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Academic choices when budgets are tight.

Academic choices when budgets are tight

Several outspoken researchers--including Leon Lederman, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science -- have charged recently that the United States risks losing its supremacy in science because Congress isn't giving federal agencies enough money to fund all the worthy research proposals they receive. In a report accompanying the Jan. 11 SCIENCE, Lederman, a University of Chicago physicist, proposed that Congress attack the problem by doubling its funding of academic science, despite the big budget deficit (SN: 1/12/91, p.22). But a new study for Congress argues that such an increase would not solve the academic-funding problem.

Giving more money to federal granting agencies may temporarily ease the funding situation, but it would also "enlarge the system...and increase future demands for funding," according to Daryl E. Chubin, a policy analyst at the congressional Office of Technology Assessment, who wrote the report. Unveiled at a March 20 hearing before the House Subcommittee On Science, Chubin's analysis recommends instead that Congress set up a single agency to review all requests for funds from academic scientists and decide which projects to fund.

"Pork barrel" funding of "big science" projects--such as the superconducting super collider--also risks siphoning off funds that might otherwise go to other academic projects, the report says. But the peer-review system is not a good substitute, Chubin says, because it is not suited to set priorities across scientific boundaries. His study, "Federally Funded Research," also questions the value of some megaprojects and predicts that their megabudgets could worsen federal science-funding problems if they reduce funds for "small science."

"At this point, it's completely impractical to expect that [scientists] can really set priorities across boundaries between disciplines," says Robert L. Park of the American Physical Society in Washington, D.C. "All we can do is explain to Congress what our sciences will do," he told SCIENCE NEWS. "Ultimately, Congress is the priority-setter."
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Title Annotation:reports on federal funding for science research
Publication:Science News
Date:Apr 6, 1991
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