New York Times op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman says:
I was just out in Silicon Valley, checking in with high-tech entrepreneurs about the state of their business. I wouldn't say they were universally gloomy, but I did detect something I hadn't detected before: a real undertow of concern that America is losing its competitive edge vis-à-vis China, India, Japan and other Asian tigers, and that the Bush team is deaf, dumb and blind to this situation.
Here are more excerpts from his disturbing commentary:
Other executives complained bitterly that the Department of Homeland Security is making it so hard for legitimate foreigners to get visas to study or work in America that many have given up the age-old dream of coming here. Instead, they are studying in England and other Western European nations, and even China.
Still others pointed out that the percentage of Americans graduating with bachelor's degrees in science and engineering is less than half of the comparable percentage in China and Japan, and that U.S. government investments are flagging in basic research in physics, chemistry and engineering.
Friedman notes the concerns of Craig Barrett, the C.E.O. of Intel, who laments the disappointing interest of U.S. schoolchildren in science competitions, when compared to similar events in China.
For now, the U.S. still excels at teaching science and engineering at the graduate level, and also in university research. But as the Chinese get more feeder stock coming up through their high schools and colleges, "they will get to the same level as us after a decade," Mr. Barrett said. "We are not graduating the volume, we do not have a lock on the infrastructure, we do not have a lock on the new ideas, and we are either flat-lining, or in real dollars cutting back, our investments in physical science."
Many researchers see embryonic stem cells, which can develop into any type of cell in the body and could help treat a variety of diseases, as one of the most promising and challenging fields in science. But since the August 2001 decision by the Bush administration to restrict funding for the work that can be done using those cells, American scientists have watched momentum in this field shift to other countries with rules that are more clearly defined and more financial support from their governments.
We point all this out not because we are cheerleaders for U.S. business, but because falling behind in basic research could result in a molecular manufacturing breakthrough taking place in a country that is not friendly to basic human rights or to Western democracy. It could lead to a panicky, ill-considered reaction once this breakthrough becomes known, and that prospect is frighteningly dangerous.