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Basic Research: Why Should it be a Higher Priority of the Government?

By Bala Poduval

Advancements in our civilization are driven by scientific knowledge transformed into innovative technologies for the betterment of life. The advancements in the fields of medicine and communication did not emerge overnight, instead they are based on scientific principles and knowledge accumulated through decades of research; Laser, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), electricity, semiconductor – a few to mention. Without scientific knowledge there will be little innovation and advancement of a society.

There are two types of research: basic and applied. The former is curiosity–driven, such as particle physics, that doesn’t have immediate application, and the latter emphasizes on the immediate application and products in a market-driven economy, which has been a priority of the private sector.

There has been a steady decline in the federal funding for fundamental research over the past years. This is alarming especially when considering the fact that other nations are increasing their investments in basic research every year. With larger cuts in R & D funding, research will be slowed down, innovations — which rely on breakthrough discoveries driven by advancement of basic science — will be limited. And the end result? Adverse effects on economy and workforce – fewer jobs will eventually slow down economic growth.

As other nations increase their investment by substantial amounts every year, within a few years they will outsmart the United States with more opportunities and better innovations. This will eventually cause the United States to lose it position as a world leader in research and innovation, and, in turn, the leader of global economy and a land of opportunities. United States has already moved down to the the 7th place in the world in basic research investment and 10th in the overall investment in R & D as a percentage of GDP, among OECD (Convention on the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) nations.

The economy of the United States is driven by research and innovation. To continue the advancements, it is essential to emphasize on advancing knowledge in basic sciences and breakthrough discoveries that are essential for innovation.

Is it appropriate to continue research funding when the US economy is on the decline and the government is trying to reduce the budget deficits? Well, the reality is that
if US wants to remain the world leader in science and engineering research and innovation, then the investment needs to be continued at all times.

It is important to keep in mind that between a scientific discovery and its manifestation as a technological product there is a gap of years or even decades. Therefore, looking ahead, for the technology to advance in the coming decades, there must be a stream of new scientific knowledge starting no later than today and should continue.

The results of basic research may not of immediate application but progress of industrial development will stagnate if basic scientific research are long neglected. Experts recommend that Federal Government take immediate action to increase the level of funding for fundamental research. It is also necessary to increase participation of industry in basic research and collaboration with academic institutions.

Basic research is the scientific capital for the profit of technological advances and innovative products. Research is a clear investment for the future.

Further Reading
New Models for U.S. Science and Technology Policy