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68 Nobel Prize-Winning Scientists Endorse President Obama’s Science Policies

The Nobel Prize

SOURCE: Flickr/ereneta

Sixty-eight Nobel laureates in science endorsed President Obama's science policies on Wednesday.

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The Center for American Progress Action Fund today received an open letter co-signed by 68 Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry, and medicine. The letter strongly endorses President Barack Obama’s science policies. “America’s economic future,” the letter begins, “depends on our ability to continue America’s proud legacy of discovery and invention.”

In the letter the Nobel Prize-winning scientists contrast President Obama’s programs to train young Americans in science and technology, strengthen science-based decisionmaking in government, and increase investments in science and innovation, with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s budget proposal, which would slash these investments. Indeed, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget plan, which Gov. Romney endorsed, would invest fully one-quarter less in nondefense research and development compared to the president’s plan.

“The Nobelists’ commitment to a prosperous future built on innovation is in the finest spirit of the Founding Fathers and expresses a core American value,” said Jonathan D. Moreno, Editor-in-Chief of Science Progress Action and Senior Fellow at CAP Action. “In this time of economic recovery, we must keep our eye on the horizon by investing in the science, technology, education, and workforce we need to stay on the cutting edge and compete in a world economy where success is increasingly determined by our ability to out-invent and out-innovate our competitor nations.

Spanning several generations, the Nobelists are themselves fine examples of how public investments in science lead to a substantial return on our nation’s investment. James Watson, who won the Nobel Prize in 1962 at age 34 for his work on the way DNA and RNA work together to create proteins, is now 84, and Charles Townes, inventor of the precursor to the laser and winner of the prize in 1964, is now 97. Among the most recent winners of the prize is Robert Lefkowitz, who won the prize earlier this month for revealing the inner workings of an important family of receptors that govern how cells in the body communicate with one another.

These are America’s most accomplished scientists, and their discoveries have led to real progress. Without James Watson’s discovery of the structure and function of DNA and RNA, we would not have a biotechnology industry that contributes nearly $1 trillion annually to the U.S. economy. And Charles Townes’s discovery of the maser, which later led to the laser, has touched nearly every industry and countless everyday products, from DVDs to LASIK eye surgery to precision manufacturing.

At CAP Action we believe public investments in science and technology are the bedrock of our nation’s economy and key to future prosperity. Indeed, another Nobel laureate, Robert Solow, won the prize in economics in 1987 for showing that more than half of the wealth our nation has created since World War II stems directly from technological innovation. The iPhone 5 alone, which itself contains countless inventions that arose from federally funded research, is predicted to add between one-quarter and one-half of a percentage point to our nation’s gross domestic product this year, according to the chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan.

“As a nation we must continue the investments that revolutionized agriculture, invented the Internet, gave us modern medicine, and enabled a strong national defense. Abandoning this tradition would be a devastating step backwards,” the 68 Nobel laureates conclude.

But the evidence shows that the public’s investments in science and technology pay off. If we’re serious about creating jobs and growing the economy for the long term, then Gov. Romney and his allies in Congress have it backward: It’s not that we can’t afford to increase our investments in science. It’s that we can’t afford not to.

Read the full letter here.

Sean Pool is a policy analyst for science and innovation policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, and managing editor of Science Progress Action.

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