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AAAS President Shirley Ann Jackson warns of declining federal commitment to research
AAAS President Shirley Ann Jackson warned Thursday that U.S. economic growth and homeland security are being threatened by declining federal investment in scientific research and by declining student interest in science and technology.
Speaking at an awards banquet sponsored by The Science Coalition on 15 July, Jackson stressed the enormous progress the United States and other nations worldwide have made in science and technology, and how human lives have improved as a result.
But troubling data suggest the U.S. commitment to education and research is waning, she said, and the trends could have significant costs unless they are reversed.
For example, the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, also known as the Hart-Rudman Commission, "concluded that inadequacies in our nation's research and education pose a greater national security threat than any potential conventional war we might imagine," Jackson told an audience that included science and business leaders, university presidents and nearly 20 members of Congress.
"The federal investment in research, measured as a share of the Gross Domestic Product, has declined by slightly more than one-third since the 1980s. The interest and performance of our own young people in science and mathematics, and in science and engineering careers, have declined.
"It will be impossible to keep fueling the nation's economic engine if this trend continues."
The Science Coalition's "Breakfast of Champions" banquet was held to honor members of Congress who have supported strong federal investment in science. Six members received the award yesterday: Speaker of the House Dennis J. Hastert of Illinois; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California; Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes of Maryland; Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana; Rep. Martin Olav Sabo of Minnesota; and Rep. Judy Biggert of Illinois.
"Your continued efforts on behalf of scientific research, discovery and innovation are the key to a future where there will be cures for disease, more security and prosperity, and a brighter, better future for all," Jackson said.
The event was supported by General Mills, maker of Wheaties cereal, and each of the winners received a box of Wheaties with his or her picture on it.
Jackson, a theoretical physicist, is president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, the nation's oldest degree-granting, private, technological research university. President Bill Clinton appointed her chair of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a post she held from 1995 to 1999.
In her speech, she extolled the broad social and economic benefits of federal investment in research.
"We know that sustained support for research across scientific disciplines is a critical component of economic growth, jobs creation, American prosperity and homeland security," Jackson told the audience Thursday. "In recent years, basic research, performed at leading U.S. universities, has created 4,000 spin-off companies which have hired 1.1 million people, with annual world revenues of $232 billion."
Such progress in knowledge and innovation "make available the tools for all peoples to use to eliminate disease, enhance sanitation and clean water, increase food production and distribution and drive sustained economic development," she said.
But while other countries are raising their commitment to science, the United States needs to invest more in education and research to prepare for a more competitive future. For example, Jackson said, China now produces more than four times the number of engineers annually as does the United States. And articles by U.S. scientists in physical science journals have dropped from 61 percent in 1983 to 29 percent last year.
The Science Coalition represents more than 400 organizations committed to expanding and strengthening the federal government's investment in university-based scientific, medical, engineering and agricultural research. It has previously given 41 Champions of Science awards.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science. AAAS was founded in 1848, and serves some 10 million individuals through 262 affiliated societies and academies of science. The non-profit association is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy; international programs; science education; and more.
Edward W. Lempinen
16 July 2004