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Science ain't cheap

Chris Farrell

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

SCOTT JAGOW: By now, you've probably gotten an earful about the budget President Bush sent to Congress this week. We've been combing through it for anything that might've been missed. Our economics correspondent Chris Farrell came up with something: money for scientific research and development.

CHRIS FARRELL: The budget only has a 1 percent real increase — real means adjusted for inflation — in R&D in energy, atomic energy, natural resources and environment and transportation. So in other words, global warming and energy security if you want to use a huge rubric. And you know the White House has made a genuine sea change, or it appears to be a genuine sea change, in terms of talking about global warming and talking more about energy independence. But I gotta tell you, you look at this real increase, 1 percent, it's not much of a commitment.

JAGOW: So what you're saying is there's a disconnect between the idea of coming up with new technologies and advancing this stuff and actually putting the money into the research for it.

FARRELL: Right. So, 1 percent increase. Mike Mandel, chief economist Business Week Magazine, did this calculation. He says, look we're going to be spending 17 percent below what we were spending in 1993, 40 percent below what we were spending in 1979, which was the peak of the last energy crisis. This is the wrong direction. Science is important in terms of out international competitiveness and by the way there are two big problems. Global warming is a problem. Energy security? It's an issue. Let's unleash the power of scientists and their ideas to address these issues, but they're going to a bigger increase, a bigger priority than 1 percent.

JAGOW: Now what about venture capital? What about the private sector?

FARRELL: Right. A lot of people like to complain about the federal government. But one thing the federal government does really well is fund basic science, because we have this magnificent university system, we have research institutes, and we have a very good system of peer review for funding basic research and development. Now we have a lot of really smart people called venture capitalists and you're absolutely right. Now what they're doing is they're poring over this research and this development and they're trying to say, what's going to work, what should I be backing. What the federal government doesn't do well is necessarily pick the technology, but we have a lot of very, very top-notch world-class universities with plenty of smart scientists. I say, hey, increase the spending and see what they can come up with.

JAGOW: Alright Chris thank you.

FARRELL: OK

JAGOW: Our economics correspondent, Chris Farrell.

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