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Can Long Term Research Survive the Coming Age of Austerity? 306

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the the-investors-disapprove dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Alexis Madrigal writes that everyone agrees you need science and technology R&D, but when budgets get tight, research into quantum dots or the fundamental forces that cause earthquakes has a hard time holding the line against health care or tax cuts for the richest Americans. Different countries are taking different approaches. Japan is focusing on its most elite researchers, giving up to $50 million to 30 different people. Other countries are just giving up on some areas of research to focus on others; for example, US particle physicists who will spend their careers trying to drive from the backseat as our European counterparts run the Large Hadron Collider. A third approach might be to reduce redundancies in research. 'An idea to provide funding in a larger number of key areas that would avoid duplication is to create dedicated research centers where several investigators can work in parallel on complementary topics,' writes Joerg Heber. "If we do less research we need to do it right. And using this crisis to think about our research infrastructure needn't be a bad thing. It should be seen as an opportunity to reform the academic research system in a more comprehensive and fundamental way than the academic community and the politicians normally dare to think about.'"
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Can Long Term Research Survive the Coming Age of Austerity?

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  • by Medevilae (1456015) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @04:11PM (#36815514)
    While simplistic, you're right. I'll be simplistic too- I hate Republicans.
  • by Gyorg_Lavode (520114) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @04:13PM (#36815536)
    Dear US scientists, learn to share. We don't need another Large Hadron Collider.

    The US really should accept that it doesn't need one of everything and there is no shame using the resources of other countries rather than duplicating them.

  • by YodasEvilTwin (2014446) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @04:13PM (#36815546) Homepage

    Alt-Med has been growing like gangbusters, its popularity at an all time high: it must work.

    You mean people are idiots. Most alt-med is garbage that has either been demonstrated to be ineffective or equivalent to a placebo (e.g. acupuncture), actually harmful (e.g. taking HIV-positive people off ARVs to "cure" AIDS), or not even worth investigating (e.g. homeopathy). The rest of it isn't alt-med, it falls under the purview of regular straight-up medicine (e.g. nutrition). Medicine should be evidence-based. Alt-med isn't medicine because it isn't based on evidence. That said, the pharmaceutical comapnies need to be regulated better and the FDA, NIH, etc. need to end their immense conflicts of interest.

  • Boo hoo (Score:4, Insightful)

    by argStyopa (232550) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @04:17PM (#36815574) Journal

    Really, people.

    Perceived need is infinite. Resources are finite. Further, as we push back the boundaries of knowledge, the experiments get more and more expensive.

    We can argue all day about priorities, but let's actually talk about those priorities - simple, pointless whinging (such as 'US particle physicists have to drive from the back seat' because the Euros have the LHC....) is little more than tantrum-throwing.

    In a democracy, there is ALWAYS going to be a pressure from the mass to address their needs with Bread and Circuses. It's not the best long-term solution for anything (well, unless your goal is to breed a larger underclass), but the fact is that you have to sell your idea, or implement a tyranny in which your priorities 'win'.

  • Less Duplication? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by drooling-dog (189103) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @04:20PM (#36815610)

    Less duplication? In scientific research? So instead of the replication and confirmation/expansion of results, which used to be at the foundation of the scientific method, every "experiment" or study will now be done once and its outcome accepted unquestioningly as the final word?

    Clearly, all we have to do is eliminate all funding for genetics (evolution), geology, and climate research, and they'll be plenty of money left over to test all of our new weapons at least twice before putting them into the field.

  • Comeon, /. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rayvd (155635) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @04:21PM (#36815614) Homepage Journal

    has a hard time holding the line against health care or tax cuts for the richest Americans.

    Flamebait like this in the article summary just will veer the discussion completely off-topic.

    It's also why I now have AdBlock Plus turned on when I (less frequently) browse this site.

    Tone down the obvious political bias! Thanks!

  • by jonpublic (676412) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @04:22PM (#36815630)

    Just imagine how much cash we'd have for research if we would have forced the banks to do the same thing that GM was forced to do.

    Declare bankruptcy, wipe out shareholders, and trim bond holders. Those are the people that invested in risky behavior and they should have paid the price.

    The swedes did it and they recovered from their banking crisis. []

  • by davek (18465) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @04:23PM (#36815648) Homepage Journal

    the rich benefit disproportionately from government services, they should pay their fair share for them.

    So to you, "fair" is that out of 10 people, 1 person pays almost the entire bill, 4 people pay a little bit, and the remaining 5 pay nothing at all? On top of that, those non-paying 5 people are the ones consuming most of the benefits! This all seems "fair" to you?

