UPDATED: Major Funding for Science Friday Ends; What will happen next?

It is hard to imagine a world without science Friday.

But it is easy to image a world in which our collective respect for the National Science Foundation, who is pulling their funding for the program, is seriously compromised. Also, it is easy to imagine a world in which we do NOT renew our memberships to NPR because they are ALSO pulling funding.

UPDATE: Ira Flatow, host of Science Friday, has added a comment below which you should read.

As you know, I tend to be bit radical in these areas. I may very well shift my personal donation to Sci Fri despite Ira’s suggestion, or perhaps split the donation between the two, for a year, in order to make the point. Also, as soon as I can find out to whom a letter should be addressed at NSF I’ll let you know.

Also, since NSF funding is set by the congress, a letter to your members of congress would be helpful.

Here’s the word from Ira Flatow:

We at SciFri are facing severe financial difficulties, i.e. raising money. NSF [National Science Foundation] has turned us down for continuing funding, saying they love what we do, we are sorely needed, but it’s not their job to fund us. At the same time, NPR has said the same thing, telling us that if we want to stay on the air, etc, we now have to raise all our own money. Despite what listeners may think, NPR only gives us about 10 percent of our funding.

You can help by donating directly to Science Friday, here.

But if you do that,you should also go here, the contact page for NPR, and click the boxes for “Contact an NPR Department or Service” and “NPR Management” and give them a piece of your mind, because obviously, they have lost their minds and could use some more.

My note said:

At present, my family puts out a bit of cash every month as sustaining members for NPR. This will end if you end funding to Science Friday. This is not subject to negotiation.


Greg Laden

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17 thoughts on “UPDATED: Major Funding for Science Friday Ends; What will happen next?

  1. But Greg, you aren’t supporting NPR directly. You’re supporting your local public radio station. This highlights the way funding for public radio in the U.S. has become seriously fractured. Everybody has their hand in the pockets of local public radio stations’ listeners. Local public radio is in direct competition with National Public Radio, Public Radio International, American Public Media, Pacifica, etc. With the increasing popularity of podcasting, local public radio stations are competing with other local public radio stations and, now, they’re competing for their listeners’ money with the very programs they air too. Listen to just about any public radio show today, and you’re going to be asked to give directly, either to the national syndicator, the program itself, or the local station.

    If you give a $100 to your local public radio station, that money goes to pay for salaries, equipment, royalties, locally produced programming and syndicated programming from NPR, PRI, APM, and/or Pacifica. Programs like Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Talk of the Nation (TotN’s Friday slot is Science Friday) are very expensive, so if you stop donating to your local station you’ll be indirectly hurting NPR, but mostly you’ll just be hurting your local public radio station.

  2. Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting people don’t donate directly to Science Friday or not complain to NPR. I just wanted to point out that local public radio stations are not the same thing as NPR and how fractured the current funding model for public broadcasting is.

  3. Leo, yes, you are correct. And KNOW, my station, is a reasonably powerful station. When they get a couple of hundred angry Twin Citiers telling them that their donations will not be given directly to Science Friday instead of KNOW, phone calls will be made.

    Frankly, I’d love to see a few dozen local stations have a drop, leveling, or dip of some kind in support as several thousand listeners give their 30 bucks a month to Science Friday instead of their local station. Frankly, I’d like to see KNOW lay some people off and cancel some programming. NPR and the entire network of stations needs to fund and develop MORE science programming in this world where industrial and corporate forces are essentially engineering the DECREASE in science programming for the specific purposed of creating a world in which things like Global CLimate Change Denialism can actually be at the negotiating table in Washington or at international meetings.

    My wife, a science teacher, is at a science conference for the day, and she is the one who writes the NPR check (actually, a monthly credit card payment). When she comes back we’ll talk, and I’m sure it will be an easy matter to cancel that and start sending the money directly to Science Friday.

    If it turns out that Science Friday gets overfunded, maybe the NPR stations can get on their hands and knees and beg Ira for support for some of their own science funding!

    Indeed, Science Friday is inadequate. We need a Science Monday and Wednesday too!

    A can of worms has been opened, dagnabbit!


  4. I can tell you that the likely result of tons of people telling KNOW that they’re decreasing donations to KNOW because of this ludicrous situation with Science Friday will simply be for KNOW to drop Talk of the Nation. NPR tends to be very inflexible with their programs. I love much of the programming that NPR produces and/or distributes but I really despise what NPR the organization has become. NPR’s CEO, Vivian Schiller, is particularly scary.

    The best way to get more science programming on public radio is for local stations to produce it their selves. Remember, it’s *public* radio. You, and everybody reading this blog, can become involved with their local station. Chances are, they’ll jump at having a locally produced science program if people will volunteer to host and produce it. If not, then get people on your station’s board and change it from within.

    But of course I agree with you that Science Friday is an awesome program and if people have the money to spare, they should give as much as possible. Also, through the end of 2010, every dollar given to Science Friday will be matched 2:1 by the Noyce Foundation.

