Cuts in federal funding, censorship or threat of it, devaluation of facts and knowledge, and limits to the influx of talent will certainly affect American leadership in science and technology. But, the scientific ecosystem is robust, thanks to two remarkably simple structural strengths:
- Decentralized control. If the political U.S. consists of 50 states with constitutionally enforced local control, the scientific U.S. consists of thousands of universities, institutes, research centers, national labs, and other operations that form an enormously distributed network with largely autonomous governance structures and indecipherably global webs of interactions. Federalism implies that states can mount their own counter-measures when their interests are challenged. Extreme autonomy of scientific institutions almost guarantees the same.
- Public support. Deeper than a desire to be cured from disease or to use a faster internet, public support of science is a rooted belief in — and patriotic pride in — American scientific and technological exceptionalism. A challenge to this quintessential American identity will offend most and produce counter-movements, including political mutiny and philanthropic outpouring.
The bottom line: The robust scientific ecosystem in the U.S. will continue to thrive, and scientists with grit should stick around. The American Dream is alive, at least in science.
Other voices in the conversation: