Mudcat Café message #1550683 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #62901   Message #1550683
Posted By: Amos
26-Aug-05 - 09:36 PM
Thread Name: BS: Popular Views of the Bush Administration
Subject: RE: BS: Popular Views of the Bush Administration
From a concerned correspondent citing the BBC

..."ll these breakthroughs found their fullest exploitation in the
United States. Indeed, they all contributed to America's pre-eminence
in science-based manufacturing and services.

Think of the personal computer and wonder drugs, of the jumbo
jetliner, video games and the pacemaker, the laser that counts your
groceries and the laser, or the global positioning satellite, that
tells you to turn left at the roundabout.

That is why there is furious bewilderment here in the universities
and the higher levels of business at the chilly indifference - not to
say hostility - of the Bush White House to science. Actually, I've
seen a movie like this once before and I know how it ends.

When I was a science reporter in Britain in the 50s, it was a thrill
to visit the centre of government research, the National Physical
Laboratory at Teddington, Middlesex. It was hallowed ground.

I was in the lab where Watson Watt did his breakthrough work on radar
in time for the Royal Air Force to find the Luftwaffe in the
invisible skies and win the Battle of Britain.

I stood in awe before that much-photographed early computer - the
wall-length monster called ACE - designed in 1945 by the wartime code-
breaker, Alan Turing. It was then the fastest in the world, spewing
out instant answers to reams of calculations I was allowed to feed
into its innards.

Inertia

You would have thought that the National Physical Laboratory would be
the darling of every British Government. Not so. I was invited to
visit at that time because they were concerned the government did not
fully appreciate that science in peace was as vital as science in war.

The researchers were doing what they could on a tiny budget and even
that was about to be cut. Not just in the government, but in business
and society, there was a general indifference to science and
scientific education that seems odd today.

The consequence of that inertia in government and lethargy in
business was that the US came to dominate the computer industry,
despite all the brilliant work of Turing at Manchester University and
others at Ferranti.

The question now tormenting Americans - who don't have a natural
aptitude for worry - is whether the same writing is on the wall for
them. Vinton Cerf is one who thinks it is, and he is no ordinary hand-
wringer.

He's the mathematician who is often referred to as the "father of the
internet". From 1972 to 1986, he was one of the key people in the US
Defense Department who made it possible for distant and different
computers to exchange packets of information - and that's the
foundation of the internet on top of which rides the world wide web
today.

Nothing daunted, he is now working on the protocols for planet to
planet communication. In short, he knows whereof he speaks. And Cerf
has just emitted a cry of pain.

The Bush administration does not take kindly to anyone who has drawn
a federal dollar being critical - and being critical moreover in the
businessman's' bible, the Wall street Journal.

Talent pool

So it is brave of Cerf to risk future disfavour and inveigh against
"the stewards of our national destiny" for cutting money from key
areas of research in its 2006 budget. That's a recipe, says Cerf, for
"irrelevance and decline."

The president's science adviser, John Marburger, concedes that the
budget is "pretty close to flat" but stoutly maintains "we are not
going backwards", pointing to an extra $733 million for research and
development (R&D) funding.

In fact, this is the first time in a decade that federal funding has
failed to keep pace with inflation. And in the entrails of the
complex budget - no one should go there alone - you find there is
indeed less money in real terms for what's called basic research and
less for Cerf's area of particular concern, computer science.

Funding university research for that has been falling through the
first Bush term and is now about half what it was in 2001.

All told, anyway, America now ranks sixth in the world in the
percentage of its wealth it spends on R&D. Yet the downward trend
isn't solely the result of the parsimony of "the hick in the White
House", as one motor mouth put it.

It is largely a reflection of rising educational standards around the
world, so it's a comparative decline. In real terms, no single
country can even come close to matching the US in the total
scientific investment by government, corporations and foundations.

So what is there to worry about? Well, there are some facts Americans
find hard to swallow after decades of striding the frontiers of
science. Fewer of the Nobel prizes go to American scientists, down to
about half from a peak in the 90s. Papers from Americans occupied 61%
of published research in 1983, now the total is just under 29%.

'Freedom of inquiry'

It may not get better soon since a higher proportion of young
Americans are opting for better paid law and medicine over science
and engineering and visa restrictions on bright foreign students
further dilute the talent pool. "The rest of the world is catching
up," says John E. Jankowski, a senior analyst at the National Science
Foundation.

Since some of these trends have been developing on the watch of
presidents from Reagan onwards, I sought a science policy health
check from luminaries in the field.

Professor Neal Lane at Rice University was the science adviser
reporting directly to President Clinton, but as a former director of
the National Science Foundation he cannot be dismissed as partisan.

Like others I spoke with, he is less concerned with the international
league tables and the familiar salami processes of the budget, than
the well-documented readiness of the Bush administration to
manipulate and suppress scientific findings - manifestly to appease
industrial interests and religious constituencies.

This is not just on global warming and stem cells, currently in the
news, but on a whole range of issues - lead and mercury poisoning in
children, women's health, birth control, safety standards for
drinking water, forest management, air pollution and on and on."

See whole story at http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/magazine/4172504.stm

A