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Materials in a New Era: Proceedings of the 1999 Solid State Sciences Committee Forum
portant part of the federal basic research portfolio.
The balance of funding between different disciplines must also be addressed. Prosperity, health, and security are the result of breakthroughs in a diversity of disciplines. Moreover, advances in one area of science often depend on advances in completely different research areas.
Exploratory research ideas that are creative and truly represent a leap in thinking must be supported. As research funding becomes more competitive, strictly funding “safe” incremental research at the expense of more risky ideas must be avoided. A fraction of the federal research funds must be set aside for this purpose.
The discretionary budget, the source of all federal science funding, is shrinking. Controlling this reduction or turning it around requires controlling entitlement spending. Entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, need reformation because they can consume any surplus that is generated. In 1962, entitlements used 25 percent of the budget, whereas now the amount is 50 percent. Without control, this percentage will increase, such that, by 2010, all revenues will be spent on entitlements and interest, leaving nothing for defense and domestic discretionary spending. The current surplus of federal funds adds a twist to the overall budget strategy but does not alter the fact that discretionary restraints must be incorporated.
The Private Sector
Research in industry is important for harvesting the fruits of basic research that benefit society. New findings can rarely, if ever, be brought directly from the laboratory bench to a salable item. The gap between basic research and industry-driven applied research or product development is referred to as the “valley of death.” As academic research becomes more basic, applied research is shifting more and more toward product development, thus broadening the gap between the two worlds. It is in this netherworld where discoveries that may be very beneficial for society are lost or forgotten. The bridges or pathways between the two do not follow a straight trajectory but have a complex, interactive relationship. Consequently, truly innovative research in industry is absolutely necessary and must be encouraged. To attain this goal, the following policies should be pursued:
Young startup companies must be encouraged, because they often pursue research that is far more basic than applied. Capitalization of these companies is critical and tax policies must be enacted that support this.
R&D tax credit should be made permanent. The uncertainty about the existence of a tax credit from year to year inhibits innovative, long-term, multiyear research in the industrial sector.
Regulations that are needlessly burdensome must be streamlined.
Partnerships between government, academic, and industrial laboratories must be promoted.
Development of the nation's intellectual capital in science and mathematics is vitally important to ensure a bright future for the United States. The report recommends changes at all levels of education—from K-12 through graduate school. Teacher training, the retention of qualified teachers, curricula, and research at the K-12 level are addressed in the report. The report also stresses the need for a diversified education. In particular, at the graduate level, students can no longer be trained exclusively for careers as academic researchers because the majority of Ph.D. graduates will pursue careers outside of academia. Communication between the scientific establishment and the lay public must also be improved. Although the freedom of the individual researcher is necessary to bring about ground-breaking discoveries, it is crucial that the scientific and engineering communities strengthen their ties to society and to the taxpayers who ultimately support their research.
The report recognizes and underscores the idea that science helps us make everyday decisions—as a society, as a government, as individuals, and as voters. The ability to draw on science and engineering to facilitate the decision-making process must be strengthened. If a more civic-minded mentality is adopted and if policymakers reach out to communities, the quality of decisions and policies related to scientific research can be improved.
Congressman Ehlers set out to write a document that was concise, coherent, and comprehensive. Because of these constraints, in-depth treatments of specific aspects of the scientific enterprise were not possible. Rather, the report is a “broad brush” view of the entire science and engineering landscape. It is intended to be the beginning of a process and not the end of one. For example, the report is the first step in a long-term process in which Congress will focus on the national science policy with reviews at least every 5 years. The work to address specific science policy issues must emerge