President Carter pledged last night to strengthen the nation's research effort, saying, "I am determined to maintain our nation's leadership role in science and technology."
"The health of American science and the creation of new knowledge is important to our well-being," the President said last night in a message to Congress in which he announced an 11 per cent increase in the research budget.
The pledge of the President, issued in addition to the State of the Union address, came only hours after 10 scientists, including four winners of the Nobel Prize, urged Congress to raise the federal research budget because dwindling funds were threatening scientific research in the United States.
The scientists blamed a distrust of science along with a national wish for quick cures of diseases such as cancer for the shrinking research budgets.
The scientists said the government should spread its money around on science of all kinds rather on specific diseases like cancer. The scientists said the "war on cancer" begun by President Kennedy and signed into law by President Nixon was a "mistake" because it channeled money in only one direction.
"If you're losing a war you shouldn't have started, you get desperate," said Nobel laureate Dr. James D. Watson, director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. "We ought to go back to the old way of doing things."
The scientists told Congress during subcommittee hearings that the last 10 years have seen a steady decline in dollars available for basic biomedical research and a "dramatic drop" in federal grants to scientists who think up new projects for study.
In 1967, half the giant applications submitted by research scientists in the United States were funded by the National Institute of Health. Today, no more than 30 per cent of the applications receive grant money.
"These grants were the way we trained young people coming into the system," said Dr. Mahlon Hoagland, president of the Worchester Foundation for Experimental Biology in Shrewsbury, Mass. "The young people today are so discouraged they're not coming into the system."
The federal government today spends about $2.3 billion on medical research, more than $800 million of it for research on cancer. Funds for cancer research include about $200 million for cancer treatment, which is not classified as research.
"We think it's a mistake to target money for diseases like cancer," said Dr. Francis D. Moore, chief of surgery at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston. "It's more important to fund the study of the cell wall or the cell membrane, which in the long run may provide you with the clues you need to fight cancer."
The scientists blame the decline in support of overall basic research in part on a national mood they said is "anti-science." They said the public is impatient for scientific payoff, a mentality that Harvard University's Dr. Seymour Kety called the "cure it now" approach to research.
The scientists called for a change in research funding that would restore grants to 50 per cent of the applicants instead of the 30 per cent who win grants today. They said this would put $200 million a year back into research budgets at universities and private medical institutions.
The lobbying by the scientists had a quick impact yesterday. By the end of the day, Rep. Paul D. Rogers (D-Fla.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment, said he will introduce a research training grants bill to provide for new scientific research $200 million in fiscal 1979, $240 million in fiscal 1980 and $260 million the third year.