Skip to main content

Agre, Fox: America and California Can’t Afford to Scrimp on Research and Development

Calls for spending cuts are growing louder as the draft U.S. budget moves through House and Senate committees. But AAAS President Peter Agre and University of California Chancellor Marye Anne Fox, writing in the San Diego Union-Tribune, urge lawmakers to remember that federal investment in research and development pays big dividends locally and nationally.

The $1.6 trillion budget deficit forecast for 2010 by the administration of President Barack Obama “provokes serious concerns for all of us,” they wrote. “But reacting to that problem by reducing America’s investment in research and development would cause an even more significant deficit over the longer-term, by diminishing innovation and global competitiveness. Federally funded research drives advances in science and technology, and that creates new industries, new products and new wellsprings of prosperity in California.”


Marye Anne Fox

While making that investment, might be challenging in the current economic environment, it can be done both effectively and efficiently, Fox and Agre said.

The Obama administration released its proposed fiscal 2011 R&D budget earlier this month. Though essentially flat at $147.7 billion—just 0.2 percent more than the level enacted by Congress for the current budget year—the document includes a boost for key science and technology programs and for public research universities.


Peter Agre
The authors called that “a hopeful note for the nation’s economic future.”

The op-ed, published Friday 19 February, was the second in a series of three published by the Union-Tribune, all linked to the AAAS Annual Meeting here. [Read the full text published 19 February. It is also available as a static PDF.] The first was authored by Agre, the 2003 Nobel laureate in chemistry, and Alan I. Leshner, the AAAS CEO and executive publisher of the journal Science. It focused on signs of a growing tension between science and society, and how it could be closed.

Agre and Fox, a distinguished professor of chemistry, detailed in their commentary on R&D the broad and sometimes subtle economic benefits of public investment in science.

Consider UC-San Diego, for example. One recent study cited by Fox and Agre found that, “as of 2008, the university was responsible for 39,000 jobs and contributing more than $7.2 billion annually in direct and indirect spending and personal income to the California economy…In addition, companies launched by UC San Diego alumni and faculty—like former professor Irwin Jacobs, founder of Qualcomm—were contributing more than $37 billion and nearly 130,000 jobs to the state’s economy every year.

“San Diego County benefits in countless other ways,” the authors said, “such as having access to new lifesaving therapeutic drugs and treatment options, seismic improvements to roadways, bridges, buildings and building codes and more energy-efficient building designs.”

Fox serves as co-chair of the AAAS Annual Meeting. Agre is a physician and the director of the Malaria Research Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.