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Applying a meat ax to the federal budget may be satisfying if your mission is to downsize and dismantle the federal government as quickly as possible. But the only cognoscenti who are applauding are our European and Asian competitors. They recognize the importance of scientific discovery. So do American economists, who estimate that fully 50 percent to 70 percent of U.S. gross domestic product growth ultimately stems from innovation, much of it federally inspired.
Government support of science, for example, delivered the integrated circuit, the atomic clock, the global positioning system, the Internet and the touch screen, the innovations Jobs seized on to create the iPhone and iPad. And the Apple saga is only one of many high-tech success stories hidden in plain sight.
As World War II drew to a close, the federal government began pouring money into an arcane field known as quantum mechanics. One of the outcomes was the laser, which now enables technologies accounting for more than a third of our economy.
Until recently, federal support of research knew no partisan boundaries. But today, tea party firebrands, who have been using the House of Representatives for their personal target practice, have broken that bipartisan bond and are threatening to undermine America’s science-driven economic engine. If they get their way, morning in America may soon become mourning in America.
Michael S. Lubell is the Mark W. Zemansky professor of physics at the City College of the City University of New York and director of public affairs of the American Physical Society.