Sequestration: Yes, D.C. needs it but cut everyone else's funding, not ours

Posted By News On February 22, 2013 - 5:30pm

Sequestration laws were created to be the ultimate in liberal fairness - if Congress and the President count not agree, automated controls would impact everyone equally. This would outrage the voting populace and force them to play nicely.

Yet instead of voters forcing the President and Congress to play nicely together, special interests are circling the wagons around their funding.

Academic and directly-controlled government research is in a panic that budget cuts will impact them as fairly as it impacts schools. Sequestration will reduce taxpayer costs for scientific research by nearly $95 billion over the next nine years, which advocates claim will result in a reduction of U.S. GDP by at least $203 billion - if you can do arithmetic the way advocates can, you can see spending money on research is terrifically profitable. We simply 10-fold spending on research and the government runs a surplus. In reality, the advocates are creating a daisy chain of value that they don't grant to actual businesses, like the energy industry all of academia wants to cut. The energy sector is forced to only use real money.

Using pretend metrics, like the 'jobs saved or gained' invention popular in the last few years, means there will be 600,000 fewer jobs between 2013 and 2016, or a 0.2 percent impact on the U.S. unemployment rate.

Even better is the claim that American industry depends on the steady pipeline of knowledge, discovery and innovation that flows from the federally funded scientific research conducted at universities across the nation. The entire academic field claims they only want to do basic research, not anything that benefits industry, so this claim is a head scratcher. They are taking credit for all science since World War II, leaving out that the bulk of it was given to the private sector to develop specific projects, not basic research. In the fantasy world of progressive economics, they take credit for half of all economic growth in the United States by saying universities did it. They claim that government-funded academics spawned the biotech and semiconductor industries, gave us tools like the laser, GPS and MRI and that through the World Wide Web they gave us the Internet.

Government did not create the Internet, they created an idea and gave money to DARPA who immediately gave the money to industry. The term 'router' was invented by a Cisco engineer. Http wasn't invented by an American or even as part of a CERN-funded project, it was a hobby.

Charlie Townes, father of the laser, brought his idea to government physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, who told him, “You just don’t seem to understand how quantum mechanics works.”

Government employees stifle innovation.

"Many people don't appreciate the value of research and what it means to our economy; America has always been built on innovation," says Joseph DeSimone of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University. In the past, he explains, private sector facilities like Bell Labs drove much innovation, but these labs don't exist today. "Pure and simple: our nation's economy is driven by technologies emerging from our research universities," he says.

They don't exist because they don't need to exist, they couldn't compete with the government. Government wanted more control of research and took it. What CEO in his right mind wants to put all research risk on the shareholders of his company when he can spread it across hundreds of millions of citizens and then buy anything government-controlled science actually produces?

There are some exceptions. DeSimone says his lab led to the creation of Liquidia Technologies, a North Carolina-based company that employs more than 60 people and is working to bring to market a promising new approach to flu vaccines. The cost for those jobs? $400,000 per person and counting.

"We are going to have to start making computers in an entirely different way; not based on transistors but based on quantum mechanics and new technologies that we are developing," says Matt Tirrell of the University of Chicago. Tirrell, who leads the university's Institute for Molecular Engineering warns that this research will be "killed in its infancy" by sequestration and that this will be particularly harmful to the future ability of the U.S. computer industry to compete.

Decades is how long academia has been promising quantum computing. The actual experts in the semiconductor industry still regard it as a job works pipe dream for academia.

"Whether it's your Google phone or your iPhone or just sitting in your office and not worrying about a hardwire hook-up, these technologies are not going to be there if we don't invest in basic research," says Mark Glauser, associate dean for research at Syracuse University, who leaves out that venture capitalists funded Google, not Stanford. The actual search engine technology was mediocre and the company lost money until they bought a company that wasn't founded by academia - the core of Google AdSense is what made the company successful.

Harlan Spence of the University of New Hampshire points out that basic research is an essential component of the policymaking process. He says that cuts to the research budgets of NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation will "stifle progress on scientific understanding in areas needed for assessing national policy [including], the climate, the environment, sustainability and the emerging discipline of space weather."

That is true, and an honest assessment. He is rightly not claiming that global warming studies will generate 140% of their costs, the way other segments do.

One part is correct: By conducting basic research, universities train the next generation of scientists; this keeps America productive and globally competitive. Sequestration would have "lasting consequences on our nation's federally supported graduate education and basic research programs," says Robert Buhrman, senior vice provost for research at Cornell University. All those PhD post-docs complaining because there are 6X as many of them as there are jobs in academia would have to get corporate science jobs.

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