Two months ago the Presidents Council of Advisors on Science and Technology
(PCAST) met via a conference call to discuss a draft letter to President
Bush recommending substantial increases in federal research funding
for physical sciences and some engineering fields (see FYI
#101 at http://www.aip.org/ens/fyi/2002/101.html .) That letter
still has not been released, but the analysis on which it was based
is now available. Data in this analysis aptly illustrates why PCAST
members are concerned about falling federal support for physical sciences
"A succinct, factual story on the federal investment in R&D"
is how PCAST member Erich Bloch summarized the charge for this 120-
page "project memorandum" prepared for PCAST by the RAND Science
and Technology Policy Institute and the AAAS. In his foreword, Bloch
writes, "A review of the last 25 years of R&D funding shows
the rather large changes in the areas supported. There are not only
changes between defense and civilian R&D caused by changes in the
international political climate, but also rather large shifts in funding
among science and engineering disciplines, such as the physical and
life sciences." Bloch identifies declining or stagnant human resources
in science and engineering as the "paramount" issue for PCAST.
The analysis, "Federal Investment in R&D," does
not make policy recommendations, but rather is a distillation of statistics
from sources such as the National Science Foundation and AAAS. Selections
from this analysis, dated July 2002, follow:
"Total federal R&D would be at an all-time high
in inflation- adjusted terms in fiscal year (FY) 2003 if President
Bush's proposals are approved."
"...federal R&D as a percentage of GDP has shrunk
steadily to less than 0.7 percent of GDP in 2000, bringing the federal
investment down to levels not seen since the early 1950s. Although
recent budget increases for federal R&D in FY 2001 and 2002 are
significant, they would not materially alter these long- term trends."
"Some fields continued to experience increases in federal
funding between 1993 and 2000, such as biology (up 97 percent), computer
sciences (up 77 percent), and mathematics (up 31 percent). Some fields
continued to have less funding in 2000 than in 1993, including physics
(down 20 percent), the geological sciences (down 30 percent), chemical
engineering (down 30 percent), electrical engineering (down 26 percent),
and mechanical engineering (down 46 percent). In contrast . . . astronomy,
which had less funding in 1999 than in 1993, had 13 percent more funding
in 2000 than 1993."
"DOE is the largest funder of research in the physical
sciences, and is the primary supporter of research in physics and
chemistry. However, since FY 1993, funding of the physical sciences
by DOE has decreased by 20 percent. NASA is the primary supporter
of research in astronomy and also funds some research in physics.
NASA's funding of the physical sciences increased from the early 1980s
through the early 1990s, and then leveled off through FY 1999, increasing
slightly in FY 2000. Funding of the physical sciences, especially
chemistry and physics, by DOD has steadily declined since FY 1983,
dropping almost three-fold by FY 2000."
"Trends in federal funding of university research can
affect graduate student enrollment by providing support for graduate
research assistantships and by shaping the job market in science and
"There were fewer graduate students in the physical
sciences in 2000 than in 1993 - 21 percent fewer in physics and 9
percent fewer in chemistry. The mathematical sciences had 19 percent
fewer graduate students, and the earth, atmospheric and ocean sciences
. . . had 7 percent fewer graduate students."