November 8, 2005 4:00 AM PST
Research money crunch in the U.S.
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to increase spending on science by an extra $10 billion per year. Some of the increase would be used to fund more basic research in the physical sciences.
Many in the research community also believe that the research being conducted today is too focused on short-term, market-oriented results. The current DARPA policy, which mandates 12-month "go, no go" research milestones for information technology, has shortened deadlines, thus discouraging long-term research. And with more research focused on national security, programs formerly open to academics are now classified. DARPA has also slashed spending on academic research.
"Traditionally funding in computer sciences has come from the U.S. government," Kleinrock said. "And it's contributed to some remarkable advances, such as the Internet and artificial intelligence. They (the government) used to step back and with some direction let you go develop something new. But that's not the case today. And DARPA is no longer thinking long-range."
More competition, fewer dollars
The effects have been significant. In the last five years, IT proposals to the National Science Foundation jumped from 2,000 to 6,500, forcing the agency to leave many proposals unfunded. Other agencies, such as NASA, have also reduced spending on communications research. Since most government funding comes only from these two sources, researchers are flocking toward the NSF as DARPA cuts back or changes its priorities.
"There is much more competition for far less money," Kleinrock said. "And the result is researchers are spending more time writing proposals that never get funded...We're losing our leadership in engineering. And that will have an effect on the economy."
Private industry isn't expected to pick up the slack where the government falls short, experts say. For the past several decades, the high-tech industry has become increasingly dependent on government-funded research partnerships with academic institutions to spur innovations. Companies such as Cisco Systems partner with researchers in academia, rather than operating their own large-scale research labs focused on long-range issues. Only a handful, like IBM, Sun Microsystems and Microsoft, maintain large and growing research arms.
"The competitive nature of these industries means they can no longer fund research that offers benefits for humanity," when the research has no immediate return in investment for the company, Lucky said.
But some researchers say they understand the tough decisions the companies and politicians have to make in choosing how much they allocate to science and how they actually spend their research money.
"There are trade-offs," said Robert Kahn, a co-developer of the TCP/IP protocols used to transmit traffic across the Internet, and CEO of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives. "Do you spend one penny on R&D, or a dollar on national security? These are the tough choices that have to be made."
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