I’m bothered by the rhetoric coming out of the debate on the stimulus package. In comments from lawmakers and the press, the arts and sciences rank high in the various lists of pork and “unnecessary spending that will do nothing to stimulate the economy.”
Right now it looks like there might be a deal in the works (with $110 billion cut from the bill), but as the NY Times is reporting, “The fine print was not immediately available, and the numbers were shifting.” But according to Talking Points Memo, the cuts proposed by a “centrist” group led by Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Susan Collins (R-ME) include $500m from the USDA (including $100m specifically for research),$750m from NASA, $427m from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), $100m from the Dept. of Energy Office of Science, and $1.4 billion from the National Science Foundation. Politico is reporting different numbers, but mostly in the same categories.
There are some really complicated economic arguments to be made, and questions about funding through “emergency” bills or the regular budget process. But the discussion instead centers on things like, why on earth should we worry about honeybees? Or the suggestion that the arts and sciences have no real economic impact.
For me there’s an obvious economic impact: the NSF is the entire reason I’m not drawing an unemployment check. I’m still hopefull that the Obama era will be different from the Bush years, but I think that we in academia aren’t doing a good enough job of explaining why and how what we do is necessary on a larger scale.