  5. Thank you for the support you are showing Science Friday. Please DO NOT stop giving funds to your local station. They need all the support they can get. And, if your station purchases Science Friday from NPR, they can use that money to buy SciFri.

    I do not believe that Science Friday will go off the air. We are taking steps to assure that we remain viable in this tough market. The Noyce Foundation and the Sloan foundation, along with corporations like Northrup Grumman are part of our major underwriters. We are seeking support from other major foundations and corporations who recognize the value we add to the public discussions about science and technology.

    Thanks again. We are all in this, together.

  6. MPR has pissed me off so much that I have not renewed my subscription for some time now, but believe me, they are going to hear about this from me.

    (Maybe they’ll finally quit sending me renewal requests care of my dead father?) 🙁

  7. SciFri has to pay its own way, and yet Barbara Bradley Haggerty still cashes a NPR paycheck every week producing insightful reporting like today’s story on Morning Edition about how black evangelical churches are full of homophobes just like white evangelical churches are, but the homophobes in the black churches are homophobic in their own special “black” way. Truly, there is no justice in this world.

  8. Does this:

    At the same time, NPR has said the same thing, telling us that if we want to stay on the air, etc, we now have to raise all our own money. Despite what listeners may think, NPR only gives us about 10 percent of our funding.

    mean that NPR is reducing funding, or only that it can’t come up with any more funding than it already provides? It’s not entirely clear.

  9. Science Friday is one of the things which I adore and listen to every week. Thank you, Ira Flatow and all the people who create that awesome program. I will continue my contrbutions, at Ira’s urging, but I will also express my disappointment in their funding decision to NPR *and* to the NSF. Encouraging public, far-reaching science programs should be within the remit of the NSF.

  10. SciFri is something I look forward to every Friday. Other than that I listen to TOTN on occasion and MPR The Current as my staple.

  11. My email to the Informal Science Education program:
    Explanation for apparent ISE mission failure, re absence of crucial grant funding area?
    Greetings NSF DRL’s Informal Science Education (ISE) program directors and staff:

    From Program Solicitation NSF 10-565 (link), I see from the Synopsis that the Program:
    “…supports innovation in anywhere, anytime, lifelong learning
    – through investments in research, development, infrastructure, and capacity-building
    – for STEM learning outside formal school settings.”

    I’m inferring from this synopsis – and please correct me if I’m wrong – that the reason Science Friday’s funding was discontinued, was that the radio show wasn’t considered to be “innovation”.

    If I’m wrong about this, please set me straight.

    If I’m correct, wouldn’t the ISE Program’s “it must be innovative” funding requirement have the effect of _precluding_ funding of already-successful science outreach efforts?

    And if so, isn’t ISE falling short of its mission?
    (isn’t ISE supposed to _foster_ “unprecedented energy… to promote public understanding of–and engagement with–STEM”? (link))

  12. The “We’ll fund you big for five years (or some other number) then you’ll be fine after that” style of funding has become more and more common, and is absurd. This is the pattern as well for RTG’s, which can be tens of millions of dollars over about a decade (if renewed once) which is then supposed to be kept up after that from mysterious sources of money that few research and training grant institutions have ever found.

  13. I got a reply from NSF, & it’s all a little confusing.

    Ira of SciFri says “NSF [National Science Foundation] has turned us down for continuing funding”.

    I sent the above email saying “WTF”, or words to that effect.

    Al DeSena of NSF interpreted our concern narrowly, saying “Science Friday funding was not discontinued. If you look at the abstracts of our active awards, you’ll see that Ira has an award that runs from 2009 – 11.”
    …which is true, or half-true for 2011 – SciFri’s NSF funding ends in mid-2011.

    From all this, & Greg L.’s comment that “the ‘We’ll fund you big for five years [then you’re on your own]’ style of funding has become more and more common, and is absurd”, sounds like that’s what happened to SciFri – the turn-down was a non-extension of NSF funding.

    DeSena’s email makes an effort to mollify, saying few proposals are funded, & many worthy innovative ones fail to get funded, for budget reasons.

    Then DeSena mentions a different, more suitable funding area:

    “the ISE program has a “project type” called Broad Implementation, which was designed to allow for “scale up” of work that has already proven its impact. This new project type was added to try to address [the need for] “funding already-successful outreach efforts.”

    Q – But what would need to be “scaled up” about SciFri? (Besides the _duration_ of funding…)

    I guess we need to know if SciFri has applied for Broad Implementation funding to continue the existing show, and if it does so, what’s the likelihood that it’d get the grant (since there’s no “scale-up” required); & if probable, then was there sufficient notice provided to let the SciFri folks realize that they needed to apply there?

  14. Sounds like Broad Implementation is *not* applicable to successful projects like Science Friday after all, which means NSF’s funding classification still has a nasty gap.
    (- from DeSena’s reply that “Broad Implementation is a project type where the case must be made that thereâ??s a much larger or different audience for the deliverables that have been already produced, not simply to continue what is already being done. … guidelines, 10-565”)

    I wonder if there’s a way to find out what NSF public servant person or committee set up the funding categories to exclude already-existing successful projects, and if they have any plans to fix it.

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