A confusing message for science

During his first State of the Union address, President Obama highlighted the importance of science and innovation for the American economy.  But, despite a mention of “the largest investment in basic research funding in history,” he did little to clarify how science agencies would fair after the stimulus package expires.

Obama specifically mentioned the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or stimulus bill, which invested more than $15 billion in scientific research at the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.  This investment “could lead to the world’s cheapest solar cells or treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched,” Obama said.

The president’s message on science focused specifically on energy.  He called for “more production, more efficiency, more incentives,” but he stopped short of calling for a continuation of the research investment from the stimulus bill that may create the technologies needed to achieve the president’s goals.

For biomedical researchers concerned about a cash-strapped, post-stimulus NIH, there was little to alleviate their fears.  Aside from mentioning cancer treatments funded by stimulus dollars, there was no mention of any effort to maintain new investments in biomedical research.

While he was silent on science budgets, Obama’s formal announcement of a proposed budgetary freeze will cause many to worry about a return to pre-stimulus-funding levels.  It is still unclear which agencies the president’s proposal will affect the most, but congressional leaders are already skeptical of the plan.

The president’s priorities regarding science and biomedical research may be revealed when his 2011 budget is released on Monday, Feb. 1.   The Policy Blotter will report on the full details of the president’s budget next week.

Read and watch the full State of the Union at the New York Times. Find out more information about the president’s proposed spending freeze on the Blotter.

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