Sunday, March 29, 2015

Powering the Future: Funding for Basic Research in Science and Technology

CNN's Fareed Zakaria's GPS program "Moonshots for 21st Century,"explores
an international collaboration (ITER) to test nuclear fusion as a new energy source.
"Maybe we will one day have a conversation with souls in some high-tech library," mused  Dr. Michio Kakia, a theoretical physicist and futurist who works on mapping the human brain (interview with GPS's Fareed Zakahria, CNN, March 15, 2015).

I'm a died-in-the-wool Liberal Arts relic from the 1950s and 60s, but I was blown away by CNN's Fareed Zakaria's special GPS show, "Moonshots for the 21st Century."  It's a powerful reminder that what's going on beyond the headlines is as important, if not more important, than what the media chooses to cover.

The show explores all kinds of recent advances in science and technology: NASA's plans for sending astronauts to Mars. "Hypersonic flights."  The development of  the Bio-Assembly and Bio-printer to create a new human heart. Intel's work on the microchip and the ongoing computer revolution,  The human genome project. Harvesting the energy of nuclear fusion. The mappng of the human brain and the power of the mind.

These are just a few of the awesome scientific and technological innovations and solutions that will have amazing commercial and real-life applications. "These research and development projects will change our world," Fareed stresses.
This chart shows that funding for government
research has increased in dollars but declined
 as a percentage of Gross National Product
He interviews some fascinating people. Charles Bolden, NASA administrator; Dr. Stuart Williams ,Cardiovascular Institute at the University of Louisille; scientists Gunther Jameschitz, Mark Henderson, Robert Mercer and Michio Kakia. Their research, individually and collectively, is on the cutting edge of human knowledge. Amazing projects. Amazing discoveries. Amazing potential for real-life applications.

The show's message is obvious: The US government needs to increase funding for basic research and development in science and technology. It's not about profit; it's a matter of the well-being of planet earth and its inhabitants.

The Federal budget is incomprehensible to most of us, but it seems to come down to a matter of values.  War vs. peace; military funding vs. social services; tax breaks for the wealthy or opportunities for the poor, unemployed, marginalized;  billions for weapons of war vs. a pittance for Peace Corps.

I'm usually arguing for more funding for the arts and humanities, for public broadcasting, for artists and writers.  Fareed's investigation brings us to the science side of the equation, and it is compelling. "Moonshots for the 21st Century" provides a strong case for increased government support for basic research in science. And frankly, I think it's a better bet than increased corporate funding where the bottom line often trumps the well-being of humankind and the environment.

Good reads:
"Funding for basic research" article in Wikipedia: "Most research funding comes from two sources, corporations (through research and development departments) and government (primarily carried out through universities and specialized government agencies; often known as research councils. Small amounts of scientific research are carried out (or funded) by charitable foundations, especiallyfor developing cures for diseases...According to OECD, around two-thirds of research and development in scientific and technical fields is carried out by industries, and 20% and 10% respectively by universities and government. Comparatively, in countries with less GDP, such as Portugal and Mexico the industry contribution is significantly lower. The US government spends more than other countries on military R&D, although the proportion has fallen from around 30% in the 1980s to under 20. Government funding for medical research amounts to approximately 36% in the U.S....Similarly, with some exceptions (e.g. biotechnology) government provides the bulk of the funds for basic scientific research..In commercial research and development, all but the most research-oriented corporations focus more heavily on near-term commercialization possibilities rather than "blue-sky" ideas or technologies (such as nuclear fusion.).''
., a contrary view that private corporations not government should fund basic science research. - views on various funding sources and who benefits.

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