Budget proposals – Presidential or Congressional – too often are more political Kabuki than serious policy, and the risk of smoke and mirrors is directly proportional to budget pressure. It is therefore a pleasant surprise to find in the President’s most recent budget proposal for the U.S. Department of Agriculture less theater than past experience would predict, as well as some genuinely sound policy.
ITIF has pointed out the sizeable discrepancy between present levels of support for agricultural research and development and those that would be commensurate to addressing the challenges facing agriculture over the next 40 years. We estimate that to meet the dual stresses of population growth and climate change on food production, existing agricultural research budgets should be tripled and focused on basic research and innovation that can drastically improve crop productivity and resiliency. This is the only way we will be able to meet food demand, which is expected to double by 2050.
The President’s budget proposal takes a significant step in the right direction by increasing funds for competitive grants in agricultural research by 45% over 2012 levels. In a time when the overall budget … Read the rest
President Obama Calls for Creation of a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation in State of the Union Address
In his State of the Union address this evening, President Obama called on Congress to support creation of a network of at least fifteen manufacturing innovation institutes that would bring together industry, universities, community colleges, federal agencies, and states to accelerate innovation by investing in industrially relevant manufacturing technologies with broad applications. The first institute in this network, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, launched in Youngstown, Ohio in August 2012 to pioneer additive manufacturing and 3D printing technologies and tonight the President announced the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs “where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs.
As ITIF explains in Why America Needs a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, these institutes are poised to play a pivotal role in spurring U.S. industrial competitiveness and revitalizing American manufacturing by helping bridge the gap between basic research and product development, providing shared assets to help companies (including small- to medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs) access cutting-edge capabilities and equipment, and creating a compelling environment in which to educate and train … Read the rest
On December 21, 2012, the Food and Drug Administration published a draft environmental assessment for a new variety of salmon that promises to benefit the health and wallets of consumers, reduce dramatically the environmental impacts some have linked to conventionally farmed salmon, and reduce over-fishing pressure on wild salmon stocks. The publication of this EA is noteworthy because it marks at least a temporary elevation of facts, reason, and innovation-friendly policy over ignorance, mendacity, and what appears to have been ill-considered political interference with science-based and pro-innovation policies with a long history of strong, bipartisan support.
The document should have been published more than a year ago. But as is often the case with pathbreaking innovations, its road has been marked by unexpected bumps and potholes. It finally looked as if the path to publication was clear last April, when movement suddenly stopped without explanation. The story is well told in SLATE , by Jon Entine, who has ferreted out indications that it was put on hold out of fears its publication might anger a portion of President Obama’s most fervent base, a calculation of elevated political significance in an … Read the rest
Recently, I wrote a piece outlining the big-benefits from big-pharma, and this last week another working paper hit the NBER stands highlighting even more starkly the real effect drug vintage is having on human life-expectancy. No, we aren’t talking about immortality, but wouldn’t you like to have another 4 months to live with your friends and family? That is exactly what Frank Lichtenberg of Columbia University found was the increase in life-expectancy that can be directly attributed to the increases in drug vintage experienced between 1996 and 2003.
Lichtenberg, using exceptional data from individual patient records, “investigate[s] whether patients using newer drugs in a given year remain alive longer than patients using older drugs, controlling for many important patient characteristics.”
He finds that “between 1996 and 2003, the mean vintage of prescription drugs increased by 6.6 years. This is estimated to have increased life expectancy of elderly Americans by 0.41-0.47 years. This suggests that not less than two-thirds of the 0.6-year increase in the life expectancy of elderly Americans during 1996-2003 was due to the increase in drug vintage. The 1996-2003 increase in drug vintage is also estimated to have increased annual … Read the rest
This November, California voters will be asked to decide whether food that has been “genetically modified (GM)” should come with a special GM label. Proponents of proposition 37, or the “Right to Know” initiative, argue that “in a democratic, free-market society, consumers get to make informed choices about what we eat and feed our families,” i.e., a GM label will help consumers make informed choices. Sounds simple enough. What could possibly be the downside to a small label that presumably enables greater consumer decision making?
