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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 BitHive (578094) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @04:10PM (#36815508) Homepage

    Can Progress Survive Austerity as a Foregone Conclusion?

    • It is rather darkly fascinating how a series of movements of largely imaginary money has managed to so sharply affect the availability of actual products and services to actual people...
      • Well said.

        But take a step back and find the wealth. You'll probably find that the vast bulk of it is in the hands of relatively few people (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distribution_of_wealth#In_the_United_States) who seem to be intent on sharing less rather than more.

        When imaginary money moves, sometimes real assets do as well. Who owns most of the real estate in America? Who has a lien for nearly everything they don't hold clear title to? Who is primarily responsible for conjuring and parcelling out m

        • 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 tsotha (720379)
        I'm no Paulian, but you have to admit fractional reserve currency is largely imaginary to start with. What fascinates me is we were ever able to build a civilization on it.
  • As a researcher, I think giving to the most elite is a moderately good idea. Reading most of the research that's generated by people like me, you realize it's just PhDs trying their darnedest to ++publicationCount, which is a pretty stupid thing for taxpayer dollars to fund. The major work, more often than not, comes out of well-renown labs, and the students who come out of those labs.

    On the other hand, lots of the fundamental knowledge necessary for the "major work" mentioned earlier comes from the incr
    • by wjousts (1529427)
      As a research, I strongly disagree. Reputations are slow to build and linger far longer than they are deserved. Einstein wasn't an "elite" research when he did most of his best work and once he was "elite" he never had another breakthrough as earth-shattering as those he made as a lowly Swiss patent clerk.
      • by HuguesT (84078)

        Not quite. Hopefully we can agree that Einstein's best work is his general theory of relativity. He was a patent clerk from 1903 until 1909. He did publish four major papers in 1905 including his work on special relativity and the photoelectric effect, but he did his most advanced work on GRT from about 1909 until 1917, with bits published in between. He then did his best work when he was in academia. He continued to do still widely cited work until at least 1935, when he published his EPR paper. I think du

        • by wjousts (1529427)

          But not everybody is Feymann, Gell-Mann or Curie. Lots of researchers rest on their laurels after gaining recognition for one good piece of work. Nor is it the case that only well-known "elite" researchers are capable of making breakthroughs. One thing that constantly irritated me during my PhD was the level of hero worship I'd see amongst fellow students as well as faculty. I really don't give a shit who wrote a particular paper, I care about the content of the paper. It's an appeal to authority that I fel

      • by cpotoso (606303)
        As a researcher in a good, but not elite, university I also disagree: what's going to happen is that a reduced club will get all the funding and the rest will get nothing. And this is not necessarily related to how good they are, but how good they WERE.
    • Reading most of the research that's generated by people like me, you realize it's just PhDs trying their darnedest to ++publicationCount, which is a pretty stupid thing for taxpayer dollars to fund... On the other hand, lots of the fundamental knowledge necessary for the "major work" mentioned earlier comes from the incremental work that isn't sexy in its own right, but very necessary nonetheless. No simple answer here.

      It's punctuated equilibrium. Most published research is average of course, and does not advance us very far. Those few "major works" that advance us in leaps rely on those lesser published results. You cannot have the major advances without the minor advances.

      Is there a better way to do things? I'm skeptical. Publication count is going to remain important for as long as research grants and research positions are limited, which is going to be always. Every system is going to have flaws.

      As a researcher, I think giving to the most elite is a moderately good idea.

      Really? Beca

  • 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 Cutriss (262920)

      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.

      I'm sure "US scientists" would have absolutely no problem sharing. Your scorn is better directed at the military and bureaucrats.

    • by rubycodez (864176)
      we (the world) need the next thing after the LHC, the U.S. physics community has designs for those. Doesn't have to be built here of course, but a world class particle accelerator is pretty cheap compared to the cost of a typical U.S. major war effort.
    • by Rich0 (548339)

      I'd extend this to a number of areas.

      The problem with most research is the tragedy of the commons. Once you discover something, everybody benefits (unless it is something like a military secret that you keep close control of for a few decades). What nation discovered the last antibiotic you took? Do you even care? Patents can give a company incentive to discover as long as most nations respect them, and they can also inhibit progress when they get out of control. Patents usually don't help with blue-sk

    • by DerekLyons (302214) <`fairwater' `at' `gmail.com'> 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.

  • by JamesP (688957) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @04:13PM (#36815538)

    For some stuff, the science is "easy", but it's the needed engineering that costs an arm and a leg (Space Shuttle, LHC, etc, etc)

    Which means you can't go "brute force" anymore on problems.

    Think, rethink experiments, use creativity. It will be better.

    I am sure there are new things to be discovered "on the cheap"

    Not that I'm agains LHC, on the contrary. But what if someone finds a way to have 10Tev collisions using a different and easier method.

