It's hard to avoid the omnipresent rhetoric being tossed around regarding the economy these days. Nearly everybody has an opinion on the state of our economy and how to fix it - and lately, on President Obama's economic stimulus package in general. In speeches, the president keeps making the point that we'll be investing heavily in green energy and science and then correlates that investment directly with job creation. So the big question is: how exactly does the economic recovery package (should it pass the impending Senate vote) try to create jobs in the science industry?

Because the full text of the bill weighs in at well over 1000 pages, I must confess I haven't actually read it. Luckily, the government has been nice enough to break the bill down into manageable points for those of us who don't understand legal jargon. The proposals for science and technology generally fall under two categories, each of which is designed to stimulate the economy - tax cuts and rebates that put money directly back into the pocket of the consumer and funding for various projects designed to stimulate certain industries and create jobs in those industries.

New Science Funding: The economic recovery plan, which the Senate will be voting on soon, contains numerous provisions to stimulate scientific research and development, as well as green technologies. Photo Credit: University of Wisconsin

One important aspect of the plan involves a huge amount of funding for research and development - $10 billion is allocated to funding pure scientific research. Of course, this includes renovations and expansions of existing facilities, which could create jobs for people without scientific credentials, most of the funding ought to directly help the research community. For instance, the National Science Foundation is slated to receive $3 billion, $2 billion of which will fund independent research. The NSF can currently fund about 25% of the proposals they receive, and the extra cash should up this percentage, at least by a few points. Additionally, the National Institute of Health and Biomedical Research is receiving $2 billion, $1.5 billion of which is supposed to go directly to funding projects, and other big R&D winners include NASA and the Department of Energy. All said, this doesn't necessarily add up to jobs created, at least in the short term. It will probably enable a lot of researchers to keep their jobs, which is better than laying them off, and may create industries that hire in the long run.

The real job creation that may come out of the science funding section of the bill may come from renovation projects. The NIH, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Agricultural Research Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey are all slated to receive funding to complete backlogged maintenance or renovate buildings and facilities, creating jobs that can be filled by non-scientists. In addition, the much talked-about $6 billion broadband internet extension combines an infrastructure project with a technical project. The administration is probably right that the manpower required will create jobs, although their claim that the economy gets a 10-to-1 return on broadband projects is somewhat dubious.

If the bill passes the Senate, it looks as if the place to be is in the green energy industry. There are 17 different projects listed, each addressing a different area of renewable energy. Some of the larger projects include $11 billion to update the electrical grid and make it more efficient, as well as $8 billion in new loans for renewable energy projects. More specific projects include $200 million for electric vehicle production and $2 billion for improvements in battery technology - presumably so that we can power our cars with them.

Many in the scientific community are relieved that so much of the bill is dedicated to technology and research. America undoubtedly has a huge part to play in reducing pollution and dependence on oil. But the bill is an economic recovery plan, not a science recovery plan - and I don't think I'm alone in hoping it does enough in the short term as well as the long term.

Read about all the economic recovery bill's allocations here.