Obama to National Academy of Sciences: Long Term Investment in Basic Science Will Help Meet Generational Challenges
by Andre on 28 April 2009
The text from Obama’s speech to the National Academy of Sciences has been released by the Office of the Press Secretary. He says a lot of promising things about research funding including going forward with the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E), doubling the budget of the NSF, DOE, and NIST, and increasing funding for the NIH. On the political side, he is announcing the members of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) that he promises to work closely with because to “undermine scientific integrity is to undermine our democracy.” Obama also discussed plans for a program to encourage states to improve their K-12 science education by competing for $5 billion in federal funds as part of the Secretary of Education’s “Race to the Top” program.
These announcements are more evidence that Obama recognizes the importance of basic research in solving some of humanity’s most pressing problems. He also understands the critical role that government funding plays in basic research and that the outcomes of this research are inherently unpredictable:
The fact is, an investigation into a particular physical, chemical, or biological process might not pay off for a year, or a decade, or at all. And when it does, the rewards are often broadly shared, enjoyed by those who bore its costs but also by those who did not.
That’s why the private sector under-invests in basic science – and why the public sector must invest in this kind of research. Because while the risks may be large, so are the rewards for our economy and our society.
No one can predict what new applications will be born of basic research: new treatments in our hospitals; new sources of efficient energy; new building materials; new kinds of crops more resistant to heat and drought.
Finally, it’s always nice to see one’s field mentioned explicitly by the higher-ups. In the discussion of restoring science to its rightful place, Obama states that in “biomedicine, for example, this will include harnessing the historic convergence between life sciences and physical sciences that is underway today.”
In the end, this is still just a speech, but we already have evidence that Obama is serious about science given his appointment of Steven Chu as energy secretary and the boost to science in the stimulus package. I’m hopeful that he will follow through on these promises and that he will get the support he needs in congress.