Page last updated at 14:11 GMT, Monday, 27 April 2009 15:11 UK

Obama vows investment in science

By Paul Rincon
Science reporter, BBC News

President Barack Obama at the NAS (AFP)
President Obama said it was time for the US to take a lead on innovation

President Barack Obama has set the goal of devoting 3% of gross domestic product (GDP) to US science research.

President Obama made the announcement during a speech on Monday to the US National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC.

He also discussed a US public health emergency over the swine flu virus outbreak.

President Obama added that it was time for America to lead again in the area of research and development (R&D).

Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment and our quality of life than it has ever been before
President Barack Obama

He said the goal represented the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in US history.

"I am here today to set this goal: we will devote more than 3% of our GDP to research and development," said President Obama.

"We will not just meet, but we will exceed the level achieved at the height of the space race."

US R&D spend is currently of the order of 2.6%, according to the most recent recorded figures.

"A half century ago, this nation made a commitment to lead the world in scientific and technological innovation," he said in his speech.

But President Obama said investment in science had declined since that "high water mark."

R&D spend comparison 2000-2006

"There are those who say we cannot afford to invest in science, that support for research is somehow a luxury at moments defined by necessities. I fundamentally disagree," he explained.

"Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment and our quality of life than it has ever been before."

He said his administration would, over a decade, double the budgets of key agencies, including the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

It would also pursue the goal of a cut in carbon pollution of more than 80% by 2050.

"Energy is our big project," he told the audience.

"My recovery plan provides the incentives to double our nation's capacity to generate renewable energy over the next few years."

The new ARPA-E agency, which was set up to carry out "high risk, high reward" research on energy, would help meet some of the country's challenges over coming decades, he said.

He also announced a new commitment to mathematics and science education.

"Our schools continue to trail other developed countries - and in some cases developing countries. Our students are outperformed on maths and science by their peers in Singapore, Japan, England, The Netherlands, Hong Kong and Korea amongst others," said President Obama.

Lisbon target

He added: "We have watched as scientific integrity has been undermined and scientific research politicised in an effort to advance pre-determined ideological agendas."

President Obama said his budget would also make permanent the US research and experimentation tax credit, which is designed to encourage technology-based companies to invest additional resources in R&D and testing.

Europe has long had an R&D intensity objective of 3%.

The goal is known as the "Lisbon target" because it was set at a meeting of the European Council in the Portuguese capital in 2000.

The objective to make R&D expenditure 3% of GDP is supposed to be met by 2010; but although EU states have made progress to the mark, they will miss the deadline. Currently, spending stands at about 1.84% (EU-27).

The UK government has set a target for GDP spend on research of 2.5% by 2014.

Nick Dusic, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering in the UK, told BBC News: "President Obama backs up his rhetoric about the importance of science and engineering with additional investment in R&D and science and maths education.

"Although the UK government has made similar commitments in the past, it needs to redouble its effort if we are to compete and collaborate with the US in the future."

Japan spends almost 4.0%; Korea spends more than 3.2%; and China is catching up fast, spending over 1.4% of its GDP on R&D.

On the swine flu outbreak, President Obama told the audience: "Our capacity to deal with a public health challenge of this sort rests heavily on the work of our scientific and medical community. This is one more example of why we can't allow our nation to fall behind."

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