Science and Technology
Investments in basic scientific research are among the highest return on investment of any that our society can make. As a scientist and successful businessman, Bill Foster believes that keeping the technological pipeline full - from basic research, to technology development, to market driven deployment of advanced manufacturing technologies - is crucial to our country's long term economic health.
As a scientist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory for more than 20 years, and an entrepreneur in a successful high-tech manufacturing business before that, Bill Foster understands the long-term benefits of investments in science and technology. Bill has designed and built particle accelerators, integrated circuits, superconducting magnets, computer hardware and software systems used identify the Top Quark (the heaviest known form of matter), and computer systems that control theater lights from Disneyland to the Metropolitan Opera. The company that Bill started with his brother now provides more than 500 manufacturing jobs in the Midwest, and when Bill first ran for Congress, his campaign was endorsed by 31 Nobel Prize winners.
Over time, long-term investments in education and scientific research have provided the highest return on investment of any that our country can make. Studies indicate that over half of our economic growth during the last 50 years is due to investment in science and technology. Medical advances to cure chronic diseases like diabetes will be crucial to controlling future health care costs. And yet, these investments are also difficult to sustain politically due to the short-term incentives for our nation’s political leaders. Career politicians naturally care only about what will help them win the next election, rather than making the long-term investments that may enrich the lives of children but will not pay off for decades. The only solution to this dilemma is electing people like Bill Foster who value the long-term interests of our country above those of the political expediency that drive mindless cuts to investments in science and technology.
In the business world, CEOs of publicly held companies are judged by quarterly profits, so they also have little incentive to invest in long-term scientific research. Over time, this has caused the decay of institutions like Bell Labs, Xerox PARC, and the great privately-funded scientific laboratories that helped bring our country to the technological leadership of the world. We have to restore incentives that will make this sector of our economy bloom again – like the efforts Bill has strongly supported to make the R&D tax credit permanent.
Government-funded research has also provided breakthroughs that expand our economy and change our lives: the Internet, non-invasive medical imaging, the Global Positioning System (GPS), and fundamental biochemical research that is producing drugs that we could not have dreamed of a generation ago. And yet, too often the bridge has been missing to successful commercial products from these innovations.
Over the last 30 years, the fraction of GDP devoted to federal funding for the physical, mathematical, and engineering sciences has declined at a time when other countries are substantially increasing their own research budgets. Funding at NIH and the biological sciences has fared better but should also expand at a sustainable pace. Bill Foster believes that federally funded scientific research should play an important role in advancing science and technology in the classroom, the laboratory, and the transition to industrial production.
Our country has counterproductive student immigration policies that discourage the world’s best and brightest from setting up shop in America – even after the U.S. taxpayer has helped pay for their education. While countries like Canada have a deliberate national policy that results in 56% of immigrants having university degrees, the U.S. has no policy and the corresponding number for the United States is less than 10%.
The Patent system in the United States, for decades the engine of unparalleled innovation and growth, has not been upgraded to keep pace with either technology or the rising flood of patent applications from around the world. Ideologically-driven underfunding of the Patent Office has led to patent backlog of many months, creating delays and uncertainties that cripple innovation and causing many companies to abandon the patent system entirely.
The list goes on. Stem Cell research has suffered from opposition that has no basis in science and has immobilized important sectors of cutting-edge research. In the energy field, special-interest lobbying by corporate owners of incumbent technologies has frozen progress on new energy technology. For decades, our country has gone without either a manufacturing policy or an innovation policy. In a Congress dominated by lawyers and career politicians, good scientific, technological and business sense has been lacking – all resulting in the slow deterioration of the economic competitiveness of the United States.
Prior to the 2010 elections, these mistakes were beginning to be reversed. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided crucial funding for long-neglected scientific infrastructure. The Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education Act passed by the House in 2009 provides a coherent framework for funding Science and Math education. The America COMPETES Act authorized a doubling of science funding over 10 years.
All of these efforts have come under continuing attack since the anti-science wave of the 2010 elections. It will require perseverance and attention to detail to reverse the damage that has been done to science policy during the last administration and during the last few months. Making effective arguments for science policy means the technology has to be understood and the details matter. To make sure that these policies are implemented in a rational and cost-effective manner, there is no substitute for having scientists and businessmen like Bill Foster in Congress.