The New York Times' "Ping" feature, by Steve Lohr, profiles Columbia professor Amar Bhide and his new book about technology funding in the United States (The Venturesome Economy: How Innovation Sustains Prosperity in a More Connected World). (That's not the business school in the background, by the way. It's Philosophy Hall. I admit the Rodin makes for a nice picture, but I also wonder why the Mead, McKim, and White buildings are almost always preferred for photographs over the Robert Stern.)
Bhