The President used a speech before the members of the National Academy of Sciences today to reiterate his commitment to boosting the U.S. investment in science and technology.In his remarks before the opening session of the National Academy’s annual meeting, Obama set a goal of seeing the U.S. invest 3 percent or more of its annual GDP in basic and applied scientific research funding. This level of investment would represent the largest investment in American history — an even larger share of GDP than the U.S. invested during the space race of the 1950s and 60s. Here’s a choice quote from AP coverage of the speech:
The pursuit of discovery a half century ago fueled the nation’s prosperity and success, Obama told the academy.
“The commitment I am making today will fuel our success for another 50 years,” he said. “This work begins with an historic commitment to basic science and applied research.”
He set forth a wish list for the future including “learning software as effective as a personal tutor; prosthetics so advanced that you could play the piano again; an expansion of the frontiers of human knowledge about ourselves and world the around us.
“We can do this,” Obama said to applause.
A commitment to finish the 10-year doubling of 3 key science agencies (National Science Foundation, Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the National Insititutes of Standards and Technology). Between 2009 and 2016, the Administration’s enacted and proposed budgets would add $42.6 billion to the 2008 budgets for these basic research agencies, with a special emphasis on encouraging high-risk, high-return research and supporting researchers at the beginning of their careers. The launch of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). ARPA-E is a new Department of Energy organization modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the defense agency that gave us the Internet, stealth aircraft, and many other technological breakthroughs. A joint initiative by the Dept. of Energy and NSF that will inspire tens of thousands of American students to pursue careers in science, engineering, and entrepreneurship related to clean energy programs and scholarships from grade school to graduate school.
The President also used the occasion to name the members of his President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology (PCAST) — a committee of representatives from science and industry who will examine aspects of federal science policy and make recommendations to the President. For the last several years, PCAST has also assumed the statutory responsibilties of the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC), which was dissolved as a free-standing committee under President Bush (though there may be a move to reestablish the free-standing committee — more on that in a future post).
Among the new PCAST members are at least four from the computing community:
- Eric Schmidt, Chairman and CEO of Google Inc;
- Craig Mundie, Chief Research and Strategy Officer at Microsoft Corporation;
- David Shaw, chief scientist of D. E. Shaw Research; and,
- William Press, Professor of Computer Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin
Other members of the Council are: Rosina Bierbaum, Christine Cassel, Christopher Chyba, James Gates, John Holdren, Shirley Jackson, Eric Lander, Richard Levin, Chad Mirkin, Mario Molina, Ernest Moniz, Maxine Savitz, Barbara Schaal, Daniel Schrag, Harold Varmus and Ahmed Zewail. Holdren, Lander and Varmus will be the co-chairs of PCAST.
The President’s commitment to continuing the very recent robust increases for federal R&D — after several years of real-dollar declines — along with recent statements by key Senate appropriations staff who believe 7 percent annual increases for NSF are “sustainable,” give us reason to be somewhat optimistic going into the appropriations season this year. However, as always, other pressing concerns and shortfalls in the federal budget can adversly affect science funding despite all the apparent support, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on the process. But Obama’s initial steps here may turn out to be giant ones for U.S. science and innovation.