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Nobel winner: America is neglecting science

Peter Agre says funding and politics are hurting a field critical to solving global crises.

By STEVE ALEXANDER, Star Tribune

Last update: October 19, 2008 - 10:37 PM

Peter Agre, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist with Minneapolis roots, says America's been neglecting science -- and he wants scientists to speak up about it.

"In the last eight years, science has been hurt by the underfunding of science agencies and the politization of science" on topics such as global warming, said Agre, 59, a graduate of Minneapolis' Roosevelt High School and Augsburg College who shared the 2003 Nobel Prize for chemistry.

He'll speak about the plight of science today at the University of Minnesota's Innovation 2008 Conference, which runs today and Tuesday. But he worries that he's preaching to those already interested in the problem, when what he wants to do is reach a broader audience.

"Today's big concerns, global warming, health care and education, are all, in the end, science-related issues," said Agre, who also is president-elect of the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science and director of the Malaria Research Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "Not only do we need more money for research grants, we need enhanced support for the public education system and tax benefits to encourage research and development in industry."

There are plenty of reasons why science is hurting in the United States, including federal funding neglect, society's misplaced spending priorities and the decline in U.S. literacy rates, Agre said.http://www.startribune.com/business/31180704.html?elr=KArksc8P:Pc:U0ckkD:aEyKUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aUU

"It's not just that there's a lack of public interest in science, it's that there's a lack of interest in learning," Agre said. That shows up in science and math test scores in U.S. public schools, where students trail their counterparts in small nations such as Singapore, he said.

In addition, "every year companies spend millions of dollars for 60-second advertisements during the Super Bowl," he said. "It's not a matter of whether the country can afford to invest in science, it's where our priorities are."

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