Science and R&D

In an economy powered by innovation and technology, more proactive R&D policies are key to success.

Are We a Nation of Homer Hickmans or Homer Simpsons?

October 4, 2011
| Blogs & Op-eds

The 54th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union is a good time to take stock of how the country is reacting to the innovation challenges we face today. Beginning almost immediate in the fall of 1957 and continuing through the 1960s, the U.S. made significant investments in science, education, R&D and aerospace and it paid off in the form of new jobs, even new industries. By contrast, when President Obama tried to rally us to make similar investments by declaring a “Sputnik moment” in 2011, we have seen little meaningful change in policy. If anything, the public mood seems to cut public investments. In this blogpost, Steve Norton wonders if part of the problem is a fatigue and defeatism that seems to have infected the national spirit. He says we can and should snap out of it and points to some proposals ITIF has made to step up our competiveness and get us back on the path to innovation-based leadership.

National Science Foundation (NSF) offers the same number of annual graduate research fellowships as it did in 1960s.

The National Defense Education Act, created in 1958 in direct response to the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik, established graduate fellowships for students on the doctoral track in the sciences. While the particular program is no longer in effect, it and similar programs are widely credited with putting more talent in the pipeline and augmenting U.S. science policy. Today, we are shortchanging the interests of our students and the needs of the nation if we limit support for graduate education in critical fields. Read more »

Growth in federal R&D investment from 1987-2008 was 0.3% per year, vs. 4.9% from 1953-1987, for a current annual shortfall of $60 billion.

Government funding for research played a key role in the technological breakthroughs that helped U.S. industry become global technology leaders World War II. Indeed, federal support of research grew 4.9% per year in inflation adjusted terms from 1953-1987. But with the decline of the Cold War and efforts at budget austerity, the federal government has abandoned its responsibilities to help fund research. Federal investments in research from 1987-2008 grew by only 0.3% per year, 15 times slower than in the prior era. Read more »

Every dollar of U.S. public funding for medical research increases U.S. private investment in medical research by 32 cents.

Rather than "crowding out" private investment in medical research, as some skeptics of government support contend, public and private medical research are in fact complementary. Basic, early-stage research expands the science knowledge base, laying the foundation for later-stage research and innovation in the future. This is dynamic nature of innovation. Government's role is especially useful early in the process. Although substantial, the benefits of basic research are reaped over the long term and are often shrouded in uncertainty. Read more »

The U.S. ranks 39th out of 44 countries and regions in terms of the growth in the number of scientists and researchers since 1999

Scientists and researchers have been key drivers of innovation over the last decade. However, many nations have invested more heavily in high-skilled researchers than the United States. Indeed, while there are now 30 percent more researchers globally than in 1999, most of these additional scientists and researchers have not come from the United States. In a study of 44 developing and developed countries and regions, the United States ranks 39th in terms of the growth in scientists and researchers since 1999.

Proposed fiscal year 2012 federal R&D investment of $60 billion represents a 0.3 percent decrease from the previous year, continuing the trend of flat federal funding for R&D since 2004.

This only continues the disturbing trend of federal under-investment in R&D. From 1987 to 2008, federal R&D investment grew at just 0.3 percent per year in constant dollars, much lower than its average annual growth of 4.9 percent from 1953 to 1987, and ten times lower than the rate of GDP growth over that period. In fact, to restore federal support for research as a share of GDP to 1987 levels, we would have to increase federal support for R&D by almost $150 billion-per year. Read more »

Creating Jobs: No Shortage of Ideas How To Do It

ABC News
Rob Atkinson argues that merely by expanding the federal R&D tax credit, some 162,000 new jobs could be created in the near term.

Jobs Deficit, Investment Deficit, Fiscal Deficit

The New York Times
According to ITIF's new report, "The Atlantic Century II," the United States is underinvesting in three major areas that help a country create and retain high-wage jobs: skills and training of the work force, infrastructure, and research and development.