Policy Statements » Letters from the President:

Dr. James Clark, Vice President for Science
Ecological Society of America
Testimony for Fiscal Year 2005
for the National Science Foundation

Subcommittee on VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Appropriations

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I am Jim Clark, Vice President for Science for the Ecological Society of America. ESA has been the nation’s premier professional society of ecological scientists for nearly 90 years, with a current membership of 8,000. I appreciate the opportunity to testify today on behalf of the National Science Foundation.

I would first like to thank the committee for its strong commitment to the NSF over the last several years. Investment in this agency is very much in the public interest and your vision will pay extraordinary dividends in the years to come. I am also grateful to the 107th Congress for passing the NSF Authorization Act, which laid out a plan to boost the nation’s investment in this agency.

We believe that NSF’s fiscal health is critical to maintaining the nation’s international scientific leadership. Dividends from past investments in the NSF are manifested in the individual scientific disciplines, as well as in the groundwork that has been laid for interdisciplinary research needed to meet present and future scientific challenges. Research supported through the NSF has led not only to major advancements in all of the sciences, mathematics, and engineering, but has repeatedly underpinned new technologies such as the use of bar codes for inventory control and bioengineering microbes to clean up toxic waste, as well as new techniques, for example improving a building’s resistance to damage during an earthquake.

Important accomplishments have resulted through NSF-funded research and the potential for future opportunities is immense. Biological research will improve our ability to assess and predict the status of ecosystems, which provide the United States with goods such as fish, and services, such as water purification. Research efforts in the social sciences will enhance our understanding of large-scale transformations such as globalization and democratization, while work in the ocean sciences holds the potential to reveal previously unimaginable images of even the deepest oceans. Advances in NSF-supported chemistry may lead to cleaner industrial technology and address problems of carbon sequestration. Research in the mathematical sciences has led to advances in cryptography and improved internet security.

In a time where we find more and more federally funded research directed by a particular agency mission, I want to highlight that one of NSF’s greatest strengths is its support of the best research, regardless of its potential use. The NSF peer review system has an excellent track record of choosing the best science and the best investigators to perform the research, as the significant number of Nobel Prize winners who received support from NSF demonstrates.

I wish to particularly thank the committee for its past support in recognizing that NSF is responsible for the majority of all non-medical biological research, ranging from the molecular level to the study of entire ecosystems. Approximately 65 percent of all academic, non-medical, biological research is supported through the National Science Foundation.

As a Professor of Biology and Director of Graduate Studies for Duke University’s Program in Ecology I have first-hand knowledge of the positive impact NSF has on a scientific discipline. Our own NSF-funded research on the Central Plains has shown us that historic experience, including the 1930’s Dust Bowl, is unremarkable in light of climate swings of the last few centuries. We’ve learned many species cannot migrate fast enough to track a shifting 21st Century climate and will be left behind, with large consequences for biodiversity. This has significant implications for agriculture in the Great Plains region.

Continued advancement in ecological science depends upon healthy NSF budgets. Many ecologists whose grant proposals are deemed of very high quality are either not funded or go under-funded due to inadequate NSF grant funds. Eventually this funding situation is likely to affect the choices of U.S. students as to whether or not they choose to enter the field of ecology, a science that is crucial to meeting emerging environmental challenges ranging from the ecology of disease to the likely consequences of human alteration of the nitrogen cycle.

Other science, mathematics, and engineering fields experience many of the same tensions exhibited in the ecological sciences. These disciplines share our concern that not enough U.S. students are interested in science and engineering related careers. Many of us in the scientific community are worried that the U.S. may loose its preeminent position in science. All science, math, and engineering disciplines depend upon a strong National Science Foundation.

As the only federal agency to support science and education across all disciplines, and as the principal supporter of environmental biology, NSF’s contributions have been extremely valuable to the U.S. research enterprise. We hope that the committee will do its best to ensure that the agency continues on this path. Again, Mr. Chairman thank you for your leadership and your and the committee’s concern for the National Science Foundation.