AP Newsflash

By JoAnne Hewett | February 6, 2009 12:12 am

Tonight, an AP article reports that senate “moderates” are working on a compromise stimulus package that cuts $88B from the nominal senate version.  Doesn’t sound so bad, until you read the fine print.  Here’s what they plan on cutting:

 Nearly 20 senators from both parties met twice during the day and reviewed a list of possible cuts totaling 88 billion. They included elimination of at least $40 billion in aid to the states, which have budget crises of their own, as well as $1.4 billion ticketed for the National Science Foundation.

Geesh!  We’re talking more than $800B of stimulus and the very first thing on the chopping block is basic science.   That demonstrates just how low basic science is regarded.  It looks like education is also being cut.

I don’t have anything intelligent to say about this situation.  I don’t think there is anything intelligent to say about this situation.  They just don’t get it.  It’s been shown time and again that advances in basic science stimulate the ecomony. If you’ve ever thought about contacting your senators, the time is now.

Update: The senate reached a compromise last night and due to everyone’s efforts,  funding for basic science was mostly restored!  The Senate stimulus bill gives  NSF $1.2B in additional funding,  $330M for DOE Office of Science ($100M for supercomputing was cut), $1B for NOAA, $475M for NIST,  $1.3B for NASA, and $2.6B for DOE energy efficiency and renewables.  We’ll see what comes out of the House/Senate conference, but this is a good start.  Sometimes democracy works.

  • Ted

    To be accurate, these are reduced spending increases, not cuts in the existing budgets. The education budget, for example, was slated to go up by $70 billion in the original draft, a less massive increase now.

  • Jennifer West

    Dammit, JoAnne, had not heard this and have just sent mails to my senators now. Dammit they better not shave off money from the education and basic science parts of this stimulus package.

    Anyone who’d like to contact your senators to do the same:

    I wrote the briefest note, with a subject line of “Stimulus package – Keep NSF and Education Funding Top Priority.” My note read as follows, please feel free to copy if you like:

    “I am worried about the proposed changes to the stimulus package regarding funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Education Programs. I have read that proposed changes to the stimulus package would reduce the funding increases in these areas.

    Please keep basic science research and education as top priorities. Please do not vote for any cuts to the originally proposed funding levels. It has been shown that investing in these areas will indeed stimulate the economy – please see the book “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future” which can be read online for free (http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11463).

    Thank you for your attention to this critical issue.”

  • Jennifer West

    Wonderful – I didn’t catch Daniel’s earlier post until now, but he’s linked to the American Physical Society’s form letter on this issue – it’s better than mine. I’m going to paste the link here just in case someone else missed it too:


    Thanks to Cosmic Variance for tracking this…

  • agm

    Called it. Despite the dumbasses arguing that such an interpretation was wrong.

  • hanmeng


  • http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/crackpot.html Pieter Kok


  • Beltstars

    I’m can totally understand how much hair scientists and educators must be pulling reading comments made by politicians (especially GOPers). Working in civil engineering and construction I hear these guys complaining about spending in the stimulus bill that would fund such things as a museum, community tennis courts, refurbishing the Capitol Mall, etc. These are construction projects! Exactly the type of work that will put people to work very quickly. In the world of the GOP its ok to throw hundreds of billions at a useless senseless war but not one penny for jobs that help people here.

  • graviton383

    They also seem to be planning to remove $$ from DOE Science..what idiots!

  • Pingback: The Monkeys are Running the Zoo « blueollie()

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    I do think there’s just a lot of reflexive anti-government and anti-science nonsense at work here, but there’s also, I think, an impetus to differentiate short- and long-term goals in the stimulus bill. And I tend to think that differentiation makes sense, both fiscally and politically. We all know basic science pays, but very few people would or could argue that basic science pays RIGHT NOW. The stimulus from some-or-other bit of basic research could come tomorrow, never, or anywhere in between. We of course should grow our basic R&D budget, but we want it to be a sustainable shift in priorities, not a one-off cash infusion that could have been spent elsewhere. If it’s crumbling buildings that are in imminent need of replacement, or antiquated instruments that, through replacement, could yield a rational bump in capital expenditures, then great. But for a “stimulus package”, the political reality is we’re going to need every dollar to show immediate stimulatory value on the economy at-large. You don’t want to be begging for budget increases in 2011 and having “centrist” Senators telling you “But we gave you an extra billion in 2009 to study the see-saw mechanism, and what has it produced?” or whatever. And you DON’T want to deal with legitimate accusations about waste, which I’ve observed on numerous occasions at a national lab with “surplus” money in its coffers. You don’t want money from this massive hunk of deficit spending simply dumped on the NSF, or I guarantee it’ll wind up generating controversy. You’ve got a very sympathetic President, and a more evidence-based party (we hope) in power in the Legislative Branch. I wouldn’t get greedy with the stimulus package. I’d look for long-term, sustainable increases that ramp up slowly and clearly. This package could very well prove to be a boondoggle when measured against its ostensible purpose, a purpose that the already flat-broke taxpayer is being sold on with unmitigated Fear, Uncertainty, and Doom about the future. Remember Sarah Palin mocking bear-mating research or whatever damn-fool thing she tried to pick on. You want a piece of that irrationality when it comes to “stimulus” and “failure” or some mixture of the two that’s bound to come up some election cycle in the near future?