First, labels such as this are never about education and open consumer choice, but about limiting people’s interest in harmful substance. Labels are one of many public policies that aim to “nudge” consumer behavior away from a product. As Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein outline in their well-known book Nudge, consumers are fickle, uncertain, and look for cues to make decisions. Thaler and Sunstein use the example of putting fruit first in cafeteria lines. Because people irrationally fill up their trays with things at the beginning of cafeteria lines, one way to “nudge” people to eat healthy is to put healthy food first. Mandatory labels … Read the rest
On Sunday, July 8, the Washington Post published an article arguing that the U.S. has pushed for more scientists, but the jobs aren’t there. While the article noted that job markets for physicians and physicists remain strong (with unemployment rates for those professions less than 2 percent), jobs are sparser for those holding biology or chemistry Ph.D.’s. In particular, the unemployment rate for chemists is the highest it’s been in 40 years and U.S. drug firms have cut 300,000 jobs since 2000. The challenge is particularly acute for recent Ph.D.’s, as just 38 percent of new Ph.D. chemists were employed in 2011.
There are of course many reasons for employment shortages in these fields but perhaps the two most prominent are stagnating federal investment in key scientific fields such as life sciences and faltering U.S. innovation-based competitiveness. Due to unsatisfactory regulatory, tax, talent, technology, and trade policies, the United States has become a less attractive location for globally mobile investment in R&D and production activity. This trend is presented in detail in a forthcoming book by ITIF President Rob Atkinson and myself, Innovation Economics: The Race for Global … Read the rest
In an era of ever tightening budget constraints, some, especially some conservatives now argue that federal funding for research is not critical for innovation. They claim that the private sector will make up for any losses in innovation resulting from a reduction in federal funding of R&D. In the latest edition of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management (devoted to the examination of science policy and innovation), two scholarly articles clearly rebut this view.
Furman et al. argue that even modest science policy shifts can have a significant influence on the composition of research as well as the pattern of international R&D collaboration. They find that following the United States’ 2001 policy, which banned the federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research (hESC); U.S. production of hESC scientific research lagged 35 to 40 percent below anticipated levels. In other words, cutting federal funding for particular areas of science R&D results in significantly less innovation in that area.
At the broader level, Blume-Kohout presents similar results. However, this study relates to the benefits of increasing federal research support to research output. Specifically, it is revealed that increasing NIH funding … Read the rest
Some of the country’s most promising young scientists, in Washington this week to be honored at the White House, offered some useful insights for policymakers about the nation’s science innovation ecosystem: 1) The United States has a lot going for it– fine universities and talented, curious and innovative people eager to bring about monumental transformations, 2) Government funding is critical– often the only source for basic research and 3) Scale back on item #2 and you compromise #1.
At a press roundtable today recipients of Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) were unanimous in saying a steady and consistent funding stream helps maintain the country’s brain power and world class R&D infrastructure. It also begins a process that can lead to successful commercialization of ideas and discoveries.
Michael Escuti, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at North Carolina State University, affirmed that money he has received from the National Science Foundation has leveraged private capital and led to a small business startup. His has pioneered the development of liquid crystal “polarization gratings” which could have a wide array of applications from battlefield communications to advanced cameras.… Read the rest
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” (Rev. Charles Dodgson, Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6)
Recent news brings one of those items that causes palms to smack foreheads:
“ConAgra Foods is facing two class action lawsuits that claim the marketing of its Wesson cooking oils as “100% natural” and “pure” is misleading because the oil is extracted from plants that have been genetically modified (GM).
“The two lawsuits, one filed in Los Angeles and the other in Brooklyn, seek millions of dollars’ worth of refunds for consumers who bought products in ConAgra’s Wesson range of cooking oils, as well as a court order preventing the company from labelling the oils as natural. The oils concerned include Wesson-brand corn oil, canola oil, Best Blend and vegetable oil.
“According to the complaint, labelling the oils “100% natural” is misleading because GM plants are “unnatural”, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO says: “Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be defined as organisms in which the genetic material … Read the rest
Two new reports released last week provide some of the most compelling evidence yet for the importance of federal investments in science and technology innovation. Amid the bitter and protracted negotiations over this fiscal year’s federal budget, U.S. investments in science and innovation were largely spared from the deepest cuts some federal programs faced. But they may not be safe for long as Congress considers making further spending cuts in the fiscal year 2012 budget beginning in October against the backdrop of debate this summer over raising the national debt ceiling.
That’s why it is critically important that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle distinguish between federal “spending” and “investments.” What many fiscally conservative lawmakers omit in their zeal to slash spending is that many federal programs actually have positive rates of return, meaning they bring in more revenue—to the government, economy, or both—than they cost the taxpayer. To put it another way, some federal investments are profitable to the public balance sheet and save the taxpayers money in the long run.
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