by Cora Bennett, University of Tennessee, Knoxville Economics PhD
The Bush report has been influential in guiding science and innovation policy for the past 75 years. In this Super Session, moderators and panel speakers discussed the successes and shortfalls of the implementation of the Bush report with a mind towards future policy decisions. I found the discussion extremely interesting and I’d like to share two main takeaways from today’s discussion.
First, the Bush report placed quite a bit of emphasis on universities as the primary producer of basic researchers. Many of the panelists found fault with this idea and pointed to several examples we see today. Paula Stephan explained how, in the current system, universities own the equipment and lease it to researchers to use. This puts faculty members at risk of losing their jobs if they cannot successfully win grants and creates an oversupply of trained researchers. All panelists were in support of a push towards a more heterogeneous distribution of research institutions by introducing more non-profit research institution and a greater dependency on the national lab model.
The second takeaway that I thought was extremely interesting was the kind of research that governmental science and technology institutions should be supporting. The Bush report had a strong deference to basic research, but the panelists made clear that the federal government has not always succeeded in supporting it. Going forward, policy should focus on funding riskier research, in terms of investment, and for longer periods of time. The research that the government should be funding should be pushing the boundaries of the frontier of knowledge, however, this kind of research has a lower success rate than safer, short-term research projects and does not often check all the boxes for the merit review processes of NIS or NSF. Policymakers are currently working on creating systems that allow NIS and NSF to have more freedom in exploring research projects that push this boundary.
Overall, the session was a fantastic discussion on the institutions that support basic research in the United States and how we can enact policy that continues to support research and researchers in the best way possible.