The new administration has just announced a move that I find very disturbing as a scientist, and as an American citizen. The headline reads, “Trump team wants to know which Energy Dept. staffers worked on climate pact.” This sounds to me like something from the McCarthy era. It is a significant bump down in the declining government attitude towards scientific research.
Before I point out my current concerns, I would like to give a very brief history of how science had been supported in the U.S.
Before WWII, most science was supported at industrial labs such as: Bell Labs, GE Labs, Westinghouse Labs, DuPont, etc. There was also some support in the military at places such Naval Research Labs, and Fort Monmouth, and at universities. Direct government support was mostly non-existent.
During WWII the government supported research that significantly helped with the war: radar and the “atom” bomb,” for example.
This led to the creation of the National Science Foundation immediately after the war. The basic concept was that the government would give scientists, mostly at universities, money to do research and good things would happen. It would be of benefit to the U.S. in general.
Another big boost for science came with the Soviet launch of Sputnik, the creation of NASA, and the race to the moon. These were very good times for scientists in the U.S. The success rate in writing research proposals to NSF or NASA was on the order of 80%.
Once the U.S. “won” the race to the moon, research support began to decline. Industrial labs, such as Bell Labs, etc. significantly reduced their efforts. Others closed their research efforts completely. The government became almost the sole funding source, and it began to reduce funding. Things have declined such that now the success rate in writing research proposals to NSF or NASA is on the order of 10 to 15%.
While the U.S. funding has declined, support in other countries, such as: Europe, Japan, and China have increased significantly. The result of this is that I’m seeing some of my colleagues leaving the U.S. for jobs in other countries.
I’m not talking about people who don’t have good jobs here, I’m talking about established scientists who see better opportunities outside the U.S. They see that the opportunity to do excellent research is not in the U.S. While I am still staying in the U.S., my research is done using the data from a Japanese satellite.
On top of this decline in the U.S., the new administration seems to be planning on attacking scientists whose research results they don’t like. Cucinelli did this in Virginia a few years ago, on a small scale, by using his political position to legally attack a climate scientist.
To me this is a very scary time. Will scientists be required to wear yellow stars next year? This may sound alarmist, but that is what people in Germany said in the 1930’s.