November/December 1997


It is not news to SSA members that science is undergoing a profound metamorphosis, and these changes are affecting the way "seismologists do seismology." Since the early 1990's federal funding of Earth science has shrunk, and unless federal policy changes, the recent budget deficit deal will put further pressure on research dollars. Further, some members of Congress seriously question the value of federal funding of basic research; the phrase "curiosity-driven science" is freely used as a metaphor for worthless academic exercises. The public is only slightly more generous in its view of science and only embraces science when there is a tangible, short-term goal to be achieved. Probably every SSA member has been asked the rhetorical question "When is the Big One going to destroy L.A.?" Since we can't answer the question with a simple sound bite like "On July 4, 2002", the public rightfully wants to know what we have been doing with all that research. The changes in this country's science paradigm have caused both fear and plunging morale within the scientific community.

Two years ago, the SSA Board of Directors (BOD) decided that the society should take a proactive role in shaping this country's policy for funding of seismological research. The BOD created a government relations committee which has worked with a Washington, D.C.-based company called The Federal Affairs Office to track legislation and policy which affects the SSA membership. The goal of this experiment is to get the message out that seismology is a socially relevant science and that a solid and stable funding infrastructure is in the national interest. The traditional triumvirate of federal funding for seismology is split between NSF, the USGS, and DOD. The total research dollars available to the nongovernment seismology research community in 1994 was approximately $21.2 million; in 1997 this number was approximately $15.4 million. When Congress began working on the 1998 budget, all three sources of funding were slated for a reduction. However, it now looks like seismological research funding will actually increase about $1 million in fiscal 1998. This gain is the result of some hard work, and by no means should the seismological community assume that the worst is over. In the future, SSA members will have to become individually involved with making the case for our science. I strongly urge you to subscribe to the SSA's legislative action e-mail list. It is vital that you are informed about what is happening--and more importantly, how you can help!

The SSA's governmental relations committee operates by supplying information to the membership. It is up to the membership to make things happen.

Terry C. Wallace
Professor, University of Arizona
SSA Governmental Relations Committee

To subscribe to the SSA e-mail list on government activities, send an email message to actionlist@seismosoc.org. The first word in the subject line should be "subscribe." (You can unsubscribe by sending a message to the same address but the first word in the subject line would be "unsubscribe.")

To send a letter to the editor regarding this opinion or to write your own opinion, contact Editor John Ebel by email or telephone him at (617) 552-8300.

Posted: 18 January 1999