Defending Research: The Politics of the Pentagon’s Research Budget

Last updated: June 16, 2015

Working Paper | Data | Code

This working paper investigates the changes to the Pentagon's research budget over the past twenty years. There are lots of pretty graphs. One key takeaway is that many of the claims made about the Pentagon's policies toward research need to be more critically evaluated. The department has not cut back on basic science research (in fact, it has expanded such research), although the vast, vast majority of dollars have been and will continue to be spent on testing of new weapons systems.

Undergraduate Thesis

Academic Revolution and Regional Innovation: The Case of Computer Science at Stanford 1957-1970

I haven't published the full thesis, but here is a shorter conference paper.

There remains little consensus in regional studies on the origins of Silicon Valley or other innovation hubs. Different approaches, reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of the field, have examined the issue from institutional, cultural, and network analysis perspectives. At the same time, historians of science are beginning to construct a more detailed narrative of the development of computer science in the United States, particularly in the divide between academic theory and industrial practice.

This study embraces these two literatures by analyzing the case of Computer Science at Stanford University and its connection to the rise of Silicon Valley. It finds that the dispute between computer science faculty and other basic scientists led to an academic culture in the Computer Science department that encouraged research on theory, while at the same time, limited funding from the university developed a pragmatic culture that encouraged engagement with industry and created valuable knowledge networks that helped to spark the development of Silicon Valley. This study provides the first archival-based research analysis of computer science at Stanford, and will be useful to scholars in history of computing, history of higher education, regional studies as well as scholars in science, technology and society.

This research was funded by a Stanford University Undergraduate Advising and Research Major Grant.

Other Undergraduate Research Papers

These papers are ordered in reverse chronological order.

Turning the Corner: Land Use, New Urbanism and Tyson's Corner

Link to the paper

In this paper, Sunny Vanderboll and I investigate the proposed redevelopment of Tysons Corner, Virginia. At present, Tysons Corner is an "edge city" of Washington, D.C., attracting about 80,000 more commuters than actual residents. Tysons Corner is also home to one of the largest shopping centers in the United States, drawing in thousands of shoppers per day. This creates traffic problems and delays. We analyze the proposal to extend the new Silver Line of the D.C. Metro system to Tysons Corner and to redevelop the city as a walkable, transit-oriented community. The proposed redevelopment includes rezoning to promote higher density residential areas centered around major transit sites, and we analyze how effective zoning can be as a tool for transit-oriented redevelopment.

Software Errors and the Patriot Missile Battery during the First Gulf War

Link to the paper

Despite the increasing reliance of human society on computers and software, programming errors remain a commonplace in today's world. Such errors can be benign, such as a crashing YouTube video, but the consequences of a software error can prove deadly in situations where the fate of human lives rests in computer control. This became quite clear in the case of Patriot Missile system, a counter-ballistic missile defense system used extensively during the First Gulf War. Due to a programming error involving the translation of integers into floating point numbers, the countermeasure's targeting system became increasingly inaccurate with the system's length of operation. The error was discovered following the failure of the Patriot missiles to halt an attack by Saddam Hussein which killed 28 American service members. This story raises important ethical questions for companies and programmers who are meeting tight deadlines for mission-critical systems.

Origins and Conflicts in South and North Korean Higher Education (1945-1975)

Link to the paper

This paper looked at the influences of external forces on the development of North and South Korea's higher education systems. I argue that both systems were heavily influenced by external forces (the USSR for the North and the US for the South) in the immediate period following World War II. However, that influence would become politically unpalatable by the 1960s, and the leaders of both countries attempted to indigenize the further development of the system. I argue that both leaders used Koreanization as a rhetorical device, but that the fundamental development remained foreign in character.

The Central Corridor Light Rail: Re-envisioning Transit Culture in Minneapolis/St. Paul

Link to the paper

This paper looked at some of the potential options for transportation planning in the Twin Cities, with a specific focus on the Central Corridor Light Rail system that will connect downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul. While the state has put many resources into the trunk highway system, it has only recently begun to develop its rail infrastructure. However, rail has already been quite popular in the region as seen in the recent opening of the Hiawatha LRT. As Minnesota considers additional rail lines to the Southwest suburbs and elsewhere, the state must continue to develop relationships with different constituencies. This paper interviewed four of the players in the region for their take, and recommended that the Metropolitan Council be given more regional authority to coordinate urban development.

