Radical budget cuts are threatening not just US science, but its way of life
PESTILENCE, war, famine, death. I recently came face-to-face with all four at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, in a rare viewing of Albrecht Dürer’s 15th-century woodcut Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
In Dürer’s time fear of the apocalypse loomed large. It wasn’t so different when I was a child. Fear of nuclear Armageddon was a constant presence, but it helped fuel the US government’s investment in science and science education, propelling the country to the top – and directly benefiting me.
Now the fears of the 1960s have receded, the US government – or parts of it – are reopening the door to the four horsemen through a radical retrenchment of the science programme.
Scientists are sometimes criticised for exaggerating the importance of their work, but I think they underplay it. Science is the main force that keeps the horsemen at bay. The US still leads the world in science spending overall. But if the spectacular shrinkage of government science funding continues, we will be inviting all four of them into our homes.