Editorial: Research benefits are a hard sell
But their effects on our lives are all around us
When Congress made drastic budget cuts in the 1980s, Forest Service research was one of the targets. In subsequent years, the National Institutes of Health were cut.
The current issue of our sister newspaper the Capital Press explores the impact that agricultural research is having on the farm (“Where research meets agriculture”). It focuses on research laboratories in Idaho; Richland, Wash., and Berkeley, Calif.
The examples include a GPS mechanism that guides a farmer’s tractor. The concept is called precision agriculture. Drones are the latest elements that will give farmers more information for better yields and more economical use of water.
Agricultural research has a huge payoff. That was the wisdom behind establishing land grant universities such as Oregon State and Washington State.
But not all significant research has a godfather like the web of agricultural research establishments.
James Surowiecki writes about one such gap in the current issue of The New Yorker. Calling it Ebolanomics, Surowiecki notes that developing medication to deal with the Ebola virus does not fit the research model that drug companies use. That model tends to seek diseases that afflict affluent populations in the developed world.
The larger point, Surowiecki suggests, is that the developed world has a stake in finding a remedy for a disease that could decimate and destabilize a swath of Africa.
Research has a long lead time. The GPS-based precision agriculture described in the Capital Press story made its first appearance in the 1990s, before a research laboratory developed its full potential.
In a political environment that wants us to believe that we can have something for nothing or that a war can be run on a credit card, the wisdom of making longterm research investment is a hard sell. Meanwhile the benefits of government research are all around us. We are fools to hinder that investment.