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Nobel prize winners urge lawmakers to maintain basic-research support

Concerned about the impact science funding cuts could have on America's future, 60 Nobel prize winners-including nine MIT faculty and alumni-sent a letter to President Clinton and Congress on June 19 urging them to maintain the government's long-standing investment in basic science research.

"Americans have been awarded more than one-half of all Nobel prizes in physics, chemistry and medicine since 1945. This impressive success is no accident, but the result of a firm and consistent commitment by the federal government to basic science research at our universities," the Nobel laureates said.

"America's future prosperity will depend on a continued commitment to producing new ideas and knowledge, and the people to apply them successfully. They will be central to our economic opportunity in the face of intense global competition, to our protection against renewed threats to our security and environment, and to ensuring the health of Americans."

The letter from Nobel prize winners comes as lawmakers consider the federal budget for fiscal 1997. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has reported that the Administration's budget plan and the budget resolution approved by the House and Senate propose a reduction of 24.5 percent and 22.8 percent respectively for non-defense research and development by fiscal 2002, after adjusting for expected inflation.

The signatories to the letter were awarded the Nobel prize in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, and economics. Since 1945, Americans have been awarded more than half of all Nobel prizes in these areas.


Signatories from MIT were Professor David Baltimore (physiology or medicine, 1975), Institute Professor Jerome I. Friedman (physics, 1990), Professors Henry W. Kendall (physics, 1990), Mario J. Molina (chemistry, 1995), Paul A. Samuelson (economics, 1970) and Phillip A. Sharp (physiology or medicine, 1993), and Institute Professor Emeritus Robert M. Solow (economics, 1987).

MIT alumni who signed the letter were Sidney Altman (MIT SB, 1960; Nobel prize in chemistry, 1989) and Lawrence Klein (MIT PhD 1944; Nobel prize in economics, 1980). Other MIT-related signatories include former MIT provost Charles H. Townes (physics, 1964), former physics professor Steven Weinberg (physics, 1979) and Thomas R. Cech (chemistry, 1989), who did his postdoctoral work at MIT.

"Our own achievements and the benefits they have brought would not have been possible without the government's `patient' capital," the Nobel laureates said. "With competition forcing industry to focus research investments on returns over the shorter turn, the government is left with the crucial role of making the longer term investment in discovery."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on July 24, 1996.

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