Directions of Policy Research

October 10, 1975

Report Outline
Significance of Policy Research
Development of Independent Research
Trends in Think Tank Activity
Special Focus

Significance of Policy Research

In the 1950s and 1960s, growth was the American religion, and its gospel was R&D. Research and development seemed to open up limitless possibilities for American industry, and it fueled the American imagination as well. The belief was that any problem could be overcome, any goal achieved, if enough brains and money were focused on it. This was an attitude that guided American private enterprise, private life, and public policy.

Americans have learned some painful lessons since then. Most of all, they have learned about the finite. Resources are not limitless; U.S. power to remake the world—at home and abroad—is not absolute. Growth is no longer seen as inherently good, either in business or government. Conservation—of energy, of the environment, of privacy—is now the public preoccupation. America's wealth of human and natural resources remains gigantic, but there is a growing realization that resources in themselves are not enough, and that a resource used unwisely is a resource lost.

Research and development, having lost some of its glitter, nevertheless remains alive and well in this new climate. It has adapted to change and remains a vast and varied field in this country. The National Science Foundation calculates total R&D spending in the United States at $34.3 billion in 1975, or 2.3 per cent of the gross national product—more than half of it paid for by the federal government. This includes basic research, directed toward the broadening of scientific knowledge; applied research, directed toward the practical application of knowledge; and development, the systematic use of scientific knowledge for the production of useful materials, devices, systems or methods. These simple definitions belie the complexity of America's research and development effort, which includes everything from cancer research to computer technology, from the search for new foods and fads to the development of missile systems.

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