    • But what if someone finds a way to have 10Tev collisions using a different and easier method

      We can do them for free in the upper atmosphere in much larger quantities than the LHC. The difficulty is monitoring the results with a finer granularity than 'ooo, the aurora borealis looks pretty'.

  • What everyone misses (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @04:15PM (#36815568) Homepage
    Diminishing marginal returns are very relevant for where government funding should go. Thus in general, small scientific programs are much more likely to have a very high output proportional to their cost than large programs. Since all science funding is tiny, cutting into it makes very little sense in that context. Of course, this is aside from the other serious issues with the recent pushes for austerity such as how in the US this apparently means cuts to absolutely everything except for military spending.
  • 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'.

  • by gubers33 (1302099) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @04:19PM (#36815596)
    Multiple people working on the same thing leads to different ideas and more innovation, having only one group of people working on something adds only one perspective.
    • by wjousts (1529427)
      Exactly, don't reinvent the wheel is all well and good, unless you end up inventing a far superior wheel.
    • by riverat1 (1048260)

      Not only that but they serve as an error check on each other.

    • True, different perspectives help, and there have been plenty of times in history where one person sees a project as failed and another sees that failure as a new invention / discovery, but there are also a lot of people making the same mistakes as others and wasting time doing so. What might be really useful in this 'budget crunch' is a compendium of failed science as Wired called for back in 2007 [wired.com]. If we document our failures, we can learn from each others' mistakes without having to spend the money to d
    • I agree - "reducing duplication" is not the way to reform academic research. But there are a lot of other ways it could be made more efficient.

      Consider that most professors don't actually do much research; instead, they manage research groups. That's fine if they want to be managers, but more often the system just forces them in that direction. The result is that most real research is done by postdocs and new professors in their first few years on the job. A typical researcher gets maybe 10 years to rea

  • 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.

    • by Eudial (590661)

      Experiments need to be repeated because they're fairly often wrong. If we remove verification from science, while we will produce more results initially, a large portion of that will be wrong, and so will any future science based on those results, and in the end, so much of science will be incorrect that it's completely useless.

    • Mod parent up!

      Having said that, I also need to point out that confirmation nowadays is neither easy nor cheap. We need to, alas, cut down on duplication and in many cases we can only afford to fund those that are most likely to get it right in the first place.

  • 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 h4rr4r (612664)

      What bias is that?
      They are really debating things like health care and tax cuts for the richest Americans while trying to figure out how to deal with the budget. How would you say that without the bias?

    • That part you quoted was balanced. And I mean -actually- balanced, not Fox news balanced. Conservatives favor tax cuts for the rich, liberals favor health care spending. No bias.
    • by tsotha (720379)
      That was my first though as I read it with eyes rolling. This submission isn't designed to inform anyone or discuss the very real problems. It's just another article that invites the hive to begin congratulating each other on how science-y we all are.
    • You cannot talk about government spending, on science or anything else, without also talking about politics, since arguments about where and how much the government should spend money are pretty much what politics is. Sorry if you consider a simple presentation of the facts to be "political bias," but it's absurd to pretend that the subject can be discussed apolitically.

  • 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.

    http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2011/06/go-swedish-part-47/ [ritholtz.com]

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by spencerogden (49254)

      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 roman_mir (125474) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @04:27PM (#36815704) Homepage Journal

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

    - and my comments are routinely moderated as 'troll' [slashdot.org], while obviously trolling is done on regular basis in the 'story' summaries?

    • by stinerman (812158)

      As others have said, I fail to see how this is a troll. The general consensus in Washington right now is that we're going to have to make some hard choices in how we spend our money, seeing as the current debt is getting rather high in both nominal terms and as a percentage of GDP. Government-funded scientific research will likely be determined to be something we can't afford given that the Democrats will hold the line on entitlement spending and Republicans will hold the line on keeping taxes at current

  • by SplashMyBandit (1543257) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @04:29PM (#36815744)

    The rest of the World has been doing good research without the colossal budgets their American colleagues enjoy (I know, I was part of a project that operated on a shoestring - but we still found the free brown dwarfs in the galaxy). Maybe there will be fewer spectacular programmes, but of course great research will still get done. Of course, you can always join international collaborations as partners to pool resources, rather than be the rich kid having all the toys to themselves.

    Sorry if this sounds harsh, but Americans have had it so good for so long they didn't even realise how fortunate they are. Even with less excess wealth about they are still by far the richest people per capita - although certainly indvidivual Americans have it very tough at the moment - so it sounds a bit whiney when we hear that some program is being reduced because the US is going from (comparatively) very wealthy to just wealthy. Be grateful for what you already have, and appreciate all the things you also have that don't require lots of money (your health, friends, family, girlfriend, more opportunities than most Africans can dream of, more cheeseburgers than even Garfield can dream of, Mom's basement, and that fact you even have a computer to read Slashdot on!)

