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Science funding drop expected, Vest says

MIT President Charles M. Vest told Massachusetts industrial leaders last week that federal government investment in scientific research and development is expected to decline between 12 percent and 30 percent by the year 2002.

Speaking at a Massachusetts Technology Collaborative breakfast meeting at the Cambridge Center Marriott Hotel on Thursday, Dr. Vest said that this past year was "better than expected" in terms of government funding of science.

However, he said, new calculations by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) based on long-term budget documents show that Congressional investment in R&D by 2002 would drop 30 percent to 35 percent in real dollars, adjusted for inflation. The AAAS analysis shows that White House requests for science funding would drop 12 percent in real dollars by 2002, according to the AAAS.

"Despite the necessity of balancing the budget, we must maintain strong, certain and consistent federal funding," Dr. Vest told the 70 people attending the breakfast. "Federal and state government, universities and industry must work together, but the federal government must provide the long-term investments-the patient capital. Industry will not replace federal funding.

"The traditional bipartisan commitment to funding research must hold. Congress must not lose its corporate memory or its commitment to advancing science and technology. Failure to sustain this commitment will have unfortunate consequences for future generations," Dr. Vest said.

"This country's preeminence in scientific and technological education and research is America's primary comparative advantage among nations, and will be even more so as global integration and competition increases. It is especially the comparative advantage of Massachusetts and California. We have our work cut out for us if this region is to regain its position as the flagship of innovation in this country," he said.

"Regions differ. Silicon Valley and Route 128 are very different, at least in their current incarnations. Silicon Valley is cohesive, ever optimistic, and relentlessly organic in its evolution.

"Here, we seem to be loners: risk-taking, smart and entrepreneurial, but tempered by the harsh winters and the New England work ethic. The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative is a big help" in bringing the R&D community together, he said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 22, 1996.

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