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share of GDP are declining (see Figure R&D-8). Sweden, Finland, Japan, and Korea all invest a larger percentage of their GDP in R&D than the United States (see Figure R&D-9). In the president’s FY 2006 budget request, most R&D programs would drop in real terms, and overall expenditures for R&D would fail to keep pace with inflation for the first time in more than a decade.19 Funding for all three multiagency R&D initiatives—Networking and Information Technology R&D, the National Nanotechnology Initiative, and the Climate Change Science Program—would drop in FY 2006. Furthermore, with record-breaking budget deficits and new federal obligations ranging from the war in Iraq to the expansion of Medicare to pay for prescription drugs, prospects for outyear increases in R&D are dim.

The doubling of the NIH budget from 1998 to 2003 implicitly acknowledged that the rate of return on additional federal investments in science and technology is very high. Similar opportunities exist in the physical sciences, engineering, mathematics, computer science, environmental science, and the social and behavioral sciences—fields in which federal funding has been essentially flat for the last 15 years (see Figure R&D-10). Microelectronics, biotechnology, information technology, systems analysis, alternative fuels, robotics, nanotechnology, and many other research areas all have the potential to transform entire industries. Even such seemingly esoteric fields as cosmology and elementary particle physics could reveal new aspects of matter that not only could have practical implications but will inspire future generations of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians.

In addition, increases in funding of fields outside the biomedical sciences can pay dividends by complementing the tremendous advances occurring in molecular biology. Much of the recent progress in the health sciences has been underpinned by earlier achievements in mathematics, the physical sciences, and engineering. Deciphering the human genome, for example, was heavily dependent on advancements in robotics and computers. The development of modern imaging machines was made possible to a great extent by advances in engineering and mathematics.

The federal government could take several steps to ensure that funding for science and technology is adequate across fields:

  • Increase the budget for mathematics, the physical sciences, and engineering research by 12% a year for the next 7 years in the research accounts of the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute for Standards and Technology, and the Department of Defense.20


American Association for the Advancement of Science. AAAS Analysis of R&D in the FY 2006 Budget. Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2006.


Alliance for Science & Technology Research in America. “Basic Research: Investing in America’s Innovation Future.” Presentation for the House Republican High-Tech Working Group, March 31, 2004.

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