The US federal government's investments in basic and applied research have enabled innovations developed by the private sector, and the bang the economy and culture gain from the government buck needs to be remembered, says Elliott Negin from the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Amid the din of the debate about federal spending and government deficits, people ought to be talking about how federally funded research has resulted technologies that are omnipresent today, Negin writes in an op-ed for Live Science.
The 5 percent cut from the sequestration, the recent government shutdown, and the "inconsistent funding by a fickle Congress is taking its toll on the public sector scientific enterprise," Negin says.
If history is a guide, these funding cuts are going to have a negative impact on private enterprise, he writes.
"If not for government-funded research and innovation, many corporations — and individuals — would not be as successful as they are, and a number of them wouldn't be in business at all," he adds
Negin wants you to take a look around you and note that many of the gadgets you see — computers, iPhones, the webpage you are looking at — were developed by inventors, startups, and large companies using tools that first created using government money.
The basic networks, procedures, tools, and protocols that are the internet were developed by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency as the Internetting project, and was developed further later with funding from the National Science Foundation.
How about the computer itself? Apple and IBM are indebted to the US Army, Negin says, because it built the first electronic digital computer capable of being programmed in 1945 to calculate ballistic firing tables.
The iPhone, iPod, and iPad were all developed by Apple, which received early support from the US Small Business Investment Company, and the touchscreens they use were initially developed at the University of Delaware using funding from NSF and the CIA.
NSF has contributed to the development of a number of inventions and innovations "that we all now take for granted," Negin says, including barcodes, fiber optics, MRI, web browsing, and others.
Negin also notes that NIH-funded research added an estimated $69 billion to the US gross domestic product in 2011.
"In so many ways, federally supported science is critical not only to Americans' health, safety and well-being, but also to economic innovation, and the nation can't rely on corporations to fill that role on their own," he writes.