Opinion: The Presidential Choice for Science and Technology

By Michael Feldman

October 25, 2012

With the looming US elections just days away, it’s worth considering what effect the choice for President will have on federal science and technology policies for the next four years. While this is hardly a hot button issue in most voter’s minds, these policies will have a much bigger impact on the quality of people’s lives than the political soundbites currently being sprayed across the public airwaves.

In one way or another, most economic growth today is being driven by IT and, more generally, scientific innovation. Certainly, higher worker productivity – not always a good thing, by the way, in times of high unemployment – is strongly correlated with advancements in computer technology and the growth of knowledge-based economies. Internet commerce, cloud computing, DNA sequencing, consumer electronics, and good old-fashioned supercomputing are transforming whole industries. The big economic winners in the 21st century will go to those countries able to best foster these technologies.

The problem with dissecting a policy issue like this is that both Obama and Romney are ostensibly pro-science and technology. This issue doesn’t have the emotional touchstones and sharp divisions of something like the abortion debate. For science and technology, there is essentially no debate. Both candidates want to support these endeavors for the obvious reasons of spurring economic growth and high-tech jobs.

Notwithstanding certain Republicans’ aversion to dealing seriously with science-based topics like climate change and evolution, Romney has staked out a position closer to the mainstream. According to a set of questions posed by Scientific American and ScienceDebate.org, Romney (not surprisingly) favors business-friendly policies to encourage more science-technology entrepreneurship: lowering the corporate tax rate, making the R&D tax credit permanent, reducing regulations, implementing tort reform – the usual conservative laundry list of remedies to make capitalism ever more laissez-faire.

Romney also believes the idea of using the government as a venture capitalist for budding tech startups to, as he puts it, “pick winners and losers,” is misguided. Somewhat at odds with this philosophy is that he still thinks the federal government has a role to play in supporting basic R&D. According to him, he will “focus government resources on research programs that advance the development of knowledge, and on technologies with widespread application and potential to serve as the foundation for private sector innovation and commercialization.” How his government would sift the winners and losers of research projects is left unsaid.

On the education front, Romney points to the Nation at Risk study to illustrate the dysfunctional nature of the country’s K-12 institutions. To remedy this he espouses the traditional Republican agenda of using school choice, standards testing, and improved teacher recruitment to help boost science education.

Obama takes a more bottom-up and spend-free approach. For example, he wants to inject 100,000 more science and math teachers into schools over the next decade, and use them to train a million scientists and engineers. He is also in favor of doubling funding for agencies like the DOE, NIH and NSF to expand the federal R&D base. Of course, he can’t perform that doubling by decree – a topic we’ll get to in a moment.

In Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, $100 billion was allocated for basic research, education, and various IT infrastructure projects. While that kind of spending represented a useful economic kick in the pants for a country in recession, the policy model is questionable. You don’t just invest in fundamental R&D and infrastructure because you’re in an economic tailspin. You do so continuously, and probably even more so when the economy is booming and federal coffers are full.

Which gets us to the real challenge of either candidate’s agenda: the US Congress. That is the body that actually appropriates funding, and although science and technology initiatives get broad bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, spending for them does not. For a variety of reasons, both political and economic, the US has become less and less inclined to do long-term investments. And since the R&D community relies on consistent funding to keep multi-year research in place, life there is becoming more precarious.

The America COMPETES Act is the poster child for the dysfunctional nature of federal R&D funding for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Initially passed into law in 2007 under the Bush Administration, it set out to boost STEM support across the major federal agencies. It was never fully funded to its intended levels, and despite being reauthorized in 2010 (in reduced form), it has failed to live up to its intended goals.

The overarching problem is the federal deficit and the public’s antipathy to raising taxes, which puts unrelenting pressure on discretionary spending. On top of that is a conservative Republican party that is committed to shrinking such spending, and a moderate Democratic party that seems incapable of offering any significant opposition.

The irony is that both Romney and Obama, and Congress for that matter, recognize the importance of technology leadership, and what it means to the future of the country. Everyone’s for it, but the political will to make it an investment priority is missing. Romney and his Republican cohorts believe that it can be done on the cheap, by encouraging private enterprises to take up the R&D slack of the federal government, while the Obama contingent thinks they can convince their opposition to loosen the purse strings. It’s hard to imagine such wishful thinking will lead to a happy ending.


Related articles

Presidential Supercomputing

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

RSC Reports 500Tflops, Hot Water Cooled System Deployed at JINR

April 18, 2018

RSC, developer of supercomputers and advanced HPC systems based in Russia, today reported deployment of “the world's first 100% ‘hot water’ liquid cooled supercomputer” at Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JI Read more…

By Staff

New Device Spots Quantum Particle ‘Fingerprint’

April 18, 2018

Majorana particles have been observed by university researchers employing a device consisting of layers of magnetic insulators on a superconducting material. The advance opens the door to controlling the elusive particle Read more…

By George Leopold

Cray Rolls Out AMD-Based CS500; More to Follow?

April 18, 2018

Cray was the latest OEM to bring AMD back into the fold with introduction today of a CS500 option based on AMD’s Epyc processor line. The move follows Cray’s introduction of an ARM-based system (XC-50) last November. Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPC and AI Convergence is Accelerating New Levels of Intelligence

Data analytics is the most valuable tool in the digital marketplace – so much so that organizations are employing high performance computing (HPC) capabilities to rapidly collect, share, and analyze endless streams of data. Read more…

Hennessy & Patterson: A New Golden Age for Computer Architecture

April 17, 2018

On Monday June 4, 2018, 2017 A.M. Turing Award Winners John L. Hennessy and David A. Patterson will deliver the Turing Lecture at the 45th International Symposium on Computer Architecture (ISCA) in Los Angeles. The Read more…

By Staff

Cray Rolls Out AMD-Based CS500; More to Follow?

April 18, 2018

Cray was the latest OEM to bring AMD back into the fold with introduction today of a CS500 option based on AMD’s Epyc processor line. The move follows Cray’ Read more…

By John Russell

IBM: Software Ecosystem for OpenPOWER is Ready for Prime Time

April 16, 2018

With key pieces of the IBM/OpenPOWER versus Intel/x86 gambit settling into place – e.g., the arrival of Power9 chips and Power9-based systems, hyperscaler sup Read more…

By John Russell

US Plans $1.8 Billion Spend on DOE Exascale Supercomputing

April 11, 2018

On Monday, the United States Department of Energy announced its intention to procure up to three exascale supercomputers at a cost of up to $1.8 billion with th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Cloud-Readiness and Looking Beyond Application Scaling

April 11, 2018

There are two aspects to consider when determining if an application is suitable for running in the cloud. The first, which we will discuss here under the title Read more…

By Chris Downing

Transitioning from Big Data to Discovery: Data Management as a Keystone Analytics Strategy

April 9, 2018

The past 10-15 years has seen a stark rise in the density, size, and diversity of scientific data being generated in every scientific discipline in the world. Key among the sciences has been the explosion of laboratory technologies that generate large amounts of data in life-sciences and healthcare research. Large amounts of data are now being stored in very large storage name spaces, with little to no organization and a general unease about how to approach analyzing it. Read more…

By Ari Berman, BioTeam, Inc.

IBM Expands Quantum Computing Network

April 5, 2018

IBM is positioning itself as a first mover in establishing the era of commercial quantum computing. The company believes in order for quantum to work, taming qu Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

FY18 Budget & CORAL-2 – Exascale USA Continues to Move Ahead

April 2, 2018

It was not pretty. However, despite some twists and turns, the federal government’s Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) budget is complete and ended with some very positi Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Nvidia Ups Hardware Game with 16-GPU DGX-2 Server and 18-Port NVSwitch

March 27, 2018

Nvidia unveiled a raft of new products from its annual technology conference in San Jose today, and despite not offering up a new chip architecture, there were still a few surprises in store for HPC hardware aficionados. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Inventor Claims to Have Solved Floating Point Error Problem

January 17, 2018

"The decades-old floating point error problem has been solved," proclaims a press release from inventor Alan Jorgensen. The computer scientist has filed for and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Researchers Measure Impact of ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Patches on HPC Workloads

January 17, 2018

Computer scientists from the Center for Computational Research, State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo have examined the effect of Meltdown Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fast Forward: Five HPC Predictions for 2018

December 21, 2017

What’s on your list of high (and low) lights for 2017? Volta 100’s arrival on the heels of the P100? Appearance, albeit late in the year, of IBM’s Power9? Read more…

By John Russell

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How the Cloud Is Falling Short for HPC

March 15, 2018

The last couple of years have seen cloud computing gradually build some legitimacy within the HPC world, but still the HPC industry lies far behind enterprise I Read more…

By Chris Downing

Chip Flaws ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Loom Large

January 4, 2018

The HPC and wider tech community have been abuzz this week over the discovery of critical design flaws that impact virtually all contemporary microprocessors. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Deep Learning at 15 PFlops Enables Training for Extreme Weather Identification at Scale

March 19, 2018

Petaflop per second deep learning training performance on the NERSC (National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center) Cori supercomputer has given climate Read more…

By Rob Farber

Lenovo Unveils Warm Water Cooled ThinkSystem SD650 in Rampup to LRZ Install

February 22, 2018

This week Lenovo took the wraps off the ThinkSystem SD650 high-density server with third-generation direct water cooling technology developed in tandem with par Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AI Cloud Competition Heats Up: Google’s TPUs, Amazon Building AI Chip

February 12, 2018

Competition in the white hot AI (and public cloud) market pits Google against Amazon this week, with Google offering AI hardware on its cloud platform intended Read more…

By Doug Black

HPC and AI – Two Communities Same Future

January 25, 2018

According to Al Gara (Intel Fellow, Data Center Group), high performance computing and artificial intelligence will increasingly intertwine as we transition to Read more…

By Rob Farber

New Blueprint for Converging HPC, Big Data

January 18, 2018

After five annual workshops on Big Data and Extreme-Scale Computing (BDEC), a group of international HPC heavyweights including Jack Dongarra (University of Te Read more…

By John Russell

Google Chases Quantum Supremacy with 72-Qubit Processor

March 7, 2018

Google pulled ahead of the pack this week in the race toward "quantum supremacy," with the introduction of a new 72-qubit quantum processor called Bristlecone. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Momentum Builds for US Exascale

January 9, 2018

2018 looks to be a great year for the U.S. exascale program. The last several months of 2017 revealed a number of important developments that help put the U.S. Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

US Plans $1.8 Billion Spend on DOE Exascale Supercomputing

April 11, 2018

On Monday, the United States Department of Energy announced its intention to procure up to three exascale supercomputers at a cost of up to $1.8 billion with th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This