Biology News

Science budget increase, with strings attached … implications for ID?

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From life sciences’ The Scientist :

A bipartisan vote by the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday (July 18) has pegged the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a 7.9 percent budget increase for fiscal year 2014, which begins October 1, reported ScienceInsider. Should the Senate spending bill be adopted, the basic science research agency will see its budget go from $6.884 billion to $7.426 billion, an increase of $542 million, but still less than the $7.626 billion that the agency requested.

In a statement, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) President Margaret Offermann expressed approval for the committee’s actions. “Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski and Ranking Member Richard Shelby have once again demonstrated their strong commitment to basic research and their appreciation for the critical role it plays in the US innovation enterprise.”

The panel also noted in its report that the proposed rapid growth of seven initiatives, spearheaded by recently departed director Subra Suresh, could draw focus away from the NSF’s core programs. In particular, the panel recommended reallocating funds away from the so-called OneNSF program—an initiative intended to support inter-disciplinary research projects and foster international collaborations.

The spending committee, while pointing out the strengths of NSF’s education programs, also took issue with the Obama administration’s plan to make the NSF the cornerstone of all of the federal agency’s graduate-training programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

The current changes could have far-reaching implications, though one senses that with so much money on the table, Chris Palmer’s article isn’t the place to begin spelling it out. No comments so far but the story is only dated July 22, 2013.

A layperson wonders whether the U.S. government intends to do to the life sciences what it did to NASA, in assigning to that agency such responsibilities as reaching out to Muslims and addressing climate change. These may be basic issues, of course, but they are not NASA core competencies. Also, “inter-disciplinary” can be a strength, but it can also be a code word for “soft,” to the extent that competence in specific disciplines gets diluted. “International collaboration” can similarly mean that everyone must listen to people who have not yet earned prominence but merely been assigned it because they are, say, the representatives from the Republic of Outer Westapple.

These are not dire predictions, merely statements of inevitable risk.

One problem, from the ID community’s perspective, is that there are some serious discussions we need to have about just what is going on with recent genetics findings and claims about origins (conflicts between molecular biology and the fossil record, for example). Such discussions are likely to be put off when everyone is playing politics around funding allocation issues.

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