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FYI Number 121 November 1, 2002

Report Charts Falling Physical Sciences Funding

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 .) 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 research.

"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 engineering fields."

"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."

The RAND/AAAS analysis contains 60 pages of figures and other statistics detailing these and other findings. The entire document may be viewed at

Richard M. Jones
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3095

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