Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Science Budget - retrospective

Well, mixed bag on reflection, with some worrying trends.

First of all: NSF did quite well.

Physics is getting more money, though with the new money earmarked for particles (and a little bird whispered to me that what is not LHC related will be astroparticle... ICECUBE?) and more committment to interdisciplinary programs like ITR, there may be less money for PI grants and ongoing projects.

Facilities did well, and instrumentation will be going.
NVO looks good.
LIGO is rolling.

On the face of it, there will be new money for astronomy PI grants, which would be a major relief.
We're talking maybe 100 new grants each year, at most, on top of what 500-1000 current grants?

The money for LSST and GSMT on top of ALMA is welcome, though to ramp up these new starts and accommodate other major facility projects in the pipeline (aLIGO anyone?) will need continued increase in funding.

NASA: well, good news is that there is lots more GSRFs - so 2nd and 3rd year grad students - apply for NASA graduate student research fellowships now. Also new undergrad fellowships.

Bad news: no new missions for 5+ years.
Current missions stretched and/or descoped unless they're already through the gate and near the finish line.
Scheduled shutdown of several major observatories after nominal life - this may change pending senior review and Congress appeals.

The reduction in MODA (mission operation and data analysis) funds and GO (guest observation) funds will sharply cut the number of new postdoc positions.
The cut in the "Universe Research" and "Solar System Research" funds will sharply cut postdoc funds even further.
These are the lines that fund the ROSES call for proposal items, all the lines are there now, but there is not enough money to keep them going, so either whole lines will be cut, or there will be very few selections per line.
Remember these budgets have to cover ongoing multiyear committments (typically 3 years) and so a 20% cut in funding really means a 50% cut in new grants.

So Astrophysics Data, Astrophysics Theory, Long Term Space Astrophysics and other lines that fund general postdocs at universities will have less money and fewer proposals.

Good thing is that there are a lot more fellowship postdocs now than a few years ago, and some of the new stuff will fund junior researchers, but life is going to be very rough for people working on NASA mission data analysis in a few years.
We're going to have a paradox of a lot of well funded grad students working on analysis of x-ray, infra-red and optical data, and then all of those resources will disappear just as they graduate and look for jobs. People will be scrambling picking through archival data or looking to switch fields.

Good fields to consider: computational simulations, that is hot area for now with lots of new hardware, at some point they'll have to pay for people to use it as well; and, database mining - lots of NVO and survey science coming up.

Don't bother switching to bio - NIH and CDC just got cut for real.

As for 100,000 new science teachers - this sounds about right

'Course Congress is an independent government agency who control the actual budget and they still have to have their say in the election year...


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