Skip to Content

From the President: The Innovation Deficit

Basic research is an investment in the future.

In May 2015, 30 faculty members—the MIT Committee to Evaluate the Innovation Deficit—issued an important report called “The Future Postponed: Why Declining Investment in Basic Research Threatens a U.S. Innovation Deficit.” The argument: declining U.S. funding for basic research is halting or delaying crucial progress in areas as disparate as cybersecurity and space exploration, fusion energy and photonics. The “innovation deficit” is a challenge for all U.S. research universities and for the United States as a whole—a challenge to our well-being, our prosperity, our security, and our future.

MIT president L. Rafael Reif

As a nation, what should we be willing to pay for basic research on Alzheimer’s that could pave the way to early diagnosis, prevention, treatment, and a cure? What would it be worth to unlock the power of quantum computing, or to find catalysts to convert carbon dioxide into fuels? What should we be willing to pay for the synthetic biology that could lead to a cure for cancer? Citing inspiring examples from 15 fields, the report highlights the gains we might expect with appropriate national investment in fundamental science.

Today, other nations are framing big questions like these—and funding the pursuit of answers. Switzerland, Canada, and China are making serious gains in quantum computing. Japan and several European nations are investing heavily in optical integrated circuits; advances elsewhere are remaking the semiconductor industry, until now overwhelmingly U.S. turf. And the prize in an international student competition in synthetic biology, a field that emerged in the United States, has gone to non-U.S. teams in eight of the past nine years.

Like the U.S. itself, MIT thrives because it is a magnet for global talent. For these exceptional thinkers and doers, much of the attraction lies in the privilege of working together. Yet for decades, they have also come to MIT and other American research universities because the U.S. led the world in support for basic research. Today, with such support lagging here and rising elsewhere, we must help the nation remember that basic science is the wellspring of our future success.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

The miracle molecule that could treat brain injuries and boost your fading memory

Discovered more than a decade ago, a remarkable compound shows promise in treating everything from Alzheimer’s to brain injuries—and it just might improve your cognitive abilities.

wet market selling fish
wet market selling fish

This scientist now believes covid started in Wuhan’s wet market. Here’s why.

How a veteran virologist found fresh evidence to back up the theory that covid jumped from animals to humans in a notorious Chinese market—rather than emerged from a lab leak.

Conceptual illustration showing a file folder with the China flag and various papers flying out of it
Conceptual illustration showing a file folder with the China flag and various papers flying out of it

The US crackdown on Chinese economic espionage is a mess. We have the data to show it.

The US government’s China Initiative sought to protect national security. In the most comprehensive analysis of cases to date, MIT Technology Review reveals how far it has strayed from its goals.

conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned
conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned

A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click

Deepfake researchers have long feared the day this would arrive.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.