Matthias Felleisen

Apr 29 2019

Changed in version 1.0: Mon Apr 29 10:38:46 EDT 2019, initial release

Administrators from the University of Pennsylvania recently lobbied in a WSJ essay for more government research funding by painting the usual scary picture of China’s accelerated effort. Their article correctly points out that over the past few decades the allocation of research funding has shifted from agencies interested in fundamental research, such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), to the National Institute on Health (NIH). In particular, security-related research funding on “computing, artificial intelligence, physics and more” has suffered. Similarly, they repeat the standard idea that China graduates many more engineers than the US. A couple of days later, the WSJ also published a letter from a former NSF program director supporting these arguments with the well-known slogan that NSF seems to stand for not sufficient funds.

Here are some response on this topic:
  • Instead of focusing on science, NSF’s Computing Division routinely demands that researchers budget for and spend time on social engineering instead of software engineering. Is it a good idea to allocate NSF funds for purely political goals?

    For those who doubt NSF’s eagerness to be politically correct, here is a verbatim excerpt from Review 1 on the “broader impact” of proposal 02452:

    There is no information about other possible impacts [of the proposed research on compilers] such as how underrepresented groups will be included.

  • A considerable amount of research funding for computing and physics also goes through military agencies. These agencies have financed many innovations in computing, see the Internet or Artificial Intelligence. I conjecture that this is also true for physical sciences. Over the past 30 years since the Soviet Union disappeared, Congress has also systematically cut the funding for the military and its research agencies. Why are these authors not pointing out these cuts?

  • Google canceled a contract with the U.S. military because its left-wing employees protested. Yet the company is about to launch operations in China that will undoubtedly help the government with its efforts to oppress its citizens. Should we still count Google’s research funding in Artificial Intelligence in the U.S. column?

  • Anybody who teaches at the Masters level in the U.S. can see that we can still graduate coders from undergraduate programs who have superior skills compared to the graduates of equivalent programs in China. Are Chinese graduates from undergraduate engineering programs as well prepared as U.S. graduates?

(Will NSF put me on its blacklist now?)