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Trivia Tidbit Of The Day: Part 138 -- Research & Development.

Research & Development-


American Association for the Advancement of Science (.pdf).

Correlation does not necessarily mean causation, and there could be any number of things happening in this graph, but it does seem to be the case that the private sector will gladly spend the bucks on research and development if the government mostly stays out of it. When the government monopolizes science, it stifles the competitive spirit that so many scientists might otherwise have. And large levels of public funding on certain projects might dissuade private entities from taking the plunge with their dollars.

That being said, certain scientific projects have costs that are so great, and benefits so nebulous, far-flung, and intangible, that the government must do what the market will not. In general, however, it's best that public dollars go toward building a scientific infrastructure, of sorts, upon which other scientists can base their research and development.

Next, and totally unrelated to the previous point, this research and development explosion roughly correlates with the rise in personal computing power. The beginning of the information technology revolution is vaguely like the beginning of the first printing press. People can share information, and more of it, more efficiently than ever before. People can also make calculations and create intricate three-dimensional simulated models that once might have been inconceivable on paper.

One of the mysteries economists have been attempting to solve in recent years is how American productivity growth was so robust immediately following World War II, then so flat for an extended time, and now so robust again today. R&D dollars likely have at least something to do with that.


Previous Trivia Tidbit: Religions In Congress.

Posted by Will Franklin · 14 August 2005 11:33 AM


I would be interested in what the "other category" is made up of. Are those personal foundations / funds like Bill gates?

Also, it is interesting that investment in R&D rose in conjunction with cuts in income taxes - see the early 1980s.
nice one.

Posted by: jp at August 14, 2005 12:36 PM

The worst thing that's happened in my lifetime is that the general agreement that the gov funds basic research, and industry funds applied research, has broken down.

First, the idea that universities should be patent holders, and compete in the marketplace, spread beyond the narrow domains of medicine.

Then, the gov gave up funding basics, and moved to things like hydrogen filling stations for the (bs) hydrogen economy.

I personally like clear understandable distinctions, and would like a return to gov/basic/long-term and industry/applied/short-term, but we've been screwed.

I think the people who screwed us are those recently in power (probably of both party) who didn't understand the fundimental difference between basic and applied research. What bs.

Posted by: odograph at August 14, 2005 02:47 PM

Strange. I went back to the original source ( http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/nsf05308/secta.htm#fig3 ) and they don't seem to agree. The figure from AAAS shows federal inputs not growing much from 1965-on but the original source shows significant growth from 1965-1985...

Posted by: Yali Friedman at August 15, 2005 09:22 AM