I just did a Huffington Post piece keyed straight to the news of the day–the Apollo 11 anniversary. It’s entitled “The American Science Deficit–And What to Do About It.” Here’s an excerpt:
Today, on the 40 year anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, we will hear a great deal about NASA’s woes, the nation’s declining interest in space exploration, and much else. It is crucial, though, to set such observations in the context of a far broader disengagement with science that has occurred in this country since the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Launched by President Kennedy, the Apollo program was just the most prominent example of America’s dramatic investment of science in the wake of the 1957 Soviet launch of Sputnik. The first Earth-orbiting satellite, beeping at us from above, inspired stark competitiveness fears in the nation: Were we falling behind in technology? Would the Soviets fire on us from the skies, and if they tried, could we stop them?
In response, the U.S. Congress jacked up the budget of the recently formed National Science Foundation to $ 134 million, an increase of nearly $ 100 million in just one year. And that was just the beginning–NSF’s budget continued to explode in subsequent years, so that by 1962-1963 it had reached $ 12.2 billion. [This statement is mistaken: the 1962-1963 figure represents the total federal government R&D expenditure.] Meanwhile, Congress created NASA and passed the National Defense Education Act, providing generous funding to encourage American students to pursue careers in science and engineering.
And still, that’s just the beginning of the response to Sputnik. At the same time, President Eisenhower pulled science into the White House by creating the office of the president’s science adviser and the President’s Science Advisory Committee; even as the National Science Foundation drew upon the nation’s elite researchers in an attempt to remake the high school science education curriculum. Science journalism also boomed, as a generation of enthusiasts wrote about each daily step of the thrilling space race.
In sum, the policies and cultural changes unleashed in the wake of Sputnik shaped the course of American science for decades–and made us world leaders. But then, something went very wrong. Science budgets stopped rising and began to fall. Educational investment also declined. Science became ensnared with politics, first the foe of the religious right, and then something to be spiked at will by the Bush administration.
You can read the full piece here….
Links to this Post
- Chris Mooney on NSF funding « Why Evolution Is True | July 21, 2009
- One Small Step … | Xenia Institute | July 22, 2009
- A problem with comparisons to Sputnik – Is there really a deficit? « Pasco Phronesis | July 26, 2009