Congress is set to make a down-payment on innovation in America

SENATOR HARLEY KILGORE, a West Virginia oil prospector’s son who carried around a horse chestnut for good luck, had a vision for American science. It was too dominated, he thought, by big business and by the university system: the country’s practical needs were an afterthought. In 1942 Kilgore proposed creating a federal bureaucracy, responsive to the public, that would guide scientific research for the good of the country and distribute its benefits geographically. Kilgore was opposed by Vannevar Bush (pictured above), who led American R&D during the second world war. Bush felt that scientific research should be directed by the scientists themselves. In a report for the president called “Science: The Endless Frontier”, Bush summarised his ideas. Government, he said, should fund research. But rather than direct this research towards meeting social needs, it should instead seek to advance science for its own sake: basic, not applied, science was to be the primary objective. Bush won the day. The National Science Foundation (NSF), born in 1950, has largely followed the principles he laid out. Kilgore is about to get his revenge. The Senate will probably soon pass the US Innovation and Competition Act, known until recently as the Endless Frontier Act. Though the bill is named after Bush’s report, it will take American...

Congress is set to make a down-payment on innovation in
America
SENATOR HARLEY KILGORE, a West Virginia oil prospector’s son who carried around a horse chestnut for good luck, had a vision for American science. It was too dominated, he thought, by big business and by the university system: the country’s practical needs were an afterthought. In 1942 Kilgore proposed creating a federal bureaucracy, responsive to the public, that would guide scientific research for the good of the country and distribute its benefits geographically. Kilgore was opposed by Vannevar Bush (pictured above), who led American R&D during the second world war. Bush felt that scientific research should be directed by the scientists themselves. In a report for the president called “Science: The Endless Frontier”, Bush summarised his ideas. Government, he said, should fund research. But rather than direct this research towards meeting social needs, it should instead seek to advance science for its own sake: basic, not applied, science was to be the primary objective. Bush won the day. The National Science Foundation (NSF), born in 1950, has largely followed the principles he laid out. Kilgore is about to get his revenge. The Senate will probably soon pass the US Innovation and Competition Act, known until recently as the Endless Frontier Act. Though the bill is named after Bush’s report, it will take American...