National Science Foundation

The agreement announced Tuesday, however modest, is a step in the right direction.

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At the heart of our fiscal challenge is a clash between the present and the future, and the future is losing. Intended or not, the top priorities for Republicans and Democrats add up to a relentless squeeze on discretionary spending. That means less for education, less for research, less for infrastructure—the vital public investments that have nourished innovation and growth throughout our history.

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Both plans jeopardize America's ability to invest in its future.

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I’ve been enjoying Niall Ferguson’s new PBS series on the rise of civilization in Western Europe. One of the many lessons is that other societies—like China and the Ottoman Empire—were seemingly well positioned to lead the world into an industrial revolution, but at key points, their leaders rejected scholarship, scientific inquiry, and trade, while, haltingly, those things began to flourish in Western Europe, its universities, and its chartered commercial and learning institutions, like the Royal Society of London.

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The economic crisis in Europe reached its latest crescendo last night, as Greece managed, through furious last-minute negotiations, to convince its creditors to give it some more breathing room. But if the Greeks have managed to stave off ruin for a few more minutes, nothing has essentially changed in their situation: Their economy is still in shambles.  The burning question on most observers’ minds, and rightfully so, is whether the Greeks will ever manage to pay back their debts. But at this stage, it’s also worth considering how we ended up on the precipice of such catastrophe at all.

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This article is a contribution to 'Is There Anything That Can Be Done? A TNR Symposium On The Economy.' Click here to read other contributions to the series. There are two facts about our current economic situation that can no longer be denied: Our economy is in desperate need of government stimulus, and our political system won’t abide any increase in our national deficit. Taken together, the two points seem to bode poorly for the United States. But we shouldn’t be too quick to assume a contradiction.

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Note This

Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information Before the Modern Age By Ann M. Blair (Yale University Press, 397 pp., $45) In 1945, in an article called “As We May Think,” Vannevar Bush evoked a specter for the modern age beyond the bomb: information overload.

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The New War on Science

[Guest post by Stephen Wunker] Congressional Republicans keep insisting that deep cuts to government spending will help boost growth, and create jobs, in the short term. But that claim doesn’t make a lot of sense. Most economists think that federal spending on public works and aid to the states kept the recession from being much worse. What about the future? You wouldn’t know it from the Republican leadership, or their many cheerleaders in the press, but government spending can help bolster the economy in the long term as well.

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This past weekend, tornadoes battered a number of states around the country, killing over 40 people in 15 states, including 24 in North Carolina. Experts believe the weekend could be one of the worst three-day tornado outbreaks in the country's history.  Unfortunately, tornadoes are difficult to study: though clues are available in local atmospheric data, tornadoes are so spontaneous that tracking and taking measurements from them is problematic.

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There’s a reason politicians are always loath to cut government budgets: It typically means hacking away at programs people like, and painful cuts lead to scary headlines. In Arizona, the state legislature recently cut off organ transplants for Medicaid patients, and the press responded with tales about sick patients who could die as a result. Not pretty. That’s why, when House Republicans pledged this week to cut federal spending by some $88 billion when the budget comes up for renewal in March, they shied away from specifics.

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