    This package is “supposed” to be about getting a few thousand bucks in everybody’s wallet fast so they’ll buy a flat-screen TV, a car, or maybe even a house in the near future and prevent…well, WWWIII or The End Times or something, I’m not sure. Anyway, new roads, buildings, a mill or plant here or there, that’s a fringe benefit of giving “working class” Americans something to do that makes them some money right away. If we fall far short of those core objectives with this bill, we are guaranteed a beast-starving swing back to the right that would make even the likes of Grover Norquist orgasmic. As much as we want money, we don’t want it at the cost of THAT.

  • Doug A

    I’m in full agreement with Low Math,Meekly Interacting here. Somehow the concept of investing in the economy for long term growth has gotten lost. We as a nation need to think clearly about the proper roles of near term stimulus and long term investment. If our representatives think about the long term recovery, then it will be time to fight tooth and nail for every ounce of science funding. Unless sanity suddenly descends on Washington, we should be happy that we’re missing this Titanic.

  • onymous

    Talking Points Memo has details I haven’t found anywhere else.

  • JoAnne

    Low Math, Meekly Interacting Says: I beg to differ with you. President Obama himself has said that part of the stimulus package is to restructure our spending priorities to promote future sustainable economic growth. And investment in basic science certainly fits that description.

  • Jason Heldenbrand

    GOP Senators are an old boys club that probably never took a great deal of science courses and likely have no idea how valuable it could be in the long run. A $1.5 billion dollar investment would return ten fold over if a widely useable alternative fuel was discovered in science, perhaps more. This does not even include medicine that could ease the pain of our growing medical benefits. The inventions that -science- have given us have completely populated our industries and are solely responsible for our economy. Even the crops we have grown for thousands of years have been touched, modified and improved by scientific progress.

    This is just a stupid decision. Then again, the people trying to slash this stimulus aren’t exactly rocket scientists.

  • Doug A

    But JoAnne, President Obama’s intentions for the stimulus plan don’t match the facts on the ground.

    First, on the vital yet always maddening PR front, the idea that the stimulus is for jobs NOW is winning.

    Second, how can we invest in basic sciences with a one time infusion of cash? As a faculty member at SLAC, you’re responsible for paying your postdocs and students. SLAC needs a veteran work force of engineers and techs to run it, a work force that can easily evaporate if subjected to repeated layoffs and hirings. Projects like the LCLS or the ILC need committed funds for many years to be completed. You have to agree that this stimulus doesn’t guarantee funding for five, ten years.

    Its not an investment; its rope to hang ourselves with in future budget battles.

  • Tikki

    Here is the body of my message to the Senators for my state.
    In a recent AP article, the following was reported.

    “Nearly 20 senators from both parties met twice during the day and reviewed a list of possible cuts totaling 88 billion. They included elimination of at least $40 billion in aid to the states, which have budget crises of their own, as well as $1.4 billion ticketed for the National Science Foundation.”

    While I understand cutting money from the budgets is important, cutting money from science is a sure way to retard growth. Please do not allow the budget cuts to come from science and education.

    “Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.” -President Barack Hussein Obama

  • http://www.symmetrymagazine.org David

    Something that always seems to be neglected in this discussion is that if science continues to be funded at the FY07 levels, as it is now, then more job cuts would seem unavoidable somewhere in the Office of Science/National Laboratory complex.

    So perhaps some of the science funding in the stimulus package could be seen as anti-job-cuts, which might not be stimulus per se, but would prevent the anti-stimulus of firing a bunch of scientists.

  • Michael

    Whoa there, science geeks. This bill is supposed to be a economic rescue and work starter bill, not a “let’s just fund everything we can” bill. If our horrible national debt continues to bloat we won’t have money for anything, much less any science. You can kiss goodbye virtually all government spending on science and a great deal of private spending if we don’t get the economy jump-started.

    Let’s pass a stimulus bill and when the dragging economy picks we can blow our hard-earned bucks on whatever we like. The current bill is a bloated nightmare.

    I love science as much as the next guy, but I gotta eat.

  • Bill C

    If you wish to stimulate the economy, to zeroth order it matters little what you spend the money on. That’s because almost all projects are dominated by labor costs so within one cycle the money takes the form of paychecks which go directly into purchases. Since we still working to zeroth order, scientists spend their paychecks on essentially the same things as any other worker (opening for lots of jokes here) and this demand creates other jobs.