  • If you're a U.S. particle physicist and you want not to drive from the back seat....then become a European particle physicist. Nothing says you have to do your research in the U.S. Suck it up.
  • 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' [investors.com]

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

    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.

    steveha

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      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 certa

    • And how does that rich person hurt the poor by getting richer?

      Everyone who wants tax cuts seems to always want to pay for them by eliminating Medicare, Social Security, the minimum wage etc. Wealth is supposedly created somehow, but most of the time it looks like a zero-sum game with the rich taking from everyone else.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's just wrong in so many ways. The first, and most fatal flaw is to consider the tax/investment situation as a straight line. It's not. We were more prosperous as a nation in times when taxes were significantly higher, so at the very least, you'd need to consider the possibility that there were local maxima and minima rather than a straight line, or even a simple curve.

      And considering the overall decline of the average American's real earning power over the past decade, it's fair bet that we're not at o

    • by Wildclaw (15718)

      How will you increase jobs without someone who is rich getting richer?

      This basically highlights everything that is wrong with the above post.

      Jobs/Production is created by demand. Which is a nice way of saying spending. The rich want to remain rich and get even richer, but by doing so they are not spending and instead dragging whole economies with them.

      The rich simply aren't capable of doing the spending required of them with the current wealth distribution, because saving and getting richer is so engraved in them. And that is why you need to keep a firm hand on the wealth dis

    • by Fned (43219) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @08:01PM (#36817632) Journal

      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?

      The majority of the public has no problem with "the rich get richer". Look at the path of Clinton's approval rating; we were ALL getting richer and it was fucking great, no matter what kind of douchebag shit he pulled.

      What people have a problem with, though, is when the rich get richer but the rest of us get fucking poorer. How the rich have been doing that lately (they've always been doing this, but sooooo much more during the last decade) is by making themselves richer without actually producing anything of value. You don't increase jobs by funneling money into your pocket, you increase jobs by investing in actual enterprises.

      Yes, we have been getting poorer. Average wages haven't been increasing when adjusted for inflation -- unless you make over 100k. But many things have been getting more expensive compared to inflation -- food and shelter, which everybody needs, and for which poor people have to pay a far, far larger percentage of their income.

      It's nice to think that more investment and job creation will be the natural result of lower taxes and deregulation, but recent history is pretty clear: all rich people need to do to get richer, is spend money in a way that accomplishes that. If that means investing in industry, they'll do that. If it means rolling up a gigantic tarball of toxic debt and hot-potatoing it around the marketplace until it crashes the economy, and then run begging to the US government to wash the hands of whoever caught it last, they'll do that, instead. For example, Koch Industries, who fund Reason Magazine, made a pretty penny in 2008 via "contango" oil price manipulation. They got more money, but produced no additional value. They brazenly enriched themselves at the cost of the rest of us.

      Multiply that action by thousands, or hundreds of thousands, and you start to see the path that led us here. Money going upstairs and nothing of value coming down.

      Lower taxes and looser regulation is what we've been DOING FOR TEN YEARS. it's what GOT US HERE.

    • by fearofcarpet (654438) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @01:14AM (#36819802)

      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.

      Three examples from the late 20th century where tax-cuts lead to increased revenues: JFK, Reagan, and Clinton. However, on closer inspection, JFK cut taxes while closing loopholes, citing his own family as an example of how the wealthy evaded taxes. Rich people pulled their money out of tax shelters because that is exactly what JFK forced them to do by closing said loopholes. Reagan's tax cutting lead to a decrease in tax receipts, but they were coupled with deregulations of financial markets (and two subsequent tax increases) that increased revenues overall. This deregulation arguably lead to the creation of bubbles (e.g., Black Monday), which landed in the lap of Bush 1.0 and lead to him raising taxes. Clinton cut taxes as well, but focused them on the middle class, and again tax receipts were not the primary source of growth, it was the Dot Com Bubble, which arguably lead to the 2001 recession at the start of Bush 2.0. Speaking of Bush 2.0, he also cut taxes--dramatically--and passed on a huge deficit and a Carter-style recession to Obama.

      I am not trying to argue with you, nor am I defending the policies of any administration, I just want to point out that the world is vastly more complicated than "cutting taxes increases revenues." Also, American presidents have developed a habit of increasing spending/cutting taxes and using creative accounting/deregulation to make themselves look good, and then passing an economic shit sandwich on to the next administration.

      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?

