A bipartisan group of US senators and representatives has introduced legislation in Congress that would significantly change the operation of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Proponents of the bill say that the proposal aims “to solidify the United States’ leadership in scientific and technological innovation through increased investments in the discovery, creation, and commercialization of technology fields of the future”. To do so, the so-called Endless Frontier Act would expand the NSF’s remit, rename the organization and provide more than $100bn in support. The proposal has gained approval from many, but some have objected that it may undercut the NSF’s main objective, which is to fund basic scientific research.Gee, ya think?
Those behind the bill – four prominent US congresspeople – say that its introduction stems from the perception that international competitors, and particularly China, threaten to overtake the US technologically. “To win the 21st century, we need to invest in technologies of the future,” says Ro Kahana, a Democratic congressperson from California. “That means increasing public funding into those sectors of our economy that will drive innovation and create new jobs.”
Chuck Schumer, a New Yorker who leads the Democratic minority in the Senate, says that the US “cannot afford” to continue to underinvest in science while still “lead[ing] the world” in advanced research. That view is backed by Republican senator Todd Young of Indiana. “By virtue of being the first to emerge on the other side of this pandemic, the Chinese Communist Party is working hard to use the crisis to its advantage by extending influence over the global economy,” he claims. The new act, adds Republican representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, who is the fourth member of the group introducing the legislation, “is a down payment for future generations of American technological leadership”.
Yet the proposal has drawn some criticism. Former NSF director Arden Bement told Science of his concern that the bill could indicate to Congress – which appropriates agencies’ funds – that investments in the bill’s innovative technologies override the importance of the NSF’s core mission of funding fundamental, curiosity-driven research. But Bement’s successor France Córdova, who completed her six-year term as NSF director in March, argues that current-day science involves more seamless integration between fundamental and applied research.
One of the causes of inequality in our society are the extensive and intrusive subsidies provided by the government to private industry, things like this initiative, and the expansion of IP provisions.
This is bad for science and bad for the economy.