Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology say in a new report that cuts in government funding on basic research are causing an "innovation deficit" that inhibits the development of life-saving technology in 15 different fields.
Federal science funding is "the lowest it has been since the Second World War as a fraction of the federal budget," MIT physicist Marc Kastner told Reuters. "This really threatens America's future."
Kastner led the committee of 50 MIT senior staff members that wrote the new report, "The Future Postponed," which examines the scientific fields that stand to lose the most from cuts in spending and identifies potential opportunities.
"Although the benefit of any particular scientific endeavor is unpredictable, there is no doubt that investing in basic research has always paid off over time," Kastner said. "Economists tell us that past investments in research and development account for a large fraction of our current GDP, and even if the future payoffs are not as large, there is no doubt that we will suffer if we do not keep up with those nations that are now making bigger investments than we are."
Cuts have affected research into fusion energy, Alzheimer's disease, brain technology, infectious diseases and defense technology.
Spending cuts are partially due to lawmakers' inability to reach agreements on reducing the federal deficit. Because of this, budgets for science research organizations like the National Institutes of Health have slowly diminished. Legislation on research spending also gets delayed due to debates over controversial topics such as climate change, Reuters notes.
"The U.S. also lags in two other key areas: developing advances in plant sciences that can help meet growing world needs for food while supporting U.S. agricultural exports, and the growing field of robotics that is important not only for automated factories but for a whole new era of automated services such as driverless vehicles," the report said.
"Some areas of research are so strategically important that for the US to fall behind ought to be alarming."
In 1968, the percentage of the U.S. federal budget devoted to research and development was about 10 percent. But while other countries continue to invest more money into research, the percentage of the U.S. budget devoted to basic research has fallen to less than 4 percent in 2015.
For example, in 2014, China developed the world's fastest computer, the European Space Agency landed the first spacecraft on a comet and European researchers discovered a new fundamental particle.
"Chinese leadership in supercomputing-its Tianhe-2 machine at the Chinese National University of Defense in Guangzhou has won top ranking for the third year in a row and can now do quadrillions of calculations per second-is just such a straw in the wind," reads the report.
When it comes to developing new drugs to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria, commercial incentives for drug companies to invest are simply lacking, according to the report.