Reed M. Izatt: The administration’s war on science

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) From left, National Science Foundation Director France Cordova, Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Exectutive Director David Reitze, LIGO Scientific Collaboration Spokesperson Gabriela Gonzalez, and Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Co-Founders Rainer Weiss and Kip Thorne, participate in a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, to announce that scientists they have finally detected gravitational waves, the ripples in the fabric of space-time that Einstein predicted a century ago. The announcement has electrified the world of astronomy, and some have likened the breakthrough to the moment Galileo took up a telescope to look at the planets.

The Feb. 17 edition of Chemical & Engineering News provides a breakdown of the administration’s budget request to Congress. For the fourth straight year, the projected budget would slash funding for U.S. science agencies.

Fortunately, our congressional representatives recognize the value of science and, to date, have reversed these proposals. However, the proposed budget gives insight into the priorities of our current administration and their disdain for science and technology.

Remaining competitive in the world of 2020 requires maintenance of our edge in science and technology. This edge was created by the efforts of devoted scientists and engineers over many decades supported by a government that believed in these enterprises.

The close relationship between science and government dates from World War II. Vannevar Bush, a prominent science advocate, played a critical role in establishing the National Science Foundation in 1947. In a June 1945 report to President Truman titled, “Science, The Endless Frontier,” Bush advanced the principle that federal patronage was essential for the advancement of knowledge in the U.S.

This concept has governed federal science policy since and has been responsible for the present eminent position of the U.S. in global science and technology. This achievement is under serious threat from the present administration which has little regard for a major product of science, factual knowledge.

One of the few agencies receiving an increase in the administration’s budget is NASA, 12% over their current budget to $25.2 billion. This increase would fund, primarily, the administration’s goal of putting humans on the moon again.

Other agencies would see appreciable cuts. The National Institutes of Health, which last year had an increase of nearly $2 billion in congressional funding, would see that gain reversed by nearly $3 billion (7%) to $38.7 billion. The National Institute of General Medical Sciences, which funds basic chemistry research at NIH, would see a 9% cut to $2.7 billion. The National Science Foundation, which supports basic research in our universities, would be cut 6% to $7.7 billion. The chemistry directorate of NSF would face an 11% cut.

From here, things get worse, much worse. The National Institute of Standards and Technology faces an immense cut, 32%, from just over $1 billion in 2020 to $0.7 billion in 2021. NIST’s science research and standards development division would lose 13% of its current funding.

In the Department of Energy, the Office of Science faces a proposed 17% cut, to $5.8 billion. The Energy Efficiency and Renewables Division of DOE faces debilitating cuts of 74% from its present $2.8 billion, to $0.72 billion in 2021. The administration would eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy from the DOE budget.

The administration would reduce funding of the Environment Protection Agency by 32%, from $716 million presently to $485 million in 2021. A number of regional environmental cleanup and restoration programs would be drastically reduced or eliminated.

Climate change programs would be reduced by 85% from $95.4 million to $14.5 million. These severe reductions reflect the administration’s view that government regulations should be minimized, and that climate change is a “hoax.”

This is a dangerous attitude. Government laws and regulations, adequately observed and enforced, can be a great benefit in ensuring a clean and healthy environment. Left to their own devices, few commercial organizations adequately clean up after themselves to the detriment of the environment and health of affected people.

Every citizen should be concerned about these budget numbers. Decreasing our federal support of science simply does not make sense and goes against 75 years of history.

Reed M. Izatt

Reed M. Izatt, Ph.D., Provo, is the Charles E. Maw Professor of Chemistry, emeritus, at Brigham Young University, where he taught for 52 years, and the co-founder of IBC Advanced Technologies, Inc., American Fork.