Cracks in the consensus for federal support of science research and education actually became evident two years ago, when Republican backing for reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act evaporated. The original legislation, which tracked President George W. Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative, had passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 367-57 in 2007. Then, 143 Republicans had supported the legislation that authorized budget increases for three key science agencies. In 2010, only 17 did.
What then of the future? A shrinking political center doesn’t bode well. If ideological purity prevents lawmakers from cooperating on science, the engine of American economic growth for the past half-century will sputter and, with it, the dreams of a better tomorrow.
Michael S. Lubell is a professor of physics at the City College of the City University of New York and director of public affairs of the American Physical Society.