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American companies have been investing less and less in basic research, Vox's Brad Plumer reports.

Labs at companies like AT&T, IBM, and Xerox used to perform broad basic research that could lead to new products, but not always and not necessarily right away. But since the 1980s, large companies like those have been spending less on scientific research, according to a new report from a trio of researchers from Duke University and the University of East Anglia. They found that while companies have been devoting about the same amount of funding to research and development, the share of those funds going toward research has declined, Plumer says.

Duke's Ashish Arora and his colleagues noted a corresponding decline in the number of scientific publications from company researchers, and added that the slack in research doesn't appear to have been fully taken up by smaller companies that the larger ones then acquire.

The trio says that this decreased emphasis on basic research might be due to a combination of companies becoming more specialized as well as increased competition through globalization.

"Established companies can no longer emulate firms such as DuPont, AT&T, or Merck, whose investments in research in the past have significantly advanced the frontiers of human knowledge," the researchers say. "Unless public funding can make up the deficit, technical progress will slacken and eventually reduce productivity growth."

And, Plumer notes, in the US, federal funding for basic scientific research is also languishing.

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