Column: State needs federal investment in science

Rosina Bierbaum

Science and technology affects almost every aspect of our lives. From the water we drink, to the lakes and forests that make Michigan a national attraction, to the innovation driving the automobile industry, we need investments in scientific research and development.

Across the country, U.S. investments in scientific and engineering R&D have created millions of jobs and improved state economies. According to a Congressional Research Service report, scientists and engineers only account for about five percent of the nation’s workforce, but they help create jobs across the rest of the economy. Scientists’ discoveries and products extend far beyond the research laboratory, affecting people across the business sector — from designers to builders to consumers.

As a scientist at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources & Environment and a former member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, I have seen first-hand how important federal investments in science are to states, universities and industry.

Yet, despite decades of bipartisan support for investment in science research, the White House has proposed a budget for 2018 that threatens scientific research and the economic growth that flows from it.

This budget proposal includes cuts of 17 percent to the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, 70 percent to the Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Research program, and 44 percent to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science and Technology account.

For Michigan to address climate change and take advantage of the shift to a more sustainable way of life, our state requires developments in new energy technologies and natural resources conservation, all requiring federal investments. When I served on the Michigan Climate Action Council, we based our recommended policy actions on scientific evidence, much of which was from federally funded research.

As we look to solve global challenges, like climate change, other countries recognize the enormous value of scientific R&D and the foundation it lays for enhancing 21st century economic growth and global competitiveness. For example, from 2008-15, China’s investments in R&D grew 153 percent, South Korea’s 68 percent, and Russia’s 18 percent, while the U.S. grew 10 percent.

For generations, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have supported continued investment in basic and applied research because they witnessed and celebrated the profound and positive impacts that these investments have on our health, economy, and global leadership. Across every industry and sector, investment in R&D provides clear opportunities for Americans and advances economic prosperity.

Our congressional representatives have supported robust funding for R&D in the recently passed 2017 appropriations. Michiganians should urge them to further strengthen our national commitment to investing in scientific research as they negotiate the 2018 budget.

Rosina Bierbaum is a professor and former Dean of the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan.