|An example of draconian measures being proposed to silence or limit science communication in the US|
I grew up in a small town in rural upstate New York, graduating with a class of 45 from Perth Central School, which included grades K-12 in the same building. My father was an engineer and a first-generation college graduate who required a "gap year" to earn enough money to start community college a year after he graduated high school and went to night school to complete his BS. I was fortunate to be raised in a home that valued education, and to have many outstanding teachers. However, attending a small rural school meant that there were as few as 3 other students in some of my college prep classes and that I had no AP credits.
When I started at Penn State, I had no idea I would eventually be a research scientist. I thought I would be a TV meteorologist, as that was taking off in the 1980s thanks to The Weather Channel. I plugged along through classes and, at one point as a junior or senior, my undergraduate advisor, Craig Bohren, commented that he thought I had the stuff to go to graduate school. That was all fine and dandy, but then he mentioned that one can often earn a modest salary (about $13000-$15000/year at the time) and be granted a tuition waiver to attend graduate school in engineering and science (as well as other disciplines). Get paid to go to college! Ah, I was hooked.
That was essentially the first time that I learned one of the advantages of science funding for innovation and growth in the United States. Research grants, given to US colleges, support graduate students, who are able to then obtain a higher education and ultimately contribute to innovation and knowledge advancement. I doubt I would have considered graduate school without the benefits of a research assistantship.
Of course, one might argue that such knowledge advancement isn't all that useful. After all, scientists can go off on all sorts of tangents that appear to have little connection with reality, and sometimes I'm guilty as charged.
However, that was not my experience in graduate school. I worked with the MM4 and MM5 mesoscale models, which were developed by Penn State and the National Center for Atmospheric Research. These models were just beginning to be used outside those institutions for a variety of applications. They were eventually replaced by the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model. That model now has over 30,000 registered users in over 150 countries and is used by many private companies in the US. Some of my fellow students at the University of Washington went on to form or work in private companies that use the WRF and other models and statistical techniques for renewable energy forecasting. An example is 3TIER in Seattle (now owned by Vaisala), a renewable energy forecasting company. The WRF model is also widely used today by weather companies providing content for broadcast and online media. It represents an excellent example of the trickle down of research into future innovation and economic growth.
In 1995, I began my tenure on the faculty at the University of Utah. Academics like to joke that you can only reproduce yourself once (i.e., have one PHD student) unless you are at Harvard and then you can do it twice. This is a good quip, but also out-dated, at least in my field where my students remain gainfully employed in government and private sectors. The government jobs are often related to weather forecasting, public safety, homeland security, or national defense. The private sector jobs include a number of technical positions in the renewable-energy, insurance, and national-security sectors. Here's a list, although I've written it in a quasi-anonymous way:
PHD#1: Lead Forecaster, National Weather Service
PHD#2: Private sector national security firm
PHD#3: University professor
PHD#4: Several positions involving numerical modeling and forecasting for insurance and wind-power firms
PHD#5: Joint research appointment with renewable energy company and university
PHD#6: Researcher at government lab
PHD#7: Research meteorologist, National Weather Service
PHD#8: US Air Force
PHD#9: Numerical modeling and forecasting with private sector firm
As can be seen above, investments in research by the US government create the technical and scientific leaders of the future. It develops capable young women and men who contribute to the greater good of the country not just at universities, but also in the government, private, and military sectors. Threats to science discourse and funding, including in the Earth sciences, are not just threats to science, but also long-term innovation, economic growth, and homeland security.