Speaker Gingrich Calls for Doubling Science Funding

Publication date
Number
96

There has been considerable discussion during the last year and one-half about doubling the federal science budget. Several bills have been introduced to accomplish this over varying time frames; a new Senate bill is being introduced today. Numerous scientific organizations, including AIP and many of its Member Societies, joined together last year in issuing two resolutions calling for a doubling of the federal science budget. Earlier this year, the Clinton Administration requested a 32% increase for civilian research between 1998 and 2003.

Adding support for a significant increase in science funding is House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA). During a June 14 University of California - San Diego commencement address he made, during his remarks, the following points:

"So I want to start with two very straight forward pledges that will directly affect your life: We will work very hard to continue to balance the budget.... And we will work to cut your taxes...."

"But we'll do that within a framework of setting priorities, where we also double the science investment budget in this country, so that we can create the ideas of the future, to create the jobs of the future, so you can lead the world in productivity and then quality of life by having the best knowledge created at the best laboratories. And I think we can do both. We can have a balanced budget and set priorities."

Gingrich described some recent advances in personal computers and electronic transactions, and then looked ahead. He stated, "We will create that future, I think if we will do three things that involve science." Addressing the graduates, Gingrich stated, "...we need your commitment to work to ensure that we have research budgets, with new laboratories, the right instrumentation, and an ability on a world-wide basis, not just in the United States, but we have to recognize that science in the future is increasingly going to be like the space station, which is a 16-nation effort. It's increasingly going to be like the experiment you are actually doing on this campus using a Japanese electron microscope. It is increasingly like the efforts to measure the temperature in the Pacific, which is a multi-national effort.

"We have to be at the forefront of investing in science, if we are going to in fact create the knowledge and the jobs of the twenty-first century.

"Second, for those of you going into primary and secondary education, we need to dramatically revise our entire approach to teaching science and math, prior to getting to university level.

"The fact is, science is about learning, exploring, discovering, it is not about fact. And by overly focusing on fact, we actually vaccinate students against science, so that they never learn the magic, and the mystery and the excitement of seeking new knowledge. And so I think, with your help, we need to reestablish real science with a real spirit of discovery in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades, so that young people learn how tantalizing it is to try to understand the world, how exciting it can be to try to develop new knowledge, and that cannot be done without a reinvigorated and revitalized science and math program in all our schools, all the way up until high school.

"Third, for those of you who are going into business, or into political life, or into communications, we need help in explaining all of these breakthroughs so that they are practical and they make sense.

"40 years ago C.P. Snow, a British physicist, described the two cultures. He said that the world of science speaks one language, and the world of literature and art speaks another language, and they don't talk with each other, and the result is that all too often, with only a handful of exceptions, if you truly are interested in science you probably aren't very articulate on the Today Show, and if you're really articulate on the Today show, you probably don't know what you're talking about scientifically. And the result is that we have a hard time talking with ourselves about the extraordinary opportunities that are available. About the kind of twenty-first century that we could build. And it's vital that you learn to do that because I believe that the twenty-first century, more than the twentieth century, will be the century of science, progress and prosperity. I believe, on the famous S' curve of learning, we're only beginning to start up the side of the S' and in fact the amount we learn in the next thirty years will far surpass what we've learned in the last 150.

"And so we need an ability just to talk with ourselves as a people, to learn what it means, to apply it to our own lives, to change our institutions."

Last week, The Washington Post reported on Gingrich's goal of doubling the federal science budget. The speech he gave above was one of several commencement speeches. In the Post article, other Gingrich quotations were provided, among them:

"Investing in our future ought to be our second-highest priority after winning the war on drugs, and we should shape our appropriations bills accordingly." He later said, "I'm for cutting Washington bureaucracy, and I'm also in favor of shrinking social programs."

House Appropriations Chairman Bob Livingston (R-LA) was quoted in this same article, saying, "The fact is the caps keep us at $2 billion below last year in overall spending, so we're having to reduce most of our budget. But an emphasis on science, at the request of the speaker, means that science is going up."

It has apparently not taken long for the Speaker's sentiments to be realized. On Tuesday, June 24, the House Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee marked up its FY 1999 spending bill. The legislation provides a 9% increase for the National Institutes of Health. The bill, whose over-all spending level is essentially frozen, eliminates two social programs (summer jobs and home heating assistance for the poor), and does not fund other Clinton Administration initiatives. Livingston cited the failure of the tobacco settlement legislation in explaining the bill's provisions. Yesterday, President Clinton said he would veto the bill because it "shortchanges the future of our children."

Explore FYI topics