A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) entitled Furthering America’s Research Enterprise explores ways of “keeping the nation in the forefront of the global competition for new technologies and other innovations” during a time of economic belt-tightening. Congress expressed particular interest in ways to improve conversion of federally funded research into commercial products and services.

The study, which was requested by Congress in the America COMPETES Act, notes that an understanding of the whole research enterprise is necessary to avoid harmful effects of attempting narrow revisions. With that caveat, the report finds that “societal benefits from federal research can be enhanced by focusing attention on three crucial pillars of the research system: a talented and interconnected workforce, adequate and dependable resources, and world-class basic research in all major areas of science.”

Expounding on those key points, the report highlights the need for stable funding for scientific research, arguing that predictability is a key factor in encouraging students to pursue scientific careers and attracting the best talent from overseas. Emphasizing the need for broad-scale basic research, the report finds that “truly transformative scientific discoveries often depend on research in a variety of fields.” On this portion, the report is a counter point to recent calls from several conservative lawmakers who have taken aim at portions of the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget, particularly the allotments for social science and climate change research.

Despite these attacks, the report comes out as the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees responsible for the NSF budget approved funding greater than requested by the President. In a recent hearing, House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA) remarked “the subcommittee is a big supporter of basic research.” It is a sentiment that many in the scientific community hope will remain after Representative Wolf’s retirement at the end of this term.

A pre-publication version of the final report can be found at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=18804.

 


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