Congress, the Shutdown and Technology

By Henry Newman

The Federal shutdown has me thinking about what the US will lose if we stop funding long term basic research. Research for High Performance Computing (HPC) systems is generally funded by the US. Indeed, the government is the basis of a good deal of the basic science research simulation in the US.

If you didn't see this about the NCSA Blue Waters Systems and HIV virus, it is well worth listening to. My understanding of this basic research on viruses is that it will allow us to model other virus structures, enabling us to model the next potential for a flu pandemic. Basic research has suffered over the last year, given funding, and is suffering greatly now given the shutdown.

For our nation to be a leader for the rest of this century we must be a leader in basic research in many scientific areas. The kind of research that most companies don’t do, not because they don’t want to do basic research, but because they’ve been structured to meet Wall Street demands for quarterly profits. Basic research is for the long term and rarely has short term payoffs.

The way I see it, we have three choices:

1. Do nothing about funding basic research and let our businesses falter in 5 to 15 years while other nations fund their own research – and transfer the technological advances to their domestic industries.

2. Realign Wall Street expectations to invest for the long term, where companies self-fund basic research, and change anti-trust laws to allow companies to work together.

3. Demand that Congress fund basic research.

The chances of improvements in scenarios 1 or 2 happening anytime soon resemble chances that a pig is going to spread wings and fly. There has been no discussions of this in any of the communications from Congress. Whether you are on the right or left, there needs to be a way to fund basic research. If 3 is not the answer, we need figure out the funding for basic research some other way. And figure it out quickly, as other nations understand the needs and the long term implications.

This article was originally published on October 08, 2013