Investing in scientific innovation can build a more competitive U.S. economy, said Sudip Parikh, chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of the Science family of journals, in testimony before the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee on April 27.
The hearing, “Building on a Strong Foundation: Investments Today for a More Competitive Tomorrow,” addressed ways to build the U.S. economy in the midst of increasing inflation rates. Three expert witnesses testified during the virtual meeting alongside Parikh – Josh Bivens, director of research at the Economic Policy Institute, Michelle Holder, president and chief executive officer at Washington Center for Equitable Growth and Tyler Goodspeed, Kleinheinz Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.
All four witnesses discussed investments needed to advance scientific innovation and strengthen the U.S. economy. While Bivens, Holder and Goodspeed primarily drew from economic strategy, Parikh, who also serves as co-chair of the Science & Technology Action Committee, emphasized the need for robust investment in domestic scientific research and production.
“The time has come for us to redouble our efforts,” said Parikh, “to build on our strengths and show the world again what American intellect, ingenuity, investment and risk-taking can accomplish for the benefit of all Americans.”
Parikh remarked that just a few weeks ago, scientists at the Fermilab in Illinois reported that the fundamental particle W boson weighs more than predicted by the standard model of physics. The discovery could mark the start of an entirely new frontier of physics, said Parikh, noting that someday this discovery could lead to entirely new parts of the economy.
“We are at similar inflection points in the fields of artificial intelligence, quantum computing, synthetic biology, gene editing, space travel and more,” said Parikh. “We are at the cusp of revolutions in multiple sciences at once—with potential implications for our economy that could be as game-changing as electricity.”
These revolutions are the result of a framework for investment in research and development that has been followed for over 75 years, said Parikh. He noted that federal programs like the Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation, paired with complimentary investments by industry, have driven transformative innovation.
However, the instrument responsible for the Fermilab’s W boson data was decommissioned several years ago, he said. As a result, the verification of that result will need to come from outside the U.S.—likely Europe or Asia.
To ensure that the U.S. continues to lead in scientific discovery, Parikh offered three recommendations to the JEC. First, said Parikh, America must provide robust investment in research and development across a broad range of disciplines. His second recommendation encouraged investment in people, to ensure that the U.S. is drawing upon the talents of all Americans. Lastly, Parikh recommended the creation of a balanced portfolio of research and development investment. This portfolio, said Parikh, should include short-term incremental research, translational research and high-risk, high-reward research.
Although the current U.S. research and development framework was successful at first, other nations have started to copy it with increasingly more emphasis and vigor. Parikh emphasized the significant difference in research and development investments between America and China. In the last 20 years U.S. research and development expenditure has grown an average of 3.1% annually, a number that has been eclipsed by China’s 14.3% annual rise over the same period, said Parikh.
“Do we want to be the nation that discovers, develops and manufactures the economic, environmental and health advances of the future?” asked Parikh. “Or do we want to be a nation that lags in these critical areas while we attempt to buy solutions from at-best friendly competitors or at-worst, geopolitical adversaries?”