    OK, what about first order? Clearly you would like to have some tangible deliverable, so investment in infrastructure is a good candidate. But let’s not forget that science has an infrastructure too and that infrastructure has been decaying due to lack of funding just as much (maybe more) than our roads and bridges. If we can’t rebuild or replace facilities and train new scientists, then we won’t be able to deliver the innovation that drives the future economy.

    Other posts have commented on the long-term benefit of investments in science, so I won’t expand on those even if they tend to be second order.

    I conclude that investment in science is at least as good as anything else at lower order and better at higher order. We shouldn’t be apologetic about pushing for inclusion in the stimulus package.

  • Jill

    I’m with Low Math. What, exactly, is the point of dumping a bunch of money on NIH/NSF/DOE that has to be spent within two years? Does this not seem akin to the NIH-doubling-undoubling fiasco, albeit on a shorter time scale? I’d much rather see basic science research left out of the stimulus bill in exchange for actual, sustained BUDGET increases.

  • Low Math, Meekly Interacting

    I should clarify: If it’s bricks-and-blocks, and high-cost equipment, I think one can see immediate impacts on local economies right away, and I see no reason why science shouldn’t benefit equally from infrastructure improvements, nor why it should make any difference to anyone if its science infrastructure or a new bridge, so long both get money, and lots of people get employed. More and/or improved facilities, lots of manufacturing jobs, etc. Everyone up the foodchain wins. But I don’t think we can count on people, especially Washington politicians leery of big govt., to remember little details like the fungibility of money, but rather details like the stimulus went to studying the intestinal flora of spotted owls, and the only employment was trips to the woods for a couple of egghead grad students. I’m not saying these things make sense, nor that on the most literal face of it Obama’s statements preclude such activities, nor am I saying they’ll be significant or worth worrying about except to score political points. But score off those things the opposition most certainly will if this stimulus isn’t seen as stimulating in, like, a year. Two at the outside. That’s the maximum tolerance I can see voters having for bailouts and other such stimuli not showing tangible results. And that’s what the nitpickers in Congress, being politically shrewd, are fixating on right now. Obama signs the Bill, but they craft it, and we can’t just rely on Obama’s high-minded rhetoric to rule the day, however much we agree with it. That’s what I’m talking about. I’m deeply cynical, yes, but who loses bets being deeply cynical about Washington?

  • a grad student

    So basic science if officially below pork?

    How the hell does that happen?

  • Mandeep

    I have something to say, JoAnne, even if it’s not the most “intelligent” thing i could add, because i only have a second, for now-


    That seems to be a bit of a running theme with me recent CV posts…


    something more constructive and analytical next time, i hope…

  • graviton383

    It seems that there is a Senate `comprimise’ that may go through soon..but given the $780B amount it sounds like NSF/DOE etc $$ have been removed in this bill version.

  • jackal

    Well, science funding typically results in plenty short-term spending. Namely, equipment is purchased, more grad students are hired, overhead goes to universities that might be laying off staff, etc. And, of course, you get the long term benefits as well.

    Also, do we really want our collective investment in nth-year postdocs go to waste because of massive hiring and funding freezes all over the place?

    If we’re going to be spending tens-hundreds of billions on construction, lets not forget that NSF money is also indirectly responsible for lots of immediate employment (often relatively low wage — grad students + staff in university the overhead supports) in addition to supporting long-term competitiveness.

  • Doug A

    Well, I guess it’s official:


    Apparently us physicists have a less effective lobby than the biologists. Or less competent. What drives me crazy is this bit from the above article:

    Michael Lubell, director of public affairs for the American Physical Society, said the society had spent months gathering information on “shovel-ready” laboratory infrastructure projects to include in the stimulus bill. He said the bill was later muddled by also including research grant money for scientists, making it a target.

    This is the first time I’ve heard of this! What were these projects??? Does anybody have info? Did anybody except the APS board know about this list?

  • JoAnne

    Believe me, I’m also for actual sustained budget increases. But after the long drought the physical sciences have gone through, we could really use the stimulus money for, say, lab equipment, computing equipment, experimenters to actually travel to CERN to work on their detectors (believe it or not, that’s a huge problem), grad students, and, things like fixing a leaky roof. And that’s just for starters.

    BTW, it rained in the Bay Area today, which means that the SLAC theory group got wet. Our roof has leaked for about a decade. It rains, it leaks, they patch it, then it rains and it leaks in another place – or the same place. Cost of a new roof has been priced at $3M and not likely to happen anytime soon.

    And now we can only hope for a good outcome in the conference. I’m with Mandeep on this one:


  • King Cynic

    New president or not, the US political culture remains hostile to science and anything intellectual.

    America is culturally bankrupt. Working physicists should get out why they can.

