Back in 1945, engineer and science administrator Vannevar Bush released a scheme for the support of science in the United States that brought prosperity and American dominance. That scheme is not sufficient anymore; some specialists said at an event this week that took place in Washington, D.C.
America Needs to Change the Way it Does Research
The wartime conquests were amazing: development in food production and medicine, the advancement of radar and proximity fuses on bombs, as well as the atomic bomb. In July 1945, two weeks before the attack at Hiroshima, Bush released a report named “Science, the Endless Frontier,” claiming that critical and centralized government funding of fundamental research was crucial for America’s economic welfare and security.
Today, the U.S. government spends $549 billion on R&D, but allegedly the American percentage of total global R&D spending has been decreasing. At a congressional hearing, National Science Board chair Diane Souvaine said that ‘in 2019 China may have surpassed the U.S. in total R&D expenditures.’
“There are a lot better teams in our league for the next 75 years than there have been for the past 75 years in science and research,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) at the National Academy of Sciences event on February 26th.
On the same day, China’s biotech company BGI Group said it could sequence a human genome for $100, which is cheaper than any American company. Even though China has furthered in numerous fields, such as 5G and machine learning industries, Washington still spent about $70 billion more than Beijing on standard research in 2017.
Politics Has Stained Science Already
This means that China increased international competition, and the U.S. has to change the way basic science is done and what it should accomplish. The country is more diverse than it was decades ago, but life expectancy is incredibly lower than in all the other advanced nations, and there are gigantic health imbalances.
“Most exciting scientific advancements are creating moral quandaries that worry citizens partially because they know they will bear any burdens and partially because they feel they have no voice over the direction of science and tech even in a democracy,” said Shobita Parthasarathy, professor of public policy at the University of Michigan.
Parthasarathy said that the country’s political bias had infected the science. Diversity, equity, and inclusion attempts cannot be just about developing the scientific industry, but must enable it to be ‘more representative and ultimately more politically legitimate.’
“The Bush model alone is no longer enough,” MIT President Rafael Reif said during the event. Even though it remains plausible, the world experiences workforce changes from automation, climate change, and other constraints Bush could not have seen back then, Reif said.
Reif said that focused funding in a few scientific fields such as AI and quantum computing should be the next move, as well as a ‘DARPA-like approach to fostering fundamental research in specific fields in pursuit of advances.’
Also, according to Reif, the United States has to remain open to foreign talent: “Foreign students should be properly vetted, and then we should go in effect staple a green card to their diploma.”
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