Monday, February 13, 2006

The importance of basic research for society: Japan vs. the U.S.

Japan sees nanotechnology as one of the four key research areas that it will invest most heavily in during the next four years. Here are the specifics from today's UPI piece:

"In Japan's case, there is greater urgency both within and outside the administration that without investing more into basic research, the country will fall behind economically. As a result, the plan is to invest about $212 billion (25 trillion yen), or about 1 percent of its GDP, over the next five years into encouraging research in developing in four key areas: life sciences, information technology, environmental sciences and nanotechnology."

This interesting news, especially given Benjamin Wallace-Wells's bleak predictions about science and basic research in the U.S. earlier this month in The Washington Monthly:

"For decades, the United States ranked first in the world in the percentage of its GDP devoted to scientific research; now, we've dropped behind Japan, Korea, Israel, Sweden, and Finland. The number of scientific papers published by Americans peaked in 1992 and has fallen 10 percent; a decade ago, the United States led the world in scientific publications, but now it trails Europe. For two centuries, a higher proportion of Americans had gone to university than have citizens of any other country; now several nations in Asia and Europe have caught up."

And Nobel laureate David Baltimore was even more pessimistic in his LA Times piece a little more than a year ago: "We no longer have a lock on technology,” he wrote. “Europe is increasingly competitive, and Asia has the potential to blow us out of the water.”