DES Encryption Algorithm

Link to the paper

This paper provides an overview of the classic DES Encryption algorithm, including coverage of its history, the implementation of the algorithm, and an analysis of some of the main lines of attacks of the algorithm. The paper includes a summary of the major advances of encryption away from the DES standard, including Triple-DES and AES. This paper was written as part of the Writing in the Major requirements in Math 110: Applied Number Theory and Field Theory.

Picking up the Pieces: DNA Identification of Mass Disaster Sites

Link to the paper

One of the biggest developments in recent biological history has been the sequencing of the human genome. While the project has had great impacts on human health, it has also ushered in a new era of identification methods for body tissues. Some of these techniques were developed for historical purposes to determine the mDNA of human fossils and glean new information about the evolution of Homo sapiens. More recently, such techniques have been used to determine the identities of the victims at mass grave and disaster sites. This paper takes a look at the techniques used in these identification methods and connects the scientific issues of these techniques to the ethical and political issues that arise from them.

Genomics Essays: A Series of Three Papers

A link to Genomics Paper 1, Genomics Paper 2 and Genomics Paper 3

As part of the class Genomics: A Technical and Cultural Revolution (Gene 109Q), we wrote three research papers on the most recent advances in various areas of genomics. The first of these papers, entitled "Small Organisms, Giant Questions: D. Melanaogaster's use in the Public Interest," looked at the politics behind funding the sequencing of a model organism like Melanogaster and how it can indirectly benefit human health. The second paper, entitled "The Med School SNP: rs17070145 and Better Human Memory Performance" looked at how a Single Nucleotide Polymorphism can change a gene (in this case the KIBRA gene which has links to memory performance) and cause an effect. Finding these SNPs is the goal of Genome Wide Association Studies, which have been hotly debated in the last year or two. The third paper was entitled "The Pharmacogenomics of Zolpidem: Current Research and Future Avenues" and explored the different rates of metabolism of Zolpidem (Valium) in people with different genes. These changes can have a dramatic effect on the actual level of dosage delivered to a patient, and are part of the coming wave of personalized medicine.

The Leaning Tower: Media Coverage and the Perils of Dialoguing in the 2006 Michigan Gubernatorial Election

Link to the paper and accompanying graphs

This paper looked at the race for governor in Michigan during the 2006 election cycle between incumbent Jennifer Granholm (D) and challenger Dick DeVos (R). The race appeared to be an uphill climb for Granholm, who faced punishing poll numbers and the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. She was also facing a talented businessman who had built up a major local company - the perfect message for job creation. However, DeVos would end up losing the election against Granholm by a wide margin. How did a candidate so strongly positioned find himself so far behind by Election Day? This paper uses comm theory methodologies to look at the media coverage throughout the campaign. Using data gathered for this paper, I conclude that the mistake the DeVos campaign made was "dialoguing" on the issue of job protection instead of job creation - a crucial mistake since DeVos' poll numbers were significantly weaker on protection than creation. The paper looks at the media's coverage of economic issues in general and the Single Business Tax in particular and how the press set the agenda for voters throughout the election.

Building a Better Biologist: Codes of Conduct, Biological Weapons and the 2008 Negotiation Process

Link to the paper

This paper looked at the increasing dangers of dual-use technology in the biological sciences (technology that can have beneficial consequences while also potentially increasing the abilities of biological weapons). One of the issues in this area is a lack of awareness and coordination: unlike nuclear weapons, biological weapons are significantly easier and cheaper to build (although their consistency is significantly less sure). The Biological Weapons Convention banned the use of these weapons, but enforcement clauses have not been added due to the difficulty of garnering consensus of the language of the bill. This paper looks at the process in the 2008 negotiating round of this treaty and what the various players discussed and the final outcome. Again, no agreement was forthcoming, despite the hopes of many governments and NGOs. This remains a problem even today.

Interactive Heritage: Oman's Shura Culture and Deliberative Democracy

Link to the paper

Perhaps one of the most important elements of the Bush Administration's foreign policy was a push for democracy throughout the world, most notably in the Middle East. I investigated the definition of democracy within the context of Oman, focusing on the use of deliberative democracy as a means of guaranteeing a voice of the people within the context of an authoritarian government. The paper looks at the Majlis al-Shura, a democratically-elected council that advises the sultan of Oman on all-manner of issues. While the paper was ultimately underwhelming, it did raise critical personal questions such as the extent that institutions must go before being considered democratic.