Human Exceptionalism

Intel Chairman Wants Blank Check for Science

Oh, cry my a river: Craig Barnett, chairman of Intel, boo-hoos about the supposed lack of science funding by the Feds in a whining column in today’s San Francisco Chronicle. He writes:

The recent budget deal between Republicans and Democrats effectively flat-funds or cuts funding for key science agencies. Excluding “earmarks,” the Department of Energy funding for fiscal year 2008 is up only 2.6 percent, thus losing ground to inflation. The National Science Foundation is up 2.5 percent, with the same result. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is up 11 percent, however the labs where research happens only get 2.3 percent, again losing ground to inflation.

Barrett doesn’t use actual numbers in his piece, only percentages, raising my lawyer’s radar that the magnitude of the actual dollars being spent on science–in other words, context–might undercut his argument. So, I did a little digging. The DOE’s budget is huge, for example in FY 2008 over $24 billion, with nearly$3.5 billion earmarked for “science” and more than $5.5 billion for “environmental management.” That ain’t hay. Add in who knows how much in earmarks–which Barnett conveniently excluded–and we are talking very real money.

Similarly, National Science Foundation’s budget is more than $5 billion, with $390 million to be invested in nanotechnology. From the NSF’s press release:

Working with other agencies as part of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) nanotechnology research will continue to advance fundamental understanding of materials at the subatomic, atomic, and molecular levels and will enable the development of capabilities to design, manipulate, and construct revolutionary devices and materials with unprecedented properties. The Budget provides $390 million in 2008 for NSF’s nanotechnology research investments, an increase of 4.5 percent from the level proposed in 2007, including funding for a new NSF center to address environmental, health, and safety research needs for nanomaterials.

I believe in generous government funding for science–although I wish that when the money helps private companies strike gold that they would be required to share with the taxpayers who helped make it possible. But science isn’t the be all and end all. There are many other pressing needs and our economy is slowing down.

Sometimes the sense of entitlement within the science sector is breathtaking.

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