Boom, Bust, Repeat

Falling Behind: Boom, Bust & the Global Race for Scientific Talent (Princeton) explicates the strange forces that have driven U.S. science funding since World War II. Michael S. Teitelbaum, a Harvard Law School senior researcher, describes the repeated cycles of alarm (national security, competitiveness and other triggers) leading to Congressional largesse, followed by indifference and stagnation, which itself can fuel the next alarm. Teitelbaum gracefully navigates the often-bogus data that have been retreaded to foment fear and steer resources and favors toward research and training in the STEM disciplines, often to the advantage of particular fields for arbitrary reasons. One of his most cogent critiques targets various interest groups’ bizarre habit of dumping elementary, high school and higher ed math and science into one rhetorical stewpot. Despite some arguably necessary repetition, Falling Behind should be a touchstone for anyone wishing to understand how U.S. science funding really works.