In a recent op-ed published in the Toronto Star Dr. Alan Leshner, Research!America board member, writes that federal deficits in the United States and Canada “pose a significant threat” to basic research.
He notes that “some policy-makers seem to value near-term, industry-focused science more highly.” But adds that basic science has larger potential payoffs than applied research. “The most well-known example of life-changing basic research is of course Sir Alexander Fleming’s accidental 1928 discovery of a mould (penicillin) that seemed to repel bacteria. German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen’s 19th century efforts to pass cathode rays through glass now allows doctors to see inside the human body without surgery, using X-rays. More recently, a $250,000 study on “the sex life of the screwworm” — a title that prompted the late U.S. senator William Proxmire to mock efforts to better understand a lethal livestock pest — has so far saved the U.S. cattle industry more than $20 billion.”
The op-ed also stresses the importance of a sustained investment in fundamental research for global competitiveness. “Canada’s total R&D investment, including federal and industry support, has dropped from 2.09 percent of its gross domestic product in 2001 to 1.74 percent in 2011, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The overall R&D investment in the United States was 2.77 percent of the economy in 2011, and sequestration now threatens to push that figure lower. By comparison, Israel and Japan spend a total of 4.2 percent and 3.5 percent of their economies, respectively, on R&D. South Korea’s science expenditures are increasing rapidly, heading for 4 per cent of GDP.” To read the full op-ed click here.
Research!America recently entered a letter of agreement with Research Canada, along with Research Australia and Research!Sweden, to share strategies, approaches and networks to strengthen each of our health research advocacy efforts. While our organizations operate in different countries and in distinctly different political environments, we have in common a fundamental commitment to making biomedical and health research a higher global priority.