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Investing in science is not an end in itself. Rather, it is the key to innovation, which is the key to creating jobs. In the US, this trivial message seems not to have fallen on fertile ground. At the end of August, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released its worrisome data on funding for American research, which has been labeled “unprecedented”.
The bottom line is: Federal funding of academic science and other R&D in the US has failed to outpace inflation in the past two year. But what stirs those concerned about the future of US science most is that never before have there been two consecutive years in which federal spending on science has fallen in current dollars. This means that while the US government remains the largest source of academic R&D funding in the country (it accounts for more than 60% of total R&D expenditures), its share has dropped from 64% in 2005 to 62% in 2007.
Will this downswing come to an end? Has it only just begun? Can it be counterbalanced by private funding? The future of US science is hard to predict, but it will certainly have an effect well beyond its geographical borders.