Notes from Joe: Final Thoughts on the NSF

JS_Photo1One of our reoccurring blog features are posts by president and radio host, Dr. Joe Schuldenrein.  This week’s post provides his own view on his recent radio show episode concerning NSF funding and #WhyArchMatters.

Our November 13 program on the Cantor-Smith U.S.A. Today article of September 30 should stoke the fires of each and every professional archaeologist. Our panelists did a great job debunking the nonsense that NSF must prioritize its funding agenda to choose between necessary scientific objectives (prosthetic devices for returning war vets) vs. and what are implicitly frivolous objectives (the evolution of Maya architecture). It was just two years ago that these same House Republicans voted to reduce funding for the Veteran’s Administration, while pressure from federal archaeologists (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-St. Louis), among others, created the Veterans Curation Project that put returning Iraq veterans to work cataloguing artifacts that would otherwise lay fallow in abandoned warehouses. Let’s not have the pot calling the kettle black.

While our voices are and can be heard on Capitol Hill, chiefly through the SAA and ACRA, the fact is that too many of us are entrapped in our own research, passively waiting for the folks in Washington to dictate policy and slash already meager budgets, while we fight each other for the paltry droppings that ultimately fall our way.

There is really no subtlety to the House’s strategy here. By enumerating cuts to numerous NSF and related small budget programs they create the illusion that they have made major efforts to trim the deficit. As Adam Smith pointed out the collective $ value of all NSF grants for the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Divisions of NSF amounts to less than 3% of NSF budget or 0.000001% of the national debt. Is that really how we should approach spending cuts? By frittering around the edges and avoiding the major sources of fiscal disfunction? I would call on all archaeologists to contact their congress people to point out these absurdities and to demand a careful and studied approach to fiscal responsibility. That responsibility is met by focusing on education and conservation programs that ultimately benefit our progeny and save the dwindling and threatened cultural vestiges of a past that survives as a lesson to future generations.

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