Guess the President! A Defense of Basic Research


Here are words of unmistakable support for federal investments in basic research, even in tight budget times. Can you guess the President who uttered them?

Science has grown, and with it, the fascination it holds for all of us. But as the pursuit of science has become ever more nationally and even multinationally funded, it has also become more expensive. The problem here is that science, unlike a bridge or an interstate highway or a courthouse, has no local constituency. Today, when we’re witnessing some of the most exciting discoveries in the history of science, things similar to the breakthroughs associated with Einstein, Galileo, and Newton, Federal funding for science is in jeopardy because of budget constraints.

That’s why it’s my duty as President to draw its importance to your attention and that of Congress. America has long been the world’s scientific leader. Over the years, we’ve secured far more patents than any other country in the world. And since World War II, we have won more Nobel prizes for science than the Europeans and Japanese combined. We also support more of what is called basic research; that is, research meant to teach us rather than to invent or develop new products. And for the past 40 years, the Government has been our leading sponsor of basic research.

The remarkable thing is that although basic research does not begin with a particular practical goal, when you look at the results over the years, it ends up being one of the most practical things government does. … I think that over the past 50 years the Government has helped build a number of particle accelerators so scientists could study high energy physics. Major industries, including television, communications, and computer industries, couldn’t be where they are today without developments that began with this basic research.

We cannot know where scientific research will lead. The consequences and spin-offs are unknown and unknowable until they happen. In research, as Albert Einstein once said, imagination is more important than knowledge. We can travel wherever the eye of our imagination can see. But one thing is certain: If we don’t explore, others will, and we’ll fall behind. This is why I’ve urged Congress to devote more money to research. … It is an indispensable investment in America’s future.

Some say that we can’t afford it, that we’re too strapped for cash. Well, leadership means making hard choices, even in an election year. We’ve put our research budget under a microscope and looked for quality and cost effectiveness. We’ve put together the best program for the taxpayers’ dollars. After all, the American tradition of hope is one we can’t afford to forget.

Give up?

(via Barry Toiv at AAU)

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Guess the President! A Defense of Basic Research