for National Geographic News
With the U.S. Congress wrangling over a $700-billion bailout plan for the financial crisis this week, the final contours of any bailout are hard to predict. But some experts say that any bailout—or even no bailout at all—may set back funding for science.
The concern isn't that Congress will turn anti-science, observers note.
Lawmakers' attitudes toward scientific research have always been "fairly positive," said David Goldston, former chief of staff for the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology. (See a gallery of the best science photos of 2008.)
But there simply might not be enough money to go around. "The biggest factor is what's happening with overall domestic spending," Goldston said.
John Marburger, science adviser to U.S. President George Bush, agreed. "The problem is that if the discretionary budget shrinks, then to keep science whole something else has to shrink even more," he told National Geographic News.
And science is a field in which spending may not pay off for many years.
"In the meantime, [the concern is] I'm losing my house, I'm losing my job," said Kevin Finneran, editor in chief of the National Academy of Sciences journal Issues in Science and Technology.
"Something that delivers long-term benefits loses prominence in a climate like that."
Among scientists, one group that may be particularly hard hit is young researchers at the start of their careers.
"If lack of funding drives our most promising young people away from careers in research, the long-term damage to science could be significant," Finneran said.
To prevent this, he said, scientists may have to learn how to fight for what research dollars they can get.
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