This past September, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences released Restoring the Foundations: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream, - a report on the state of US leadership in science and technology. The report makes the case that over the past half-century, research-based scientific and technological advancements have been the main drivers of economic growth and job creation, and their impact will likely rise in our increasingly complex, knowledge-based society. It further notes that since having a good job is one of the primary factors influencing quality of life and well-being, “research is the lifeblood of a high-tech economy and plays a critical role in the economic and personal well-being of most citizens.”
A good job has long been the foundation of the American Dream, - the possibility that anyone can get ahead and achieve prosperity through talent and hard work regardless of social class or circumstances of birth. But, the report warns that the American research enterprise, - and the American Dream, - are at a critical stage. Federal support for basic research as a percentage of GDP has declined 13% over the past decade. In 1992, the US had the second highest R&D investments as a percentage of GDP among OECD nations. It has now fallen to 10th place. While the US is losing some of its competitive edge, emerging nations are increasing their research investments in order to stimulate economic growth. China is projected to outspend the US in R&D within the next 10 years.
The Academy’s study was based on three basic premises:
- “a strong U.S. economy is vital to the welfare and prosperity of the American people”;
- “competitiveness in today’s accelerating high-tech, knowledge-based economy requires innovation and the rapid infusion of new knowledge and technologies”; and
- “while applied research and applied development are both undeniably important, pathbreaking discoveries are most likely to come from basic research sustained over long periods of time, which is mainly funded by the federal government and carried out in the nation’s universities and national laboratories.”