      If the rich get richer faster than the overall economy is growing, then the poor get poorer--either by direct loss or by incurring more debt. I refuse to use a pie analogy, but the economy is finite in size and when it shrinks, those whose wealth increases are by definition gaining at the expense of others. Reasonable People do not have a problem with "the rich getting richer;" they have a problem with the rich getting richer at the expense of the middle class. Again, not trying to pick a fight, just trying to contextualize your question.

      Disclaimer: I don't even live in the US; I make my modest income in Euros in a country with a 50% income tax rate and a 20% sales tax.

  • The assumption that we have to take "the coming age of austerity" for granted is backwards. Health care and research aren't mutually exclusive. We need both, and the world has enough resources to provide both!

  • Here at my university, after the budget cuts were announced the first thing we cut was the agricultural science department. I guess because it's not very glamorous anymore, and some of it is long term (and apparently no one needs to eat anymore, glad we got that one taken care of.). One of my interests is pomology (the study of fruit producing plants), and almost all of that got cut just about everywhere due to it's long term nature, so I wouldn't say it is out of the question that something similar could

  • Short answer: No. Nope, it can't. We need to get the budget balanced and the debt down to a reasonable amount. There will be many brutal discussions about what gets funded and what doesn't. Long term research just doesn't have the lobbying clout of Defense or Big Oil. They're going to get hammered. Note that I'm not endorsing cuts to long term research, just predicting that in the shady politics where an actual default is contemplated as a craven political move, we have no hope of actually doing anything us

  • Well luckily there seems to be a lot of places you could take research money from without stinting technological or knowledge advancement.
    I used to work in the Psychology department of a university and I dare you to come up with a reason why it benefits anyone to do another study on how harmful smoking is or the dynamics of a relationship.

    Still they get millions in grants.

  • How about we stop giving more money to those who don't need it and share the wealth more evenly? Oh noes, that's socialism. Give me a fucking break.

    I am pissed, because of a very recent study, that has shown once again that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Between 2000 and 2010 net income has dropped by 2.5% in Germany. Lower income groups have had a decrease between 16% and 22% in their paycheck. High income groups have seen a modest increase of 1%. Partly, because the low-wage sector was expan

  • by Nethemas the Great (909900) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @05:33PM (#36816482)
    It might be the coming of the age of austerity for the west but that certainly isn't true for the east, at least not for China. Pick a discipline, any discipline and you will find evidence of China waxing where the western world (mostly read the US) is waning. If people think the west (also read mostly the US) can continue to dump countless billions of dollars into the money pit known as the middle east through our wars, through our relentless thirst for petroleum, while stripping every last drop of resources from education, basic research, technology research, social services, infrastructure, etc. and still survive as anything other than a crumbled husk of a world power they are terribly mistaken.
  • by Goldsmith (561202) on Tuesday July 19, 2011 @07:59PM (#36817622)

    Cuts happen, it's just the way it is, stupid or not. There are a few things we could do to actually improve the research infrastructure in the country and get more out of the money we do have.

    Primarily: stop giving out grants, move everything to industry style contracts. It's time to recognize that industrial research labs and academic research labs are operating on the same level. This does a few things: it allows the government to specify public ownership of research results (right now Universities keep their IP and defense contractors do not... odd, yes?), second, it leads to the normalization of lab pay. If you're on a contract, you should be paid the professional rate. Graduate tuition is simply academic administrators picking the government's pocket, things need to move to the cost plus fee model used in industrial contracts. Under a contract, that money would be moved over toward salary and benefits instead, a very good thing. A school could continue with the myth that their "students" are part time workers who require large amounts of "training", but then a government contracting officer could actually require proof of that statement, and details of the "training" being done.

    Another thing that would help would be an acknowledgement that not everyone is cut out to run a lab. Long term research positions for people with PhDs should be viable career options rather than "spouse" prizes. There are many, many people out there who are great researchers and great team leaders, but can't write a grant to save their life. We still want those people to succeed at research.

    Ok... long enough... essentially, anyone who tells you there isn't waste/fraud/abuse in scientific funding is full of BS, we can still do a lot better. If we're not willing to try to improve, we're going to keep losing money.

  • by fearofcarpet (654438) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @01:35AM (#36819952)
    I can't believe no one has posted this yet: http://www.phdcomics.com/comics.php?f=1305 [phdcomics.com]

    You could cut all funding for scientific research or 10% from Defense. In the former cause you would decimate the American university system, and the economy as a whole. In the latter case you might have to do without the Joint Strike Fighter (the total cost of which is ten times the entire research budget) or about four nuclear subs. In neither case would you even put a dent in overall spending. A bit more perspective: federal spending on research is equal to approximately %30 of the amount paid for interest on the National Debt.

    Fighting over rounding errors in the budget like funding for research, the top income tax rate, education, etc. is simply another way to divert attention from Defense and Health and Human Services, which are by themselves larger than the economies of many countries.

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