Scientific research deserves federal funds
Supporters of Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., often sport bumper stickers on their cars that boisterously proclaim, “My Congressman IS a rocket scientist.” Perhaps Holt’s status as a well-educated man of science is why he tends to perk up whenever he speaks — especially when he laments the current state of funding for scientific research in the United States. According to a recent opinion piece of his published on NewJerseyNewsroom.com, “As a share of the U.S. economy, the government’s support for research and development (R&D) has fallen by nearly two-thirds since the 1960’s.” It’s scary to think that could be true in the first place, but it’s even more distressing that it turns out Holt is not blowing smoke. In 1964, as a percentage of GDP, federal funding for scientific research and development was 1.92 percent. By 2008, that number had dropped dramatically to .73 percent.
The problem is not just that this incredible decline occurred, but that funding may very well be slashed even further as the federal government seeks to cut everything in sight in order to reign-in errant spending. This stands in stark contrast to the vision of America President Barack Obama is fond of positing: An America where progress is made and the future is born. How can such a vision ever be realized if we slash research and development funds even more than they have already been slashed?
Some argue that, even though the government is giving less to research and development, the public sector is stepping in to fill the funding void with its own money. They point to the fact that overall spending on research and development, which includes not just federal money, but also money from private industries and universities, has only dropped 3 percent in the same time span, from 2.88 percent of GDP in 1964 to 2.79 percent in 2008. However, as Patrick Clemins, the director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s R&D Budget and Policy Program, pointed out to PolitiFact.com, “industry invests in late stage research, things that they can turn a profit on in a relatively short time frame.” This means that private funding does not encourage the sort of risky projects that lead to massive breakthroughs and position America as a world leader. In order for that to happen, the federal government needs to get back in the funding game, and quickly.