Sixty-eight Nobel laureates in science and medicine have signed an open letter endorsing President Obama.
The president "understands the key role science has played in building a prosperous America, has delivered on his promise to renew our faith in science-based decision making and has championed investment in science and technology research that is the engine of our economy," they write. "He has built strong programs to educate young Americans in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and programs to provide Americans the training they need to keep pace with a technology-driven economy."
Why should Americans pay attention to a bunch of scientists? Because that same description applies to the founders: Just try to find another country that was conceived by so many devotees of expanding the frontiers of knowledge as well as those of a continent. At least one member of that pantheon, Benjamin Franklin, would himself have been a shoe-in for the prize for his discoveries about the nature and functions of electricity.
Indeed, for the founders the intellectual and physical challenges that faced the new nation were intimately related. Innovation would be required to make America the magnet of ideas and the locus of prosperity that they envisioned. And, after all, only an enlightened people can be truly free. True to that spirit, the laureates address "America's proud legacy of discovery and invention," upon which depend "America's economic future, the quality of our health, and the quality of our environment depend." "We're deeply concerned," they write, "that without leadership and continued commitment to scientific research the next generation of Americans will not make and benefit from future discoveries."
The fact that half the nation's economic growth since World War II has been a result of investments in science and technology in itself makes a compelling case for the Nobelists' argument, and for their deep concern about the implications of the Romney-Ryan fiscal plan. "His opponent supports a budget that, if implemented, would devastate a long tradition of support for public research and investment in science at a time when this country's future depends, as never before, on innovation. He has also taken positions that privilege ideology over clear scientific evidence on climate change."
As important as investment in innovation has been over the last 50 years, it will be at least as important in the next 50, now that America is no longer the unrivaled leader in science and technology. The Nobelists remind us of "the investments that revolutionized agriculture, invented the Internet, gave us modern medicine and enabled a strong national defense. Abandoning this tradition would be a devastating step backwards."
The alternative -- a long, slow and dispiriting economic decline and threats to our way of life, even our national security -- is the unacceptable future that Governor Romney's stated plan represents. "If you believe, as we do, that America's future is bound in essential ways to science and innovation, we urge you to join us in working to ensure the reelection of President Obama."
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