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MIT President Questions Congress' Commitment To U.S. Innovation

MIT President Susan Hockfield (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Fears of a stalled recovery and a loss of American economic power globally are on the minds of many these days.

In a 21st century world where new products and innovation mean everything, the sciences – the engine of so much past American innovation – have suffered major cutbacks in funding from Congress.

On Thursday’s edition of On Point, host Tom Ashbrook asked whether science can nevertheless dig the country out of its financial hole, this time around.

It can, said Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Susan Hockfield.

“I think science is up to the challenge, I think the people of the United States are up to the challenge — our great question right now is whether Congress is up to the challenge,” Hockfield said.

“At the time the United States is reducing its investments, other countries are racing to try and repeat the miracle that was the American innovation-based economy following World War II.”

– Susan Hockfield, MIT President

The U.S. Congress has appropriated money for innovation research and development, but these investments have been on the decline over the years — federal funding for research in physical science, as a percentage of GDP, is down 54 percent.

Thanks to a record national deficit, raising funding for innovation — the one thing that could bring the U.S. back to its economic glory days — has been put on the back burner, she said.

“One of our concerns is that the enthusiasm for decreasing the deficit would cut the kind of seed corn that we rely on to actually grow our economy,” Hockfield said.

“At the time the United States is reducing its investments, other countries are racing to try and repeat the miracle that was the American innovation-based economy following World War II.”

MIT is celebrating its 150th anniversary with a new exhibit at the MIT Museum, open to the public on Saturday. Check back on wbur.org on Friday to see a preview of the exhibit, which will feature 150 objects from its inception until today.

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