A Renewed Pledge for American Innovation

Geoff Lane photo

Grey skies and rainy weather could not dampen the spirit of excitement and opportunity as the National Academy of Sciences today marked its 150th anniversary.  President Obama was on hand, and offered a look not just at the legacy of America’s researchers, but also at the enormous opportunity that this generation and the coming generations of scientists will unlock.  It’s not a speech that is likely to generate front-page news, but, for a sector that is as heavily dependent on research and cutting-edge innovation, his words certainly ring with value.

Here are excerpts from his remarks.

 

The good news is America remains a world leader in patents and scientific discovery.  Our university system is the crown jewel of our economy as well as our civilization.  And that’s what’s allowing us to continually replenish our stock of people who are willing to dream big dreams and reach higher than anybody else.

And what I want to communicate to all of you is, is that as long as I’m President, we’re going to continue to be committed to investing in the promising ideas that are generated from you and your institutions, because they lead to innovative products, they help boost our economy, but also because that’s who we are.  I’m committed to it because that’s what makes us special and ultimately what makes life worth living. 

 

One of the things that I’ve focused on as President is an all-hands-on-deck approach to the sciences, as well as technology and engineering and math.  And that’s why we’re spending a lot of time focused on the next generation.  With the help of John Holdren and everybody who’s working with my administration, we want to make sure that we are exciting young people around math and science and technology and computer science.  We don’t want our kids just to be consumers of the amazing things that science generates; we want them to be producers as well.  And we want to make sure that those who historically have not participated in the sciences as robustly -- girls, members of minority groups here in this country -- that they are encouraged as well.

We’ve got to make sure that we’re training great calculus and biology teachers, and encouraging students to keep up with their physics and chemistry classes.  That includes Malia and Sasha.  (Laughter.)  It means teaching proper research methods and encouraging young people to challenge accepted knowledge.  It means expanding and maintaining critical investments in biomedical research and helping innovators turn their discoveries into new businesses and products.  And it means maintaining that spirit of discovery. 

 

And we’ve got to make sure that we’re supporting that next generation of dreamers and risk-takers -- because if we are, things will be good.  They leave me with extraordinary optimism. They leave me hopeful.  They put a smile on my face.  And I’m absolutely convinced that if this Academy and the successors who become members of this Academy are there at the center and the heart of our public debate, that we’ll be able to continue to use the innovation that powers our economy and improves our health, protects our environment and security, that makes us the envy of the world.

 

So, at a time when research budgets are tightened and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education is too often an afterthought, it's important to remember that, to reach another milestone like the sesquicentennial mark reached today, the country needs to redouble its focus.  The United States has long been and continues to be a nation of makers -- creative thinkers who are willing to dream big and act on their ideas.  But in order to continue down this path, parents and teachers need to make sure students are armed with the right skills in math and science, and our policymakers need to ensure the nation's researchers are afforded an innovation-friendly ecosystem.  The president's remarks today were a timely reminder that science and research are the lifeblood of not just innovation and job creation, but also lie at the core of who we are and must continue to be as a nation.

Here's to another 150 years!

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