Measuring Economic Growth: R&D Investments

Guest blog post by the  American Chemical Society.

ACSHow has the Super Bowl’s economy-driving market impact grown thanks to scientific research?

Can a value be placed on innovation? What is the economic impact of science and technology research? What is the return on investment of research and development?

These questions were addressed at the January 30, 2014, American Chemical Society Science & the Congress briefing, Measuring Economic Growth: R&D Investments, held on Capitol Hill. Moderated by the National Academies’ Stephen Merrill, PhD, panelist Steve Landefeld, PhD, of the Bureau of Economic Analysis spoke on how R&D numbers are now included in gross domestic product reports. Carol Corrado, PhD, of The Conference Board and Georgetown University explained how this captures “intangible” portions of the economy.

Researchers and scientists discover knowledge. Inventors and engineers apply understanding into tangible products like medicines, cars and computer software. Artists use technology from pens and paints to instruments and computers to produce works of entertainment. R&D thus seeds economic impact.

To illustrate R&D’s economic impact, IBM Chief Economist Martin Fleming, PhD, remarked that the Super Bowl attracts more viewers thanks to computer science: The 1st down line appears as “paint” on the field and not moving players. This TV “magic” results from scientific research of light and information. Camera sensors turn images into data, the Internet exchanges big data packages, then computer graphics paint on the TV screen in real time [with credit to Hollywood for development]. That the Super Bowl’s marketing power translates into significant consumer spending is hard to deny.

Andrew Lo, PhD, of MIT’s Sloan School of Management shows how R&D numbers are candy to financial markets to drive investment decisions that provide for economy-growing business. He showed that billions of dollars put into scientific and medical research in the War on Cancer has led to lifesaving drugs. The lives saved by these drugs contribute trillions of dollars to the economy. When considering multi-billion dollar federal spending, Lo states, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

ACS Science & the Congress Project holds briefings in Washington, DC, to educate and inform Members of Congress, their staffs and policy professionals on issues of science and technology. Previous installments are available at https://vimeo.com/channels/acssciconhill and https://vimeo.com/channels/sciencesocietychallenges. For more information on these events open to the public, contact science_congress@acs.org.

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