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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 1994. A Space Physics Paradox: Why Has Increased Funding Been Accompanied by Decreased Effectiveness in the Conduct of Space Physics Research?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4792.
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1
Introduction

Recent years have witnessed a rapidly escalating debate on the process and adequacy of research funding in the United States. In this debate strong opinions have been voiced concerning the relationships and relative merits of issues such as "big" science versus "little" science, centers of excellence versus individual initiatives, and directed research versus unconstrained research. Intimately related to this debate is a perception that U.S. research capabilities have steadily eroded despite substantial increases in research budgets. Most of the discourse, generally anecdotal, has taken place at meetings, in hallways, and through the media via letters and articles. Only rarely have reports (Lederman [1], OTA [2]) addressed various aspects of the issues raised.

The same debate flourishes in the scientific fields served by the Committee on Solar-Terrestrial Research (CSTR)/Committee on Solar and Space Physics (CSSP). The committee deemed it timely to address the issues involved and, like the Lederman report, seek to resolve the basic paradox behind the question:

Why has increased research funding been accompanied by decreased effectiveness in the conduct of space physics research?

Many thorny issues lurk behind this simply stated question. Is its basic premise accurate or even verifiable? Can and do funding choices influence the effectiveness of a scientific discipline? If so, have the funding agencies spent their money unwisely? Have the research communities abrogated their responsibilities by wanting to do everything and prioritizing nothing? Is it true, as has been

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 1994. A Space Physics Paradox: Why Has Increased Funding Been Accompanied by Decreased Effectiveness in the Conduct of Space Physics Research?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4792.
×

suggested in popular articles1 and the media, that "big" science (i.e., big-budget, multi-researcher, highly managed research) is battling against "little" science (typically university based, initiated by a few principal investigators, and with more modest budgets)?

If the paradox is real, it becomes important to discover its causes. Decreased effectiveness, and the accompanying widespread dissatisfaction in the research community, may be symptomatic of a system that is not serving either space science or the public interest. Consequently, members of the CSTR and CSSP set out to assemble a data base of information on grant programs and science projects supported over the past two decades by the main funding sources for these communities.2

The resulting data set consists of a combination of data from individual scientists, the funding organizations, and other supporting institutions (e.g., American Geophysical Union, International Association for Geomagnetism and Aeronomy, International Council on Scientific Union's Committee on Space Research). This report presents the trends identified in the data and discusses them in the context of the issues mentioned earlier.

No organization has collected the exact kind of data needed for this study. As a result, the committee was necessarily limited by incomplete information and by the frequent need to identify plausible surrogates for many of the actual attributes and trends under investigation. In some cases the incompleteness of the data sets allowed us to use them only as suggestive evidence, illustrative of the trends perceived by committee members and other long-time practitioners in the field. Nevertheless, the committee was able to use the data to illuminate a variety of perspectives on the many issues associated with the space physics paradox.

This report differs from others that have touched on the same topic. For example, the Lederman report [1] is a synthesis of some 250 replies from individual scientists across a spectrum of physical science disciplines who responded to a questionnaire on research funding and productivity. The resulting anecdotal data base gives a powerful and disturbing assessment of a deteriorating research capability in the United States. However, other than recommending an 8 to 10 percent per year real growth in U.S. research funding, the Lederman report does not (and was not intended to) present solutions or suggest approaches to specific issues.

1  

For example, D. E. Koshland, Jr., 1990, The funding crisis, Science 248:1593; and D. S. Green-berg, 1986, Fundamental research vs. basic economics, Discover 7:86.

2  

While the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration all participate directly in solar, solar-terrestrial, and space plasma physics, NASA and NSF are the main funding sources for competitive research proposals.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 1994. A Space Physics Paradox: Why Has Increased Funding Been Accompanied by Decreased Effectiveness in the Conduct of Space Physics Research?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4792.
×

The OTA report [2], while touching on some of these issues, is primarily concerned with the national research issues of prioritization, expenditures, changing needs, and the information required for decisionmaking. It provides excellent background material, data, and perspectives on federally funded research. It also makes clear that the established methods used for the past 40 years to fund research in the United States are changing, and changing rapidly.

The present report addresses research funding issues specifically in the fields of solar, solar-terrestrial, and space plasma physics. Like the Lederman report [1] it has been stimulated by our colleagues' anecdotes. We have tried to extend the analysis and sharpen the issues by linking these tales of frustration to trends in funding and project management. Like the OTA report [2], we look at data trends as a way of examining the different sides of the issues involved. However, where possible and appropriate, we have taken the next step—by drawing conclusions and making recommendations. All of the recommendations are made in the spirit of requiring no additional overall resources. It seems likely that the broad themes and concerns expressed in this report are not unique to the field of space physics. We hope that a detailed analysis of this specific field will help shed light on a systemic problem and at the very least open a productive dialogue between the research community and the funding agencies.

Throughout the remainder of the report, the term space physics is used as a designation for the research areas served by the CSTR/CSSP: solar physics, heliospheric physics, cosmic rays, magnetospheric physics, ionospheric physics, upper-atmospheric physics, aeronomy, and solar-terrestrial relations. The report is organized into seven chapters. Chapter 2 presents a discussion of big science and little science issues relevant to this report. Chapters 3 and 4 present, respectively, funding and demographic trends in the research community generally, with specific examples from space physics. Chapter 5 discusses the results and implications of these trends for the base-funded program. Chapter 6 presents trends in the conduct of science observed for various elements of space physics. Finally, Chapter 7 synthesizes the report's findings into a set of conclusions and recommendations.

Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 1994. A Space Physics Paradox: Why Has Increased Funding Been Accompanied by Decreased Effectiveness in the Conduct of Space Physics Research?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4792.
×
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 1994. A Space Physics Paradox: Why Has Increased Funding Been Accompanied by Decreased Effectiveness in the Conduct of Space Physics Research?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4792.
×
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 1994. A Space Physics Paradox: Why Has Increased Funding Been Accompanied by Decreased Effectiveness in the Conduct of Space Physics Research?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4792.
×
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Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 1994. A Space Physics Paradox: Why Has Increased Funding Been Accompanied by Decreased Effectiveness in the Conduct of Space Physics Research?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4792.
×
Page 9
Suggested Citation:"1 Introduction." National Research Council. 1994. A Space Physics Paradox: Why Has Increased Funding Been Accompanied by Decreased Effectiveness in the Conduct of Space Physics Research?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/4792.
×
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This book investigates and analyzes several disturbing trends in government support for space physics research over the past decade. The authors identify funding and management problems that thwart cost efficiency within this discipline, and suggest possible solutions. The volume also has broader implications for anyone engaged in research or in the funding and organizing of space physics research.

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