In DepthBehind the Numbers

Data Check: Federal share of basic research hits new low

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Science  10 Mar 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6329, pp. 1005
DOI: 10.1126/science.355.6329.1005

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For the first time in the post–World War II era, the federal government no longer funds a majority of the basic research carried out in the United States. Data from ongoing surveys by the National Science Foundation show that federal agencies provided only 44% of the $86 billion spent on basic research in 2015. The federal share has been falling steadily since the 1970s, when it topped 70%, and it dipped below 50% in 2013. The sharp drop in recent years is the result of two contrasting trends—a flattening of federal spending on basic research over the past decade and a significant rise in corporate funding of fundamental science. Spending on basic research by all U.S. businesses has nearly doubled, from $13.9 billion to $24.5 billion, from 2008 to 2014. That second trend flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which paints U.S. companies as so focused on short-term profits that they have all but abandoned the pursuit of fundamental knowledge, an endeavor that may take decades to pay off.