Ask the proverbial “Man in the Street” for an opinion about scientific research, and if you get anything resembling an intelligent response, you might get comments about smartphones, new drug treatments and maybe a question about what happened to the space program.
As a nation, we have a vague interest in technology that directly affects our lifestyles—demanding bigger, brighter TV screens, faster, more functional internet service and cars that cost less, go faster and offer a wealth of convenience features. That’s how we visualize science as applied to daily life.
Few—if any—of those man-in-the-street interviews would ever raise the subject of agricultural research—except for an occasional complaint about the “dangers” of GMOs. Yet not only does investment in both basic research and applied R&D matter greatly to a country’s economic vitality, but the ROI on such funding is substantial and contributes meaningfully to job and wealth creation.
Fortunately, one voice that loudly articulates the case for research in farm and food production as a vital, if oft ignored, component of maintaining national security and economic viability, continues to raise important points.
The advocate is Alan I. Leshner, CEO of American Association for the Advancement of Science and executive publisher of Science journal. Before taking on his current post in 2001, Leshner served as director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse—which, by the way, supports some 85 percent of the world’s research on drug abuse and addiction—held several senior position at the National Science Foundation and is a current presidential appointee to the National Science Board.
He knows science and he understand the impact of research.
Here are a few excerpts from a recent message that touched on agricultural research, in which he urged a renewed national commitment to maintaining its priority:
“The U.S. scientific enterprise is heavily beleaguered,” he wrote in an editorial last week in Science online. “The economy is only now recovering from bad times, and the sequester is only making matters worse for scientific research.
“These realities are coming at the same time as other countries are increasing their R&D investments, responding to the clear relationship between a nation’s research capacity, its economic strength and the well-being of its people. The inequality in science funding trends is threatening America’s standing in the global scientific community.”