After more than two decades in San Diego, I had some thoughts about Kelly Bennett’s June 3 question, “What could stymie the kind of invention and innovation that San Diego strives to be known for?” Here are six possible stymies:
1. The federal government backs away from funding basic scientific research. Such federal funding led to the development of the internet, GPS and CDMA. The government did not commercialize these ideas, but each transformed our economy. (Notably, in San Diego, our largest private employer is Qualcomm.) Research funded by the National Institutes of Health here in California led to the birth of biotechnology, groundbreaking treatments for cancer and other conditions. In 2011, biomedical industry employees numbered more than 25,000 in San Diego County alone. According to a May 2012 report, “the U.S. life sciences industry supports more than 7 million jobs and contributes $69 billion annually to U.S. gross domestic product.”
It takes years of education for a scientist to get to a lab where he or she can apply for a federal NIH grant to make the discovery that will cure a disease or start a company. This is a bleak picture for an aspiring scientist, who now can move to another country that is investing in science and more likely to fund the research. According to a May 2012 report, Asia’s share of global research and development expenditures increased from 24 percent to 32 percent between 1999 and 2009, while the U.S.’s share fell from 38 percent to 31 percent. According to that same report, China over the next five years promised to invest $300 billion into biotechnology, twice what the U.S. planned to spend.
Unless our country steps up and meets our international competitors with adequate and consistent funding for basic science research, we face the prospect that the next great cure, invention or tech company is created in another country, maybe by someone educated at a San Diego university.