Colin Macilwain argues that scientific research and development in the West should be contributing more to economic prosperity (Nature 495, 143; 2013). I disagree that this is a problem in the United States.
A 2007 report from the US National Academies indicated that advances in science and technology would benefit the US economy and underpin its competitiveness in the global job market (see go.nature.com/qnir4w). Despite the effects of the global financial crisis, this outlook holds largely true.
For example, a move by ten midwestern US states towards green energy will create 85,700 jobs, produce US $41 billion in new investment and cut utility bills by $43 billion, while reducing annual carbon emissions by an amount equivalent to that from 30 coal-powered plants (see go.nature.com/e5if8v).
Research should not be judged solely by its economic benefits. Biomedical scientists, for instance, do not generally search for disease cures to get rich. It is also difficult to place monetary value on the doubling of US life expectancy from 1850 to 2008 — mainly owing to medical research and to improvements in water and sewage treatments.
Many other big problems faced by humankind, including transportation, finite natural resources, overpopulation, environmental degradation and climate change, can be solved only by science and technology, irrespective of profit motives.