Poll: Many U.S. Voters Have Gloomy View of America's Science Future

Michael covers science news related to scientific employment and training at Science Careers.

More than half of Americans queried in a recent national poll doubt that the United States will be considered the world leader in health care by 2020, and nearly 60% believe that a country other than the United States will lead the world in science and technology by that time. Results from a poll, conducted by JZ Analytics on behalf of the health-research organization Research!America, were released this afternoon at the organization's annual health research forum in Washington, D.C.

Of the 1005 likely voters polled, 47% said they thought the United States would lead the world in health care by 2020—though the poll did not define which factors would play into that designation. More than a quarter of respondents said they weren't sure which nation would hold that title in 8 years, while 18% speculated that it would be the European Union. The rest of the responses split among China, India, and Brazil. Only 42% said they thought the United States would retain its position as the world leader in science and technology by 2020, while 26% predicted China would assume that mantle, and 7% chose India.

At a panel discussion at the conference, a number of scientists and science policymakers said these poll figures reveal a startling degree of public skepticism toward the United States's ability to compete globally in scientific research. They blamed the public's perception of the United States as a dwindling science powerhouse on a lack of long-term thinking by lawmakers tasked with funding national science endeavors. While China and the European Union have taken steps to increase their research budgets, the United States more recently has struggled to keep its research budget from declining, said National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins.

Collins, who helped usher in one of the United States's biggest recent scientific accomplishments, the sequencing of the human genome, said that if a project similar in scope and scale came along today, he doubted whether the country would be bold enough to fund it. But it's not too late to right the ship, he said. Indicators like the recent poll should serve as a warning to lawmakers not to undercut America's competitive edge by slashing research funding for high-risk, high-reward basic research. "America continues to be the place where boldness and innovation and creativity are encouraged, which isn't necessarily the case in other places."

Correction, 20 March: ScienceInsider incorrectly reported the number of likely U.S. voters who said they thought India would lead the world in science and technology by 2020. That number is 7%, not 23%.

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