Friday, May 06, 2005

The Imagination Drain

The Los Angeles Times weighs in with an editorial on US funding of basic research.

"The Pentagon fumble in which military officials essentially published on the Web the full version of a supposedly censored report was news last week. But occurring beneath the news radar is a more fundamental cyber-security problem: the Bush administration's cutting the funding of university-based information technology research by nearly half over the last three years.
Since 1961, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, or DARPA, has distributed IT research dollars in largely open-ended grants to universities. The grants encouraged basic research aimed not at marketable innovations but at basic scientific mysteries. DARPA and its investments have paid off handsomely nevertheless.
Its legendary role in developing the Internet as a free-for-all instead of a commercially owned space is widely known. Less so are its militarily and commercially important developments, such as global positioning satellites, the JPEG file format for efficiently storing photographs and Websearching technologies like those later refined by Google."

"Though administration officials say they are calling for a 5.5% increase in the government's total R&D budget for next year, virtually every dollar of that is earmarked for "deliverables" — Pentagon-speak for technologies that can be quickly deployed in a particular military arena.
DARPA was created at the height of Cold War paranoia. It was founded, however, on trust — on a belief that the United States could achieve global leadership only by attracting the best and brightest minds. The new regime typifies a very different philosophy, based less on faith in ideas than on a desire to narrow and ultimately suppress them."

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