A rough estimate of the number of scientists globally

I didn't understand how valuable it was to have access to microscopes and lab space until I tried using our kitchen for experiments after I retired.

When we were first married, I got away with this for a while. I put a few dead birds in the freezer, some mouse nests in the fridge, and used the kitchen table for my insect collection. I had forgotten the difficulties this all involved until I retired from the university. Hey, the mouse nests were in a paper sack. No big deal!

My little experiment last week on meteorite craters, using cooking flour and chocolate, cost money that my wife thinks was ill-spent.

Now, I think the cost is entirely worth it in furthering man's knowledge. Except a lot of that kind of out-of-pocket expenditures can really cut into the money available for guitars. Would I rather improve mankind's position or make music? Life is complicated.

The truth is, I probably can't afford to do either one, and my wife assures me this is true. She is equally adamant about mouse nests in her refrigerator. I have completely assured her the nests are so "last degree program." All I need now is a place to boil down plant extracts to make ink. The days of making great discoveries with nothing but a kite and Leyden Jar, or grinding your own microscope lenses, are long gone. In fact, I am not even sure we can afford to keep doing science at all.

Did you know that in 2018, the federal budget spent $176.8 billion dollars for research and development? Businesses spent $375,000,000,000 on scientific research in 2016. Yes, that is in the billions. At least, that's what the National Science Foundation said, if you think they are reliable.

I really appreciate capitalism's contribution to the well-being of humanity. Somehow though, I think I probably paid for it in the end. U.S. universities and colleges spent a combined $68.8 billion on research and development in 2015. But that's different because they get their money from the government. Oh, yeah. Wait a minute. I was still working in 2015 and I didn't see any of that money.

I mean, come on, you'd think someone could spare fifty bucks out of $176.8 billion. But of course, the administrative overhead of giving me fifty bucks would make the total many times that amount. So with no university to charge it off to, I think I'll just play my guitar.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science says federal spending on R&D, as a share of the gross domestic product, has been in a long, slow slide from the 1970s. That was when they say it peaked just above 2%. Remember, that figure is from the American Association for the ADVANCEMENT of Science. I think they might have an agenda. Besides, they're wrong. Research spending has been on a slow increase since the year 2000.

I have read that the United States is declining in its domination of scientific research. I don't know if the reduced budget, the public education system, video games, government mismanagement, the deep state, lax parenting, softening of college standards, or the alignment of the stars is the cause of our declining scientific dominance.

I am not even sure that there is a decline. I just read it somewhere.

The more pressing issue here is that I need some scientific equipment in order to earn a Nobel Prize, and no one will give it to me. Oh sure, many want free college education for the young people. Well, what about the poor, retired, independent scientists of the world? Doesn't anyone feel sorry for them?

OK, that's just a rhetorical question. Don't answer it. The point is that if we really want to make the world a better place, science needs more money. The American Association for the Advancement of Science says so.

Gary McCallister, gmccallister@bresnan.net, is a professor emeritus of biological sciences at Colorado Mesa University.

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