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Real Science

The 2018 Federal Science Budget

Michael Rosenthal

(6/2017) First, here is some good news for science. Congress approved a bipartisan spending bill on May 4, one day before its May 5 government shutdown deadline, which showed firm support for science, in spite of President Trumpís March budget blueprint. Research historically has received bipartisan support, and this year was no exception.

The budget includes a significant increase for The National Institutes of Health, a 6.2 % increase over 2016; President Trump had recommended a $2 billion cut for NIH. The approved budget calls for an additional $2 billion for NIH, including a $300 million cancer initiative, The 21st Century Cures Act. President Trump also proposed a massive decrease for the Environmental Protection Agency, completely eliminating the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was cut a modest 1.0%. The Chemical Safety Board funding remained flat. National Science Foundation (NSF) funding remained flat from 2016, and funding for the National Institute of Standards and Technology was reduced a modest 1%.

The Department of Agricultureís research grants program was actually increased by $25 million. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was voted $35 million in funding to deal with the lead water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and $394 million was allotted to combat the Zika virus. The Office of Adolescent Health Teen Pregnancy Program received $101 million, on par with 2016 funding. The Energy Departmentís Office of Science was voted a $42 million increase instead of the $900 million cut proposed by President Trump. ARPAĖE was voted a modest increase to $306 million. The Fish and Wildlife Service was voted $11 million more than last year, focused on an effort to remove plants and animals from the endangered species list; and The U.S. Geological Survey was voted an increase of $23 million, half of which is to develop an earthquake early warning system. NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, was voted an increase of $368 million. The NASA budget includes funding for a lander on Jupiterís moon, Europa. The 2018 fiscal year begins in October.

How can anyone not see the importance of supporting research? Research isnít just a way to help graduate students get degrees or to employ scientists. Scientific research is what improves the quality of life in many, many ways - advances in health and disease cure and prevention, better technology for manufacturing and daily life, and many other effects.

In colleges, science is offered in courses designed for science majors and in courses designed for those majoring in other fields, what we call non-science majors. To me, the importance of these courses in not just in learning the technical detail, as much as in understanding how science affects daily life, its significance, and how to discriminate between "real" science and "emotional" science. A good example is the controversy over vaccines. Many people continue to believe that vaccines lead to autism in children.

There is absolutely no scientific evidence to suggest that this is true. So, those who avoid vaccines for their children not only put their own children at risk, but introduce the risk of infection to others. How can such misconceptions come about? If more people had been introduced to scientific thinking at home, in school, and in college, would more logic be applied to such issues? I suspect there would be more logic, but there are always people who reject logic in favor of emotion. It is the responsibility of our educational system to refute emotional analysis of scientifically-based issues in favor of logical and scientific analysis and action.

I never liked biology very much as I was growing up, because it was so descriptive and not (to me!) as logical and ordered as chemistry and physics. I really liked molecules (and I still do). I actually convinced my high school advisor to let me avoid taking biology by taking chemistry, physics, and four years of math. That was a mistake Ė they should not have let me do it. Biology has changed greatly, as molecular science has become its base, and as biochemistry has emerged as a powerful bridge field. My only remaining vestige from those days is that biologists should study as much chemistry as they can handle to understand the underlying molecular basis for biological phenomena. This leads to an important project now underway Ė the global search for some 25 species that have not been observed for many years, sometimes hundreds of years. The species include the Pink-headed Duck from Burma, "lost" for 68 years, the Woodland Tree Kangaroo of Indonesia, the Harlequin Frog from Venezuela, the Namdapha Flying Squirrel, and the Himalayan Quail from India, last seen in 1876. A full list of these species can be found at lostspecies.org. The reasons for these species fading away often will have a base in the chemistry of their surroundings.

The issue of Climate Change remains a prominent issue. The Trump Administration continues to consider the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Change Accord. It remains amazing to me (but Iím a scientist!) how anyone can deny the evidence, agreed upon by all scientists, that the burning of fossil fuels producing carbon dioxide, causes global warming. Many world leaders are urging President Trump to remain in the Paris Accord, a climate accord supported by 195 nations. President Trump made a campaign pledge to withdraw. Scientists universally agree that peopleís activities affect the long-term health of the planet, with special emphasis on global warming, caused by the burning of fossil fuels. How can individuals deny that global warming is real and dangerous to the planet when virtually all scientists all over the world see it differently?

Related to this issue is the ever present larger question of how to economically and safely create energy. The environmentally kindest means include hydroelectric, wind, and solar sources, and these sources are under development all over the world. Nuclear power has great strengths, but events such as Fukishima indicate that there is potential downside to depending upon it, and the safe disposal of nuclear waste remains a challenge. Just this past month, the collapse of a nuclear waste storage tunnel in Hanford, Washington, indicated that safe disposal of nuclear waste is an important issue that must be dealt with in an appropriate manner.

Finally, letís get back to public attitudes toward science and end on a positive (at least to me!) note. On April 22 a day for A Global March for Science was declared. Hundreds of thousands of marchers at some 600 locations around the world marched to support science. The flagship event was in Washington, D.C., where the crowd was estimated to be 70,000 to 100,000 marchers. The Washington event was significantly non-partisan, but clearly was in reaction to President Trumpís attitudes, policies, and proposals toward science. Washington wasnít the only large turnout. The crowds in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles were nearly as large, and marches even took place in Norway and Ecuador. The marchers were not just scientists, but people who recognized the importance of science and the need for respect of science. There is only one scientist, named Bruce Wright, among the 125 people who live on Alaskaís Atka Island. He is an ecologist who studies harmful algal blooms in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea, and he marched for science carrying a sign that proclaimed, "Science Is Truth".

Michael is former chemistry professor at Mount. St. Marys

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