In April, MIT released The Future Postponed: Why Declining Investment in Basic Research Threatens a U.S. Innovation Deficit, - a report on both the long term benefits of basic research and the impact on those benefits of declining federal investments.
“2014 was a year of notable scientific highlights,” notes the report in its introduction, “including: the first landing on a comet, which has already shed important light on the formation of the Earth; the discovery of a new fundamental particle, which provides critical information on the origin of the universe; development of the world’s fastest supercomputer; a surge in research on plant biology that is uncovering new and better ways to meet global food requirements.”
“None of these, however, were U.S.-led achievements,” it then adds. “The first two reflected 10-year, European-led efforts; the second two are Chinese accomplishments, reflecting that nation’s emergence as a science and technology power. Hence the widespread concern over a growing U.S. innovation deficit, attributable in part to declining public investment in research.”
According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the percentage of the federal annual budget devoted to R&D has fallen from 9.1%, ($16.2 billion), in 1968 to 3.4%, ($131.0 billion), in 2015. As it has for many decades, the US continues to lead the world in total R&D outlays, which includes all the R&D carried out in companies, universities, research institutes, government labs and so on. But other countries, China in particular, are catching up.
In 2014, says R&D magazine, the US spent $465 billion in R&D, while China was second at $284 billion. But, it estimates that given the current rate of growth and investments, China will be spending $600 billion in R&D and surpass the US around 2022 due to its faster growing economy.