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Pressing researchers for R&D priorities.

Pressing researchers for R&D priorities

Addressing the National Academy of Sciences at its annual meeting on April 26, Academy President Frank Press proposed what few leaders of science have ever willingly offered: criteria for setting federal research funding priorities. He described them as "politically realistic and responsive to congressional requests for advice."

U.S. scientists are submitting record numbers of research proposals to federal funding agencies. Though generally "superb in quality," Press said, they are also "unprecedented in overall cost. And . . . come at a time of record budget deficits." Moreover, while choices must be made between them, Press said "our political leadership has no way of gauging the amount of resources necessary to maintain the strength of American science and technology."

While scientists do have the ability to set priorities for R&D funding, he maintains that "sniping and carping among scientists" over what to fund threatens to undermine the credibility of those who could offer constructive advice. So he recommends the scientific community -- and especially the Academy -- "be willing, for the first time, to propose [budget] priorities across scientific fields," organized into the following three broad categories:

* programs that have the highest priority and should be funded now, even when money is tight. Examples he gave were programs responding to national crises, such as AIDS; work on "extraordinary scientific breakthroughts," such as high-temperature superconductivity; and grants to preserve the human-resource base through training and the funding of individuals and small groups.

* large projects with important national or scientific goals that should be authorized now, even if full funding for these won't be available immediately. Cited examples included the Superconducting Super Collider and human-genome project.

* political "prerogatives" that support decisions made by the administration and Congress, including the Defense Department's national security initiatives, the space station and programs to enhance the competitiveness of U.S. R&D.
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Publication:Science News
Date:May 14, 1988
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