    Also, 50% doesn't sound all that impressive, if you break it down to about 4.2% per year. If we take into account an inflation rate of 2.5% per year, there's not much left.

  2. As Lance likes to forget about Ron Paul:

    0. Reduce our foreign military obligations freeing up almost a trillion dollars in the budget to spend on things like science.

    1. Eliminate the US Department of Education. Over the course of a few years return educational matters back to the states and leave the states responsible for funding education. Tuition rates have been growing well past inflation, pricing many low income students starting at the lower-middle of the bell curve out of the market. Removing federal influence should cause the market to go back into equilibrium.

    2. Scale back the department of energy. The market should decide how much nuclear energy we need, and the federal govt should stop processing nuclear materials that will be used in commercial reactors.

    3. Eliminate earmarks from the NSF/NIH. Federal research grants should only be merit based and not biased resources towards a single state or research institution. Also, encourage states to set up their own funding agencies.

    4. Allow states to have more freedom in choosing which and how many foreign students and workers they want.

    5. Stop the federal reserve from manipulating the value of the dollar and precious metals markets. This move will make university endowments less prone to short term risk, and give students more purchasing power.

  3. wow, a 40k stipend, that's ridiculous! i wish hillary ran in '04!

  4. Inflation is well above 2.5% per year. Clinton's plan seems to be to keep real research funding steady. Granted, this is an improvement over Bush's policies, but not something to get excited about.

    Tripling the number of NSF fellowships is a good idea, but I'm not sure what the effect would be if research funding stays flat.

  5. For people in theoretical CS, it looks like Hillary's plan is actually better. Here's why: Most of our funding goes to paying for students anyway, and we are disproportionately underfunded whereas our theory grad students are (rightly, imho) *over* represented in NSF fellowships.

    Thus we stand to gain more from an increase in the NSF fellowship budget. A three-fold increase seems to imply that at top-10 institutions, a majority of US citizens would have fellowships.

    But the idea of increasing the stipend to $40K is ridiculous. I was funded on a graduate research fellowship at $30 (this is $2500 a month), and felt like I was bathing in gold compared to some of my fellow students.

  6. Also note that having a student on an NSF fellowship is worth more than getting $30,00+tuition per year from the NSF in the form of a grant, since with a grant you have to pay overhead, etc.

    Additionally, right now NSF fellowships are allocated according to some formula that gives the same number per state or perhaps geographic region (i.e. number from NY state = number from Nevada), which is not fair to people from NY, California, etc.

  7. Hillary Clinton is strongly committed to funding science, including improving science and math education in schools. Even if Barack Obama promises larger amounts, it may just as well be an empty promise -- no specifics.