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But the budget follow-through fell through. Confronted with an array of competing needs, unforeseen emergencies and partisan jousting over deficits, debt and revenues, appropriators were unable to make good on the financial goods.
With last yearís budgetary battle scars still stinging, itís hard to see how lawmakers this year will have the will to provide the financial fuel the innovation engine desperately requires. In an election year, itís hard to see how they will put pernicious partisanship aside and strike a chord of compromise to afford research laboratories with the financial certainty they require. With dysfunction becoming ingrained in the Congressional consciousness, itís hard to see how they will avoid deferring difficult decisions until after the public has rendered its electoral judgment.
But if policymakers donít get serious about innovation soon, they will foreclose our nationís ability to compete in the global marketplace of the 21st century. Our competitors wonít take a siesta if we take a pass on science.
As Apple demonstrated with the iPhone and the iPad, creative industrialists, such as Steve Jobs, can turn federally funded scientific discoveries into marketable products, creating jobs, rewarding investors and transforming the lives of tens of millions of people.
But in todayís world of instant financial gratification, industry cannot provide the patient capital science needs. That capital must come from the American taxpayer. And itís not at all inappropriate because, in the end, the American taxpayer is the beneficiary.
Michael S. Lubell is a professor of physics at the City College of the City University of New York and director of public affairs of the American Physical Society.