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Research Funding: Haves and Have-Nots

Science  20 Dec 1996:
Vol. 274, Issue 5295, pp. 1990
DOI: 10.1126/science.274.5295.1990

It was a mixed year for research funding around the world, as Japanese scientists enjoyed heady growth in their budgets, and many U.S. programs dodged the worst of promised cuts. But in Europe, scientists tightened their belts and prepared for what may be leaner times ahead.

Indeed, all year three little words hovered like a specter over European spending: single European currency. The European Union plans to introduce the new “Euro” in 1999, but qualifying countries must meet certain economic criteria by 1997—and that means budget cuts for many programs, including science. For example, last month the Bundestag approved a 3.7% reduction in research and education and slashed Germany's space program by 13%; Germany also plans to cut contributions to several international laboratories, including CERN in Geneva.

Elsewhere in Europe, the trend was toward moderation. French research was largely spared the ax, while some ministries suffered cuts as deep as 17%. The United Kingdom—which is still dithering about joining the single currency and which faces a general election in '97—held research funding level to pay for tax cuts and other vote winners. In Russia, however, the chaotic economy continued to drag down science, provoking scientists into hunger strikes and even, apparently, suicides.

Meanwhile, in the United States, a somewhat chastened Congress failed to carry out a budget plan that would have cut deeply into federal R&D as part of a drive to reduce the federal deficit. The final results for the 1997 budget were checkered: The National Institutes of Health emerged with a hefty increase for the second year in a row—7% for '97— and the National Science Foundation rebounded somewhat from a flat budget in 1996. But programs such as magnetic fusion and space science suffered real cuts, and their prospects for '97 are no brighter.

In Japan, however, the funding outlook was rosy, as the national government continued to dramatically boost public spending. For the fiscal year beginning next April, the national science and technology budget could jump as much as 10.1%, to $28.14 billion. That comes on the heels of a 7% increase in this fiscal year. Also, companies rebounded from a recession, and private sector spending rose last year for the first time in 3 years. In matters of R&D funding, at least, Japan may invoke the envy of the world.

TERRY E. SMITH

ADDITIONAL READING

Germany:

  • R. Koenig, “European Labs Fight Back Against Cuts,” Science, 6 December 1996, p. 1606.

Japan:

  • D. Normile, “Proposed Increases Follow 5-Year Plan,” Science, 6 September 1996, p. 1332.

The Netherlands:

  • A. Hellemans, “Agencies Protest Funding Reforms,” Science, 1 November 1996, p. 714.

Russia:

  • A. Allakhverdov and V. Pokrovsky, “Funding Delay Spawns Hunger Strike,” Science, 11 October 1996, p. 172.

  • A. Allakhverdov and R. Stone, “Another Fatal Shooting Rocks Russian Science,” ScienceNOW, 20 November 1996.

U.K.:

  • N. Williams, “Science Stagnates in Election Budget,” Science, 6 December 1996, p. 1606.

U.S.:

  • A. Lawler, “Congress Targets Fusion, Favors NIH,” Science, 19 July 1996, p. 303.

  • A. Lawler, “Gibbons Warns of Decline in R&D,” Science, 13 December 1996, p. 1830.

  • A. Lawler, “An R&D Victory, But for How Long?” Science, 18 October 1996, p. 332.

  • Latest Data on Congressional Appropriations for R&D

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