We Need Science Funding More Than Road Repairs

As the Biden administration pushes for a $2 trillion infrastructure bill, I dug into some numbers on federal research funding today. Most basic scientific research is funded by the federal government, including the critical advances in mRNA technologies that laid the groundwork for COVID vaccines. But this funding has fallen by more than 1/3 since the 1970’s, measured as a percentage of GDP:

In absolute dollar terms, funding has increased, but far below the rate one would predict given our burgeoning economy. Meanwhile, the infrastructure bill contemplates $110 billion in funding for road repair. This despite the US having some of the best roads in the world (slightly better than those of Switzerland) and among the world’s lowest commute times. Even in the New York area, which many single out for having poor road infrastructure, I see mostly smooth pavement wherever I go.

Science funding will never be as visible as road repair. You don’t see men in orange jackets out there with big trucks. But without basic research, we will find ourselves falling behind competitors like China and left without the tools we need to meet future challenges. What if we had faced the COVID pandemic without the scientific groundwork laid by massive research funding in decades past?

For more on science and policy, check out these posts:

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Photo: “Joe Biden” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0


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