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STAC’s Response to NYT Article “What Happened to All of Science’s Big Breakthroughs”

February 10, 2023

In reaction to a recent New York Times article, Keith Yamamoto, co-chair of the Science and Technology Action Committee (STAC), a non-partisan coalition of non-profit, academic, foundation and business leaders advocating for greater focus and funding of science and technology, and the president-elect of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, issued the following response:

A recent New York Times article highlighting a study published earlier this month in the journal Nature suggests that the pace of great scientific breakthroughs has stalled. The study uses a flawed metric that undervalues the critical importance of sustained, incremental progress and undercounts breakthroughs. Publication of incremental findings enables other scientists, with distinct expertise and resources, to build upon a modest advance using different concepts or approaches to generate novel discoveries, typically incremental, sometimes profound. Between 1945 and 2010, scientific publications per year have increased by about 400-fold. Among them, remarkable breakthroughs continuously emerge.

Today, the world faces existential challenges in health, climate, energy and food that demand both sustained scientific progress and breakthrough advances. We will succeed only if we value both the steppingstones and the milestones that they enable. Science remains our greatest ally in overcoming the momentous challenges of our time.

The Science & Technology Action Committee (STAC) is a group of 25 non-profit, academic, foundation, and corporate leaders working to dramatically strengthen U.S. science and technology. The Committee is co-chaired by: Bill Novelli, Professor Emeritus and founder of Business for Impact at Georgetown University and former CEO of AARP, Sudip Parikh, CEO, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Executive Publisher of the Science Family of Journals, Mary Woolley, President & CEO of Research!America, and Keith Yamamoto, Vice Chancellor for Science Policy and Strategy at UCSF and President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).