Don't sacrifice R&D; Private industry: Bottom-line thinking is threatening research and development.


SPACE AGENCY HEAD Daniel S. Goldin, who has enough to worry about trying to run NASA, is also concerned about research funding in the private sector. The emphasis on short-term gains, as Mr. Goldin euphemistically put it, has a number of major corporations cutting back on research and development. Americans know that companies are downsizing to maximize profits; communities across the nation have been affected by layoffs. Not much attention has been placed on companies trimming costs by reducing R&D;, but the consequences could be great.

The federal government also is cutting research dollars as it seeks to end deficits. The government today does spend more of its research dollars on non-military purposes -- 45 percent compared to only 25 percent in the mid-1980s -- but funding for civilian R&D; by the year 2002 could be reduced 33 percent under one congressional proposal. The greatest impact would be on basic or fundamental science, i.e., research with no specified goal. That type of experimentation has been responsible for many of the miracle discoveries.

Private companies such as AT&T;, Westinghouse, IBM, Dow and others are more oriented toward applied research, in which they look for technological answers to specific problems. There will be fewer answers, fewer innovations, if these companies slice too much from R&D; in their quest for bigger profits. They must, instead, find ways to combine their efforts, when possible, to reduce costs and continue scientific research. High production costs in the computer chip industry, for example, led Motorola, IBM, Toshiba and Siemens to announce their joint formation of an R&D; team last year.

Research and development has birthed products and technologies that give this nation an edge in a global market with cheap labor we cannot match. R&D; should be viewed as the private sector's life blood. Science has produced jobs; it has produced industries. It has made our lives safer and more comfortable. It is shortsighted not to put company earnings into the search for scientific advancements that benefit not just stockholders but the world. Pub Date: 3/12/96

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