I like the recent letter from Mary Woolley at Research!America (see below) because it lays out in clear terms the importance of our challenges in STEM preparation and our shared national interests in addressing those challenges. Also, I especially hope you will click on the link to Francis Collins’ recent op-ed in the Washington Post that is included in her letter and give it due consideration.
Dear Research Advocate:
The end of the year is a good time to think ahead and consider our nation at the end of the decade; how will we fare in the world order? My letter this week to the editor of the New York Times highlights poll data indicating that Americans don’t believe the U.S. will be the world leader in science and technology by 2020. This data reflects opinions grounded in numerous media reports on China’s accomplishments and determination to lead the world in science. Chinese accomplishments in space of late and their plans for a space station in 2020 ought to be a 21st century “Sputnik moment” for the U.S. It should be a wake-up call to policy makers: get serious about fueling our nation’s underpowered research and education infrastructure if we expect to compete globally in the years ahead. As NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins noted in his Washington Post op-ed this week, we’re at a “critical juncture” in biomedical research. Do we pursue opportunities derived from recent medical breakthroughs or squander them with insufficient funding for research?
A host of businesses and the employees who fuel their progress are reliant on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education — I don’t mean just the behemoth global enterprises that are already tapping the power of other nations’ commitment to STEM. We know from polling this year that nine out of ten small business owners in America say that a robust national commitment to R&D is important to their business success, as well as to U.S. global competitiveness. That recognition does not seem to have influenced policy makers who appear to be ignoring the obvious fact that R&D is a conduit to success in virtually every sector of our economy. Other countries understand the critical nature of both a robust national R&D enterprise and a workforce powered by first-rate STEM education. (If you have any doubt that our nation is falling further behind in STEM, check out the recent interactive OECD comparison tool.)
By investing in STEM and federal support for basic research, and enacting policies that enable private sector innovation to thrive, we will be able to once again power-up our economy and — if we act in time — maintain our now quite tenuous global leadership. For advocates of R&D, be it medical or any of the many STEM disciplines, there are two gifts we can give our nation in 2014. We can fight for a top notch education system that enables many more children to equip themselves for a career in a STEM field, and we can fight for the resources and policies needed to “round the circle,” ensuring a robust supply of STEM jobs and an environment in which innovation flourishes. We have a new budget that lays the seeds for policy making grounded in serving the public’s interest rather than partisan politics. Let’s all help make sure the new budget is a new start, not a blip on the screen; and ensure research and innovation, and STEM education, remain a top American priority for generations to come.
Happy new year!
President and CEO
1101 King St., Suite 520
Alexandria, VA 22314
On a personal note, I continue to be distressed by the inexcusable inattention to the preparation of minorities for STEM related careers. As major technology companies push for immigration policies that facilitate unfettered access to ‘high IQ risk takers’, we have yet to mount the commensurate attention to the DEVELOPMENT of high IQ risk takers in our own communities of color here in the U.S. I agree with Mary’s call for greater attention to education reform. It is past time for more energy and leadership in this regard, especially in socio-economically challenged communities.
I do especially appreciate the leadership of Francis Collins in working to address the distressing paucity of minority researchers who receive the all important RO1 NIH research grants. Learn more about the statistics that describe the magnitude of the problem and some promising corrective actions being implemented by NIH’s Working Group on Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce. We need this same leadership energy across and throughout our science and education policy elites. The implications of failure should be obvious to even the most casual observer. What in the world are we waiting for? We don’t have time to wait for another new year!