Warning of an "innovation deficit," scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say declining government spending on basic research is holding back potentially life-saving advances in 15 fields, from robotics and fusion energy to Alzheimer's disease and agriculture.
Science funding is "the lowest it has been since the Second World War as a fraction of the federal budget," said MIT physicist Marc Kastner, who led the committee that wrote "The Future Postponed" report, issued on Monday. "This really threatens America's future."
The report lands at a time when federal spending on research has become unusually politicized. Cuts mandated by the White House's and Congress's failure to reach agreement on reducing the federal deficit have chipped away at the budgets of the National Institutes of Health and other science agencies; legislation on research spending is tied up in debates over, among other things, climate change.
Federal spending on research as a share of total government outlays has fallen from nearly 10 percent in 1968, during the space program, to 3 percent in 2015. The pullback comes as other countries are increasing science spending, scoring achievements that leave the U.S. in the dust. The European Space Agency landed the first spacecraft on a comet, and China developed the world's fastest supercomputer, both in 2014.
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