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"China is projected to outspend the United States in R&D within the next 10 years, both in absolute dollars and as a fraction of economic output."

-- Battelle and R&D Magazine, 2014 Global R&D Funding Forecast (December 2013).

Americans are used to being the world leaders in science and research. We have benefited from a century of research that has created wealth and growth in our country, with a commensurate increase in our knowledge and capabilities. But that leadership is at risk, and with that risk are major concerns for our national security and future economic leadership. We can address this, but to do so requires an understanding of, and commitment to, the ongoing basic research that is the core of innovations and discoveries to improve our knowledge, our economy, and our standards of living. And to keep America the world leader, it should be.

WHAT OTHERS ARE DOING

For decades, starting in the 1950s, the United States invested a higher percentage of its GDP in research than any other country in the world. We have been using that “basic” knowledge to create whole new industries and products. Other countries have taken note, while we have become complacent. Since the 1990s, the US has reduced its investment in research and now ranks 10th in the world. If you want to compare our investment against the rest of the world, go to http://www.oecd.org/science/inno/msti.htm.

BASIC RESEARCH KEY

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“Basic” research is driven by curiosity, by our innate desire to understand what we do not know. And with that new knowledge come opportunities to create new products and services never imagined before. Space exploration, cellular phones, GPS, the Internet, and DNA mapping all started with basic research by curious people, supported through federal research dollars. If we stop investing in research, we leave the next generation of discoveries to those countries that do make the investment. That poses risks to our national security as well as our economic future.

Research facilities are also economic engines in their home locations. For example, in Arizona, astronomy generates over $250 million annually, supports thousands of jobs, and has over $1.2 billion in capital investments throughout the state – with more on the way.

WHAT WE CAN DO

We need to speak to our elected officials about this. There is a national campaign to push for a commitment by the President and Congress to work together to establish a sustainable real growth rate of at least 4 percent in the federal investment in basic research.

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W. Lowell Putnam is the Sole Trustee of Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. The Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance endorses the position in this article.

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