The case for investing in science: How you can make a difference

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11 October 2011

You can hardly pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV nowadays without seeing a story on the impacts of the debt crisis in America (and around the world). Unfortunately, the proposed solutions rarely seem to include strategic investments in science and research.

This is particularly troubling because we know that federal investments in science have a long and storied history of creating jobs and stimulating growth – the very things just about everyone agrees are needed to help bring us out of this crisis.

We know that investing in science and technology resulted in much of the economic growth America enjoyed post-World War II, but U.S. government funding for research and development as a percentage of GDP declined by 60 percent in the last 40 years. And now, already underfunded federal agencies face additional cuts as a result of the recent debt ceiling agreement. Those cuts have the potential to be even deeper if the congressional debt reduction committee (the ‘Super Committee’) is unable to reach an agreement on how to cut another $1.5 trillion from the deficit over the next decade, which will result in across-the-board cuts for all programs – science included.

Cutting federal investment in scientific research and development will have broad impacts on everything from agriculture and transportation to energy and commerce, and those impacts will negatively affect our economy, public health and safety, and national security. Unfortunately, these very real impacts are not typically the focus of discussion regarding science policy and funding. That’s where AGU and its members can make a difference.

AGU has been actively working to educate Members of Congress on the importance of investing in science, with emphasis on the benefits that can be reaped from strong federal support. But, while these activities are very important, it’s the involvement of our members that will make us truly successful.

For example, more than 50 scientists came to Washington, D.C. in late September to participate in the 4th Annual Geoscience Congressional Visits Day, which AGU co-sponsored with several other scientific societies. In addition to receiving invaluable training on how to communicate with Congress, the group was also able to spend a day visiting members of Congress and their staff to discuss their research and theimportance of sustained federal funding.

But not everyone is able to make the trip to Washington. That’s why we have been sending AGU members reminders about scheduling meetings with their Representatives and Senators when they come back to their home states/districts while Congress is in recess. Equally as important, these ‘back-home visits’ are yet another chance to educate people on the role science can play in solving many of the challenges society faces today.

And then there is our most recent success story . . . We sent a request to members in key states, including those with a representative on the Super Committee, asking them to sign a letter to their Senator or Congressman encouraging them to support sustained investment in the Earth and space sciences. So far, we have received more than 1200 signatures! Those letters were hand-delivered to the various Congressional offices last week.

A big congratulations and thank you are owed to all who have participated in these activities. It is only through the participation of our members that we will be able to make a meaningful and lasting impact.

I’d also like to issue a challenge to the rest of our membership: AGU’s mission is to promote discovery in Earth and space science for the benefit of humanity. Can you help make that happen? Contact us to find out how you can make a difference.

Sign up for our Science Policy Alerts to find out more about how you can get involved, or send us an email.

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