So the president made (or is making) a speech before the NAS today in which he proposes to increase spending for “science,” and R&D (I wonder if he understands that these are different things?).
Well, no surprise there. Increasing spending is his first resort to every conceivable problem (except when it comes to defending the nation). But do you not see what I don’t see?
Obama said he plans to double the budget of key science agencies over a decade, including the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy Office of Science and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology.
He also announced the launch of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. It is a new Department of Energy organization modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, that led in development of the Internet, stealth aircraft and other technological breakthroughs.
Look, Ma, no space agency! No mention of NASA at all. This, combined with the continuing absence of an administrator or White House direction, makes me wonder just where space falls in the priorities of this administration.
But actually, what I find much more disturbing is this:
“I believe it is not in our character, American character, to follow — but to lead. And it is time for us to lead once again. I am here today to set this goal: we will devote more than 3 percent of our gross domestic product to research and development,” Obama said in a speech at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences.
Let’s leave aside the arbitrariness of setting a percentage goal at all (why 3%? Why not 2.5% or 5%?). Let us also ignore the fact that at the rate things are going, there’s not going to be much of a GDP to have a percentage of, and that the $420B number makes some optimistic estimates.
Why set the goal as a percentage of GDP? Why not as a percentage of the federal budget, something over which a president and a government has at least theoretical control? The implication is that he doesn’t just preside over the government and its spending priorities, but that he commands the entire national economy, and can, should and does dictate how others are to spend their own money, which apparently is no longer their own money. It implies a conceit of omniscience on the part of him and his advisors about how much we should be spending on R&D as a function of domestic product, and how we should be spending it, when he has no useful control over what non-governmental entities are spending.
Or does he? Just what does he have in mind?
Oh, and note the latest gratuitous slap at the previous administration, without which, apparently, no Obama speech is complete:
In recent years, he said, “scientific integrity has been undermined and scientific research politicized in an effort to advance predetermined ideological agendas.”
He then drew chuckles, commenting: “I want to be sure that facts are driving scientific decisions, not the other way around,” Obama said.
Yes, there will be no predetermined ideological agendas in an Obama administration.
Oh, one other thing. I don’t have the time to run the numbers right now, and it obviously depends on how you categorize things, but I’d wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t already spend more than 3% of the GDP on R&D. It’s just not being spent the way The One wants it to be spent.
[Update a few minutes later]
This brings to mind some thoughts that I had last summer on the ability to command and control R&D, with bad Apollo analogies.
[Late afternoon update]
One of Clark Lindsey’s readers makes a good point about the non-mention of NASA:
Perhaps, as the reader suggests, if NASA had not dropped most of its R&D in favor of funding a handful of giant development projects like Ares I, it would get more backing for such activity.
Of course, Ares 1 is R&D, technically speaking. But almost all other, more diverse and certainly more useful R&D has been sacrificed to fund it. But somehow, I actually doubt that this is the reason for the apparent oversight. It think it’s just an oversight.
[Update a few minutes later]
OK, NASA didn’t go entirely unmentioned. He did repeat the flawed Apollo analogy again (it’s one of his favorites), and then said this:
My budget includes $150 billion over ten years to invest in sources of renewable energy as well as energy efficiency; it supports efforts at NASA, recommended as a priority by the National Research Council, to develop new space-based capabilities to help us better understand our changing climate.
That little whirring windy sound you hear is my upright forefinger twirling around and around.