Business Week on Research in Industry

CRA frequently talks about the need for more basic scientific research but we focus almost exclusively on governmental research investment. We talk about the fall of DARPA and the need for NSF to increase to compensate. We don’t spend quite as much time talking about industry investment in basic research. An article in Business Week points out the necessity of industry participation in the research ecosystem and the rich history of corporate laboratories’ basic research contributions. It’s a very interesting article that weaves together the past and present research ecosystems, today’s economic concerns, and suggestions for tackling the problems we see today.
The article discusses the two times in US history when the government spurred scientific innovation in a short period of time – the Manhattan Project and the Apollo space mission – and the reasons they were so successful. It states, “Their success can be mapped to five crucial success factors: 1) full and sustained Presidential support; 2) effective leadership with a clearly defined mandate; 3) access to resources; 4) parallel paths/processing to save time; and 5) private sector outsourcing.”
It also discusses the best basic research model which it says combines universities’ research efforts and “a dynamic public-private network of labs and a venture capital industry waiting downstream to commercialize ideas and turn them into large public companies that create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. Here’s what’s needed to get that model back on track:

  • Clear national goals in two or three key areas, such as carbon-free energy and preventive medicine.
  • Government commitment of $10 billion a year above and beyond spending for national agencies to jump-start new industrial research labs.
  • Government tax credits for corporations that commit to spending 5% to 10% (or more) of R&D on basic research.”

The article is a good read with good historical background and ideas for the present.