The American Academy of Arts and Sciences issued an impassioned plea for a renewed national focus on basic research in a new report, Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream. U.S. investment in research and development (R&D) has fallen as a percentage of GDP compared with that of other countries, slipping from second place among OECD nations in 1992 to tenth place in 2012, according to the AAAS report. At its current rate of growth, China will surpass the U.S. on this measure in eight years.
Asserting that "research is the lifeblood of a high-tech economy and plays a critical role in the economic and personal well-being of most citizens," the report lays out compelling arguments for increased support for the research enterprise. An AAAS committee comprised of leaders from academia, industry, and government, agreed on three overarching prescriptions to strengthen the U.S. research enterprise, each with specific action items:
Secure America's leadership in science and engineering research—especially basic research—by providing sustainable federal funding and setting long-term investment goals.
Recommended actions include a real growth rate in federal investment in basic research of 4 percent, multi-year appropriations for federal agencies that support research and STEM education, the establishment of a strategic capital budget process for funding research instrumentation and facilities, and development of a rolling long-term plan for allocation of federal R&D investments.
Ensure that the American people receive the maximum benefit from federal investments in research.
AAAS suggests that federal regulations that are burdensome and add to overhead costs at universities be streamlined, universities adopt best practices in capital planning, cost-containment, and resource sharing, and that federal agencies act to reduce the time researchers spend writing and reviewing proposals. The report also recommends that the National Institutes of Health and universities work to right-size the biomedical research workforce by reducing the length of graduate training, funding training for master's programs instead of doctoral programs where appropriate, and enhance the role of staff scientists.
Regain America's standing as an innovation leader by establishing a more robust national government-university-industry research partnership.
AAAS asks the White House to convene a summit on the future of the research enterprise, Congress to remove barriers to university-industry collaboration, and corporations to give higher priority to funding research at universities and develop new forms of partnership with them. AAAS also recommends that universities experiment with new intellectual property policies and practices, adopt innovative technology transfer models, expand professional master's degree programs in science and engineering for those interested in non-research careers, and increase movement across sectors through collaborations and faculty leaves.