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AAAS CEO: “Unshackle U.S. Science”

AAAS CEO Rush Holt recently appeared on MSNBC and authored an op-ed in New Scientist, calling for more robust, sustained U.S. federal funding for science and technology.

The recent U.S. bipartisan budget deal offered "some much-needed relief for federal science agencies," Holt wrote in his 11 November op-ed, but it remains a temporary fix for programs hard-hit by the spending caps known as sequestration.

In the United States, federal research and development spending amounts to less than 0.8% of the nation's overall economy, or gross domestic product (GDP), and that figure is down from 1.25% in 1977, said Holt, who also serves as executive publisher of the Science family of journals. "As a proportion of the federal budget, R&D investment has shrunk from 10% in 1967 to less than 4% now."

AAAS CEO Rush Holt discusses the benefits of sustained national investment in science and technology. | MSNBC

The U.S. budget deal eases the spending caps put in place in 2013, increasing total discretionary spending by 5.2% for the 2016 fiscal year. That will mean more R&D support for the National Institutes of Health, for example. (Read more about the deal in an analysis by the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program.)

Unfortunately, Holt added in his New Scientist piece, the budget deal will expire after two years, making it difficult for laboratory directors to plan for the longer term. Chronic underinvestment in science "not only slows scientific advancement, it also threatens the nation's ability to address pressing global problems such as food, water, and energy shortages, climate change, and disease," Holt wrote.

On 25 October, Holt also appeared on MSNBC's "Up with Steve" program to discuss the need for greater investment in the U.S. scientific enterprise. "In every area of human welfare, there are real gains to be made" through scientific research, Holt said. "We are nowhere close to investing as much as we could productively invest. We could invest several times what we are now investing in research and development and get returns well into the double digits…We're living off the benefits of basic research that was done half a century ago."