I write a quarterly column for the Computing Research Association (CRA)'s newsletter, Computing Research News (CRN). The following is a preview of my upcoming column, which will appear in the November 2008 issue.
That awful gurgling noise you hear in the background is the global economy draining through the hole that is the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis. We do not yet how bad the economic downturn will be. However, if history is a guide, we can expect the weakened economy to depress rates of return on university endowments, tighten state budgets due to decreased tax revenues, constrain corporate R&D spending and increase the already large pressure on federal government discretionary spending. In short, we are likely to experience constraints on faculty and researcher hiring and on overall education and research funding
On the latter front, CRA continues to advocate that the America COMPETES Act be fully funded. You will recall that the Act authorizes greater funding for physical science research in the U.S., but no additional funding has been appropriated. (In Washington-speak, computing is a physical science.) As I am sure at least some of you have noticed, this is a U.S. Presidential election year, with its own set of implications for the future of science policy and research funding.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Council on Competitiveness, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine, along with the leaders of many organizations, crafted fourteen questions for the Presidential candidates. (I signed in support on behalf of CRA.) This "Science Debate 2008" includes questions on approaches to research and innovation, education, climate change, energy security, health care, biomedicine and pandemics, space and other topics. The first, and perhaps most important question, concerns innovation:
Science and technology have been responsible for half of the growth of the American economy since WWII. But several recent reports question America's continued leadership in these vital areas. What policies will you support to ensure that America remains the world leader in innovation?
I encourage you to review the responses to all of the questions from both candidates at www.sciencedebate2008.com. (You might also want to read a recent New York Times assessment.) As I write this in early October, the election campaigns are in full flight, but by the time you read this, the election will have been decided, barring the unexpected, and we will know which of these sets of responses is more likely to become reality.
I can also report that the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), of which I am a member, also recommended that the new President appoint the Presidential Science Advisor as quickly as possible, enabling the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to begin operating expeditiously. My personal hope is that the new President will name the Science Advisor during the transition period after the election and before taking office.
Let us remember that the laurel in the race to the future sometimes goes to the sprinter, but more often the reward accrues to those who have the vision, foresight and persistence to run the long and sometimes enervating marathon that is education, intellectual innovation via research and transfer of good ideas into practice. To hark back to our current financial crisis, the smart money bet (quite literally) is always on innovation.