Aug. 22, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Lubell: Federal Commitment Needed for Big Science

If you are a believer in market principles and entrepreneurship, you must become an admirer of America's scientific enterprise: Research, as we perform it in the United States, is a cutthroat business. It represents a marketplace of the best ideas, and with few exceptions, only the soundest concepts can survive the scrutiny of peer review for very long.

If you are a smart investor who wants to cut the federal deficit, you should place a large bet on science: Economists such as Michael Boskin, Robert Solow, Paul Romer and the late Edwin Mansfield, who studied the return on federal research spending, all concluded that the financial return is positive and large, from 25 percent to more than 60 percent. Getting our fiscal house in order is imperative, but reducing research funding to do so is a poor strategy.

If you are a person of faith, you need to know that many scientists are as well: Isaac Newton, the progenitor of classical physics, was a noted theologian. And among American Nobel laureates, William D. Phillips, who received his physics prize in 1997, is unabashed about his religious commitment. So, too, is Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health and recipient of the 2008 National Medal of Science, who is a guitar-playing evangelical Christian.

Finally, if you are a human rights advocate, you ought to recognize that American physicists have long been involved in promoting freedom in totalitarian countries: The American Physical Society's Committee on International Freedom of Scientists, established in 1976, for example, is widely known for its human rights activism in the former Soviet Union, China and Iran.

In an era that disdains patience in capital markets, the task of supporting long-term scientific research falls to the federal government. Science, by its nature, is a nonpartisan endeavor. And it should enjoy bipartisan support. Congress owes the American public no less.

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.

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