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SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: National Goals for a Near Era
who was head of the federal Office of Scientific Research and Development during the war, argued that new knowledge generated by basic scientific research was essential to the national defense, the war against diseases, and the creation of new products, new industries, and new jobs. Traditional patronage of basic science—primarily from philantropies and other private sources—was no longer sufficient; only the federal government had the resources and the broad public mandate to take full advantage of the promise offered by science.
During the decades after the war, the vision of Vannevar Bush was prominently realized.2 Basic research was championed by both the federal government and private industry. It was nourished in industrial laboratories and in America’s rapidly expanding network of colleges and universities. 3 (The appendix describes the federal government’s current role in supporting research and development.) The quick expansion of research and of scientific and technical personnel brought dramatic results, from a vaccine against polio to versatile new plastics, from transistor-powered electronic devices to the human exploration of space.
A CHANGING WORLD
Today’s relationship between the research community and the public is more complex. It is the product of many changes— in science, in engineering, in modern society, and in the relations among nations. These changes have weakened some of the premises underlying the federal support of science and technology while reinforcing others.
Economically, the most important new reality is the intensification of international competition. In the past two decades, as transportation and communication costs have declined, trade barriers have fallen, and industries around the world have developed, the volume of world trade has risen sharply. New automobiles, agricultural products, and consumer electronics arrive daily from foreign lands. The development of foreign economies