America’s president is currently tightening budgets on R&D and focusing scientific efforts on things like fossil fuel energy and military systems. Meanwhile in Germany, quite the opposite is happening: Angela Merkel is slowly but steadily growing the nation’s research efforts to further cement its standing as a scientific heavyweight.
Nature has a great piece reflecting on the nation’s impressive scientific standing. The country has, of course, always had a fine heritage: it was a scientific trailblazer in the 19th century, creating universities and prestigious research organizations that continue to pump out impressive research. But Angela Merkel, the nation’s chancellor and (tellingly) an ex-physicist, has been on a decade-long drive to keep the country at the cutting edge.
Over the past 10 years, Nature points out, Germany has gradually increased its national spend on research and development up to almost 3 percent of its GDP—a larger proportion than America ponies up. It’s set up research clusters that bring together researchers from around the country to work on the most important areas, like artificial intelligence, cancer, or clean energy. And it’s changed laws so that universities can pay researchers more in order to attract and retain talent.
It appears to be working: more than twice as many German universities are now in the world’s top 200 compared to 2005, and the nation’s research impact measured by number of citations has increased in the same period (America’s has fallen).
It’s not all roses, though. The nation’s culture doesn’t have an appetite for risk (and, therefore, it misses out on the reward that comes with it), and female representation in the sciences is still awful. But as a model for policies designed to push the needle on science, it puts America’s current approach to shame.