a longer shelf life or that can be grown with one herbicide rather than another. Part of the animus against GM foods is resentment of the agrochemical companies that produce them and seem to be the primary beneficiaries of the new technology.
Industry R&D spending is certainly the most important contributor to product innovation, but it would be a mistake to ignore the role of federal investment. A study by Francis Narin and colleagues found that during the 1993 to 1994 period, 73 percent of industry patent applications cited federally funded research, and this percentage was even higher for chemicals and for drugs and medicines. Because the government investment is particularly important in basic research, the effects of changes in federal spending may not be felt for 10 years or more. The National Research Council’s Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy (STEP) has been studying the federal research budget’s evolution to gauge its effect on specific research fields. Its July 2001 report provides a timely update.
The 1990s was a period of shifting priorities for the federal government, and the new priorities seem likely to persist for the foreseeable future. The end of the Cold War and the desire to reduce the federal budget deficit led to a significant decline in military research conducted by the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Energy (DOE) as well declines in research funding in other agencies. Between 1993 and 1997, research spending declined by 27.5 percent at DOD, by 13.3 percent at the Department of Interior, 6.2 percent at the Department of Agriculture, and 5.2 percent at DOE. Research spending at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) increased by 11 percent during the period.
The cuts fell particularly hard on the physical sciences, engineering, and mathematics. For example, federal support for electrical engineering and physics research fell by almost one-third in real terms. A few fields were able to offset their losses from DOD and DOE by picking up funding from other agencies. For example, support for computer sciences and for metallurgy and materials engineering rose by about one-fourth. The increased support for the life sciences was not distributed evenly. Support for medical sciences rose much more quickly than did support for the biological sciences.
Beginning with the 1998 budget, federal research spending began to rise significantly. Total research spending for 1998 was 4.5 percent above the 1993 level, and in 1999 it exceeded the 1993 level by 11.7 percent. The increasing budget continued the trend toward increased funding for the life sciences. Between 1993 and 1999, the life sciences’ share of federal research rose from 40 to 46 percent, and the share going to the physical sciences and engineering fell from 37 to 31 percent. In 1999, support for physics, geological sciences, and chemical, electrical, and mechanical engineering was down at least 20 percent from 1993 levels. Chemical and mechanical engineering and geological sciences were down