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Lubell: Lessons From the Cliffhanger

Near-term comprehensive agreements on revenue and spending might be beyond reach. But as Congress grapples with a March trifecta ó the expiring fiscal 2013 continuing resolution, the debt ceiling and the delayed budget sequester ó all members, irrespective of party, must understand that absent sustained economic growth, tax and spending reform will simply be footnotes in future histories documenting the decline of a great nation. And they must further understand that the path to future American prosperity lies in science and technology, as it has for more than 65 years.

Slashing federal support of scientific research will surely endanger the engine of American economic growth. But the politically contrived Dionysian uncertainty that hangs over the scientific enterprise, like the sword of Damocles, is damaging as well.

Business leaders warn that continued uncertainty in fiscal matters is bad for business. And Wall Street warns that fiscal uncertainties are bad for Wall Street. The same is true for science. Itís just that scientists are more prone to focus on making discoveries and creating innovations than to venture out of their laboratories and engage the political system. Itís too bad, because most of them have a compelling story to tell.

Of course even if they gave voice to their narratives, itís not clear how many members of Congress would take the time to listen.

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.

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