Reporting on the federal science funding process over the last year has been like watching a drama unfold. Especially since, after careful scrutiny, one gets the impression that the players--the legislators, the administrators, the activists, the lobbyists--can only really carry out their scripted roles.

Curtains parted last fall to reveal a soaring economy and an unprecedented budget surplus. There was going to be a research bonanza, a renewed commitment to R&D. Even deficit hawks such as Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) got into the act, cosponsoring resolutions supporting science. Congress was going to double the National Institutes of Health's budget over five years. Lawmakers were going to double all nondefense R&D over 10 years. In a dance of telecommunication choreography, aides of high-ranking members of the House and Senate flooded the fax machines of media outlets with press releases touting their support for science. Months of rhetoric and several budget deadline...

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