  • J

    As a young scientist, I’m beginning to come to the conclusion that we are not wanted here. Maybe it’s best to just leave the field. Others who’ve left have seemed to apply their skillset successfully to other areas. Maybe this is a sign. Even with an administration which is very pro-science we still can’t get funding. Why suffer through faculty searches, tenure, etc knowing how this most likely will end?

  • Brian

    It is a shame that so many compromises had to be made to water down a bill that was probably weaker than it should have been in the first place, but it looks (according to the way I interpret the news reports) that at least the surviving part will pass soon. I guess the economic glass is half, or at least a quarter or an eighth, full.

  • Haelfix

    The stimulus package has so much crap still in it, why the hell would this be amongst the first things on the chopping block! I don’t even recall seeing the DOE/NSF earmarks as something the Republicans actually objected too so I thought it was safe.


  • marc


    Money for NSF was restored (1.2 billion instead of the original 1.4, but much different from zero) in the Senate compromise. And maybe the conference committee will add more!

  • marc

    And the DOE office of Science cut was also eliminated!

  • marc

    My bad–the DOE Office of Science cut of 100 million was NOT eliminated.

  • John

    In the Senate version, now, DOE Office of Science gets ZERO, whereas in the House version it’s $1.5 billion.

    NSF research got cut from $2.5 billion to $1.2 billion.

    Call (don’t write) your senators now!

  • John

    HOWEVER: the Senate did add in $330 million for “Lab construction” under DOE Office of Science. Sorry for the confusion. Still, going from 1.5 billion to 300 million is an 80% cut.

  • PornDog

    Sometimes democracy works? So it works when you get the result you want, but it doesn’t when you don’t?

    Reading the post and through the comments has shown me one important thing: regardless of the genius level IQs, regardless of the highly abstract and creative thinking required in the hard physical sciences, most of you have the political sophistication and maturity of children.

  • Skeptical

    I don’t know, but those promoting “basic science” are leveraging heavily on the promise of solving the “energy crisis” and the “global warming crisis”. I hope scientists can actually deliver.


  • http://danielholz.com daniel

    This turn of events is precisely what I was worrying about earlier in the week. For a second there I thought the huge cuts were due to the NSF/porn nonsense. But I’m told that the NSF was dinged $3M for that indiscretion, not $1B+. There is no clear answer as to the best way to ‘stimulate’ an economy. The point is that these numbers are huge, and you would hope that whatever you invest in both creates jobs and stimulus short-term, but also leads to growth in the longterm. The link in my post above to the National Academies report makes a strong argument that investing in science makes sense. It may not be as effective a stimulus as food stamps in the short run, but it certainly will have a major effect in the long run. And the truth is that much of the stimulus is questionable on both counts. This ends up being about politics. @PornDog is correct, that we have the “political sophistication…of children”. We need to be much more engaged, and advocate much more forcefully. Please call your senators! It’s not too late; nothing is set in stone as of yet.

  • http://danielholz.com daniel

    Here are some numbers from the Nelson-Collins bill. The short version is that the NSF and DOE Office of Science contributions are gutted, compared to the House Bill.

    Cuts in science relative to the previous Senate version are
    o $100 million for research in NIST;
    o $200 million for operations, research, and services in NOAA;
    o $100 million for HPC in DOE Office of Science;
    o $200 million for science in NASA; and
    o $200 million for research and related activities in NSF.
    The amounts for these agencies in the Nelson-Collins version of the Senate bill relative to those in House bill represent cuts of
    o $25 million overall in NIST;
    o -$22 million overall in NOAA (i.e., an increase of $22 million);
    o $1,670 million overall in DOE Office of Science;
    o -$200 million overall in NASA, setting aside the $500 million
    for shuttle replacement (i.e., an increase of $200 million); and
    o $1.8 billion overall in NSF.

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu Peter Woit

    Does anyone actually have real numbers about what is in the new Senate bill for the DOE office of science and the NSF? I don’t understand Daniel’s numbers for this, since according to


    the House bill only had 430 million for DOE office of science and 1.4 billion for NSF, so the 1.67 billion and 1.8 billion numbers don’t add up.

  • http://danielholz.com daniel

    Hi Peter, if you dig around you can find numbers. It’s hard to know which ones are definitive. For example, if you look at my original post, I link to some info I found useful. According to the side-by-side comparison, the House bill had $3B for NSF. If you look at the Excel spreadsheet linked off of the Nelson-Collins bill link in my previous comment, you find a proposed amount of $1.2 Billion. Hence the $1.8 B number for NSF.

  • JoAnne

    PornDog: My comment that “democracy works” conveyed that a large number of people contacted their representatives Re science funding and had an impact on the acutal legislation. That is democracy in action. Sometimes it is easy to think that our voices don’t matter, but in fact, they do.


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