On June 27, the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies released its report, Furthering America’s Research Enterprise. The report, which was originally called for in the America COMPETES Act of 2011, is the culmination of work by a Committee on Assessing the Value of Research in Advancing National Goals. Language in the America COMPETES Act called on the National Science Foundation (NSF) to contract with the National Academies on a study to “develop improved impact-on-society metrics” for federal investment in research and development. The Committee decided to broaden the study to also look at the National Institutes of Health, Department of Energy, and other federal agencies.
As the report states, Congressional interests lie in “further[ing] the benefits of science for the U.S. economy and the advancement of other national goals—in particular, keeping the nation in the forefront of global competition for new technologies and other innovations,” with a particular emphasis on “measures that could serve to increase the translation of research into commercial products and services.” The Committee’s study found that while measures can be used to quantify research outputs in certain respects, “current measures are inadequate to guide national-level decisions about what research investments will expand the benefits of science,” noting that metrics are used to assess specific aspects of research in isolation without understanding the broader scientific enterprise.
Assuming a system-level understanding of the enterprise is in place, the Committee concludes that societal benefit from federal investment in research can be enhanced by focusing on three pillars: (1) a talented and interconnected workforce; (2) adequate and dependable resources; and (3) world-class basic research in all major areas of science.