  • Rounding Error (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Swanktastic (109747) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @04:33PM (#36815788)

    Most of this type of funding is a rounding error in the budget. The NSF gets $7B I believe. It's really not worth talking about cutting except for ideological reasons...

  • by steveha (103154) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @04:46PM (#36815954) Homepage

    It turns out that "the rich" pay the majority of the taxes. Thus any meaningful tax cut, for any purpose, will cut taxes for "the rich" more than it will cut taxes for "the poor".

    There have been several times in the history of the USA where the overall tax rate was lowered, and tax revenues went up. This is because "the rich" moved money out of tax shelters and started investing it, which grew GNP. In other words, tax revenue went up because government was collecting a lower rate on a much larger amount of money. And "the rich" paid more taxes than they paid before.

    There are some people who view the above as a problem; this problem is called "the rich get richer". Even if the poor get richer also, which confuses me. How will you increase jobs without someone who is rich getting richer? And how does that rich person hurt the poor by getting richer?

    Historically, the US government has not managed to collect more than 19 or 20 percent of GNP in tax revenue. Even when the highest tax bracket was 70% or even higher, revenues as a percent of GNP were not higher than when the highest tax bracket was under 40%. If you think you can fix the USA's financial problems by taxing the rich, you need to explain one of these: (a) why this time it will be different, and the government will collect over 20% of GNP; (b) why GNP will grow faster with higher tax rates; or (c) why the high tax rates will limit the growth of GNP and collect less tax revenue, but it's worth it because it is important to keep the rich from getting richer.

    My own view is that if 19% is what the US government can realistically collect, we should be trying to grow the GNP of the US so that the government is collecting 19% of a larger GNP. That means reducing taxes, regulatory burden, and uncertainty.

    But don't take my word for this; see some references:

    Thomas Sowell: Dissecting The Demagoguery About 'Tax Cuts For The Rich' []

    Nick Gillespie and Veronique de Rugy: The 19 Percent Solution []

    Disclaimer: I'm either middle class or posibly upper-middle-class, but I am not remotely "the rich" and tax cuts for "the rich" would not directly benefit me.


  • by spencerogden (49254) <> on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @04:59PM (#36816108) Homepage

    In what universe were the equity holders of GM wiped out? The stock never dropped below 28 and now the UAW owns the largest piece valued at $4.8 billion. That the bond holders got a haircut rather than the equity holders was a travesty of contract law and an under the table handout to the union.

    Not that the bailout of the banks was any better, but to suggest that the handling of GM is the correct method is crazy.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @05:04PM (#36816162)
    You make some good points. But on the other hand large-scale socio-economic policy is very complicated.

    There are some people who view the above as a problem; this problem is called "the rich get richer". Even if the poor get richer also, which confuses me.

    In principle we should only care about people's standards of living. If everyone is getting richer in the sense that each person has a higher standard of living, that is certainly a good thing! However one problem with the rich getting richer faster than the poor get richer is that it creates a larger social disparity. While we can argue about whether disparity in itself is a moral problem, there are certainly very real problems that result from it. In particular, the massive consolidation of money (hence power) in the hands of fewer and fewer people leads to those people having disproportionate influence in what is supposed to be a democratic system. The end result can be (and history has examples of this) that the rights of certain classes are trampled. In extreme cases the marginalized class, the poor or even middle-class, will actual see their wealth or standard of living decrease at the expense of the upper class. And all this is before even touching issues such as social unrest, crime, etc.

    So, there is logic in preventing one group of people from accumulating wealth too quickly. We have ample enough precedent to know that this process, left unchecked, leads to to over-consolidation, which is immoral and, it turns out, economically inefficient also. (Money is a book-keeping method that requires people to accept it. When the measure of wealth is overly skewed, people stop trusting it or using it. In extreme cases this manifests as revolts, revolutions, and beheading of monarchs.) Wealth redistribution is an ugly business at times, but the alternative -- massive unchecked power consolidation -- is actually worse.

    Having said that, I will return to my original point: these issues are complex. There is certainly such a thing as over-taxation, and such a thing as under-taxation. Determining the optimal taxation level is... difficult.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @05:08PM (#36816212) Journal
    While the assorted clever mechanisms for ensuring that trickle-up economics continues to work are fascinating(and important to keep an eye on), it's more complex than a mere ponzi scheme:

    Ponzi schemes are zero to negative sum games with a fairly clear redistribution of a fixed amount of wealth among a population, with a heavy redistribution toward the top of the pyramid. The real economy, though, is stranger. If you look at the matter in terms of 'real' wealth(ie. the goods and services that people actually want for their own sake, rather than the assorted intermediary constructs), the world has basically never been better off, with the exception of unpleasant looking mid to longterm numbers on petrochemicals. And yet, the correct perturbations in the framework of legal fictions that we lay on top of that can actually make people, on average, worse off.

    That's the part of economics where my intuition just sort of curls up and dies. Your classic "The crops failed, so the supply of wheat is at 50%, ergo famine" is easy. The "a fixed quantity of wealth is distributed among hypothetical investors, one of them starts a ponzi scheme, now the distribution is different." is also pretty easy. But when "We have so many available houses that getting a place to live is now cheaper than before!" becomes an international crisis, you know that your head is rammed so far up the ass of the twilight zone that comprehension is going to be difficult...
  • by Bowling Moses (591924) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @05:29PM (#36816454) Journal
    "A lot of companies would like to put money into R&D however the Scientific community tends to shun Private Enterprise as the evil daemon."

    That's not the case. Or to clarify for some departments this is not the case, for instance engineering departments have long been heavily funded by private enterprise. In the life sciences it used to be that you didn't go after private money; there wasn't any as biotech's really only been around since the 1980's. However the competition for academia's traditional funding sources (federal agencies like the NIH and NSF) has gotten...untenable. NIH grants were designed for about a 30% success rate: about one applicant in three won a grant. So if you were competent you could keep your lab running by getting a grant on your first or second try and have overlapping grants. Rarely did someone get laid off or projects interrupted due to lack of funds. Now grant success rates are typically half what they were, and success rates in the single digits are increasingly common. Academic researchers are increasingly at risk of losing their jobs, projects get side tracked by the desperate and continual writing of grant proposals. This has been the trend over the course of my career starting in the late 90's and there is no end in sight. The traditional funding sources in the life sciences are no longer something you can depend on to keep your lab running, so you look elsewhere. There is pressure on academics to get patents on their discoveries, to form start up companies, and to form partnerships with private industry. This started before I did, and was merely uncommon by the time I entered grad school. Now it's everywhere and a decent patent is worth more to an assistant professor up for tenure than a Nature paper.
  • by suomynonAyletamitlU (1618513) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @06:28PM (#36817006)

    The rich benefit disproportionally from stability. Put it this way: How much happier is each segment of the population living here than any backwards place in the world with little police and poor sanitation?

    The rich have everything to lose; they are usually making their money from large businesses that could suffer or fail entirely without police, without the sanitation necessary for cities, and without fairly stable government (taxes, property ownership/deeds, etc). If they lived in a place like that, a huge number of costs would appear--armed security guards, bribes, custom-built sanitation, etc. Oh, there would still be rich people, as indeed there are, but they'd almost certainly be terrified every day that organized crime may come knocking on their door and take away their money, their children, their goods, or their lives. Compared to that, taxes are a percentage of their income. Where would you live?

    The middle-income (who are generally tradesmen) benefit a great deal, because they depend on people paying them fairly for their knowledge, their ability, or their goods, but they are not balanced on the edge of a knife. They aren't extremely obvious targets, but they'll probably deal with a certain number of criminals every year. They probably know how to, or have the resources to, acquire sanitation, but it's on a personal/familial scale, not distributed across an entire company's holdings. In general, they probably prefer to live wherever they were born, because they know the ins and outs of the place.

    Poor people in first-world countries have to work every day, may hardly get breaks, are treated poorly, live in crappy housing, and if they're stuck with a knife, often there's not a lot that people will do. They have it better than poor people in third world countries, but how much better? Especially when they're taxed for the luxury of living in your country--which will be robbing them of purchasing power that they may desperately need?

  • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @06:49PM (#36817136) Homepage Journal

    out of 10 people, 1 person pays almost the entire bill, 4 people pay a little bit, and the remaining 5 pay nothing at all

    This is a classic Big Lie, which has been repeated so often that not only does the right wing now treat it as gospel, but the left wing is starting to let it slide in debates. In reality, when you look at the total tax burden (not just the narrowly defined "federal income tax," which does not include the FICA taxes that everyone with a paycheck pays) of federal, state, and local taxes, poor people pay an equal or higher percentage of their income in taxes than rich people do. You can argue all day about whether you think this is a good thing or not, but as the saying goes, "Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts."

  • by DerekLyons (302214) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (retawriaf)> on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @07:35PM (#36817464) Homepage

    Yeah. After all, there were dozens of proposals for experiments on the LHC - and only a handful made the cut. There just can't possibly be any point to building a second LHC using a different set of experiments.

If a subordinate asks you a pertinent question, look at him as if he had lost his senses. When he looks down, paraphrase the question back at him.