Friday, December 5, 2008

Funding Basic Research

The globalization of science and technology research, Mr. Bhidé added, should actually work to the advantage of the United States economy, so long as America remains the best place to commercialize inventions. As the rest of the world becomes a richer source of inventions, there is less need for the United States to come up with such a large share itself — and policy, he says, should reflect that reality.

“I’m not arguing for reductions in research spending in the United States,” he said. “But in a world where investment in high-level science and technology is increasing, there is no compelling reason to invest a lot more.”

The flaw in Mr. Bhidé’s thesis is that it amounts to a “false choice,” said Robert D. Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a nonpartisan research group. Most of the economic gains from technology, Mr. Atkinson agrees, do come from its innovative use. “But that doesn’t mean that the basic research is not critical,” he said.

In fast-moving fields, Mr. Atkinson said, there are immense benefits from the knowledge produced in research projects quickly spilling over into ventures that become powerhouses in new industries. Google, which grew out of a digital library project funded by the National Science Foundation, is among a host of such examples. Where the invention is done, Mr. Atkinson notes, is often vital.
This is from a much cited New York Times article from last week (NYT). Here's Atkinson's vision of innovation economics and here is ITIF's agenda for the new administration. I've already covered Bhide's work in a number of different posts.

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