Thursday, February 5, 2009

A request to save the NAE and NSF

So it turns out that a couple of Senators have proposed gutting stimulus funds for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Science Foundation, as well as other programs.

From the New York Times:

The effort is being led by two centrist senators — Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, and Susan Collins, Republican of Maine.

Among the initiatives that could be cut are $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, $14 million for cyber security research by the Homeland Security Department, $1 billion for the National Science Foundation, $400 million for research and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, $850 million for Amtrak and $400 million for climate change research. But so far, none of the suggestions come close to being enough to shrink the package on the scale proposed.

I think this is an enormous mistake. I detailed why in a letter sent to the Times. Who knows if it'll be published, so here it is for the record:

Dear Editor,

On Thursday the Times reported that Senators Bob Nelson and Susan Collins are proposing to cut $200 billion from the stimulus bill by gutting support for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Science Foundation, and other similar programs (

As a full-time, professional scientist, I would be remiss without defending these institutions. Both science and the arts are two of the major industries in which the US is still dominant around the world. Every year, flocks of people come to the US to attend graduate school, get into Hollywood movies or Broadway plays, work for technology startup, etc. In a way, arts and science are our remaining flagship industries. Despite this, however, we are drastically losing ground each year to countries such as China, India, and Russia. The relatively meager investment for these fields in the stimulus bill would foster the momentum we currently have in these areas.

Now, science and the arts are often seen as dead weight because they are heavily subsidized by the government. However, there is popular support to fund the military first-responders, and infrastructure programs which receive just as much support (if not more). In addition, the fields of arts and science have the added bonus that they also create new jobs. This investment would not only provide primary jobs for researchers, aspiring film makers, engineers, etc., but the resulting discoveries and creations that they build will foster an exponential growth in secondary jobs as new industries (or whole new fields) are born. Think about how many bio-technology, pharmaceutical, and high-tech companies are started each year from of novel scientific discoveries from federally supported research. Consider how the symphony orchestra you just attended or the movie you just download from iTunes was put together by people who were supported by arts grants in college.

Speaking from what I know best, the past eight years have been depressingly hard on my occupation as a scientist. Budget cuts have resulted in fewer and fewer research grants being awarded each year. As a result I have witnessed new and innovative research and development in my field be stifled due to lack of funding. There is no telling how many innovative discoveries have already been lost because of the current funding environment. The money allocated to the NEA and NSF in the stimulus package are badly needed booster shots to these ailing parts of what's left of the US economy. It is simply shorted sighted to think that they do not also need a bailout.

Timothy Verstynen, Ph.D.