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Monday, 5 September 2011

The research and development gap in the US

The Hill
Sept 2, 2011

America is in grave danger of loosing its edge. For over one hundred years, American leadership in science, technology, engineering, and manufacturing has been unrivaled. It has created for us not only one of the highest standards of living any civilization has ever achieved, but also brought American preeminence in the world and a strong national defense.

Now, unfortunately, this is all at risk due to the lack of long-term planning, little political will, and slowing investment in science and engineering research.

As every business leader knows, prosperity tomorrow requires investment today. This is true whether the economy is in a period of boom or bust. The United States will not simply “grow” its way out of economic malaise. We need a rebirth of innovation: new products, new ways of doing things, new scientific achievements.

Let’s looks at the facts about research and development (R&D). As a percentage of GDP, the U.S. ranks eighth, behind countries like Japan, South Korea, and even Iceland. In one of the most important areas—energy—in 2010 the Department of Energy invested just $2.27 billion on applied R&D, or just slightly more than 1/100th of one percent of GDP. As a point of comparison, that’s nearly $1 billion less than the amount ($3.1 billion) we’ll spend in 2011 providing a tax benefit for employee parking.

R&D is not the only area where we are falling behind. Over the past two decades there has been an 18 percent decline in the number of students graduating with bachelor degrees in engineering, math, physics and geosciences in the United States.
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