Saturday, June 11, 2005

MIT, Other Schools Warn Of Research Budget Cuts

After years of increases, federal research dollars will be cut in fundamental research areas of physics, warns MIT.
MIT is only one among many prestigious schools to see key research initiatives threatened. Other cuts by the energy department would mothball a separate fusion energy research experiment at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, and scale back operations of a heavy ion collider for nuclear physics research at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, operated by Stony Brook University. And the National Aeronautics and Space Administration budget for the current year already has forced Stanford University to delay one space science project and recast another.

The new funding constraints -- federal research spending is expected to rise only 0.1 percent next fiscal year -- add to already deepening anxieties among campus researchers. Federal agencies in recent years have been steering university labs away from long-term basic research and toward shorter-term applied research. The agencies also are funneling more funds toward areas driven by national security priorities, such as developing battlefield robots and combating bioterrorist threats, leaving non-defense fields feeling shortchanged.

The continuing war in Iraq and federal budget pressures have exacerbated the pressures.

So, of course finding alternate energy sources besides oil wouldn't help that pressure? Really, what is oil except the most convenient energy source to date? I'm of two minds on this: first, federal research money will tend to get into the wrong hands anyway or be directed into meaningless channels; but the other issue is that research is useful and necessary. The article notes trend of researchers following the money:
The pressure on open-ended research programs has been accelerating in recent years. Bienenstock said space science initiatives at Stanford have fallen victim to a NASA shift away from basic research to the Moon-Mars Program championed by Bush. Similar shifts are underway at other agencies, ranging from the energy department to the Pentagon to the National Institutes for Health.
There is going to be money in energy, no question about it. The issue is whether federally-funded research will get us to commercial success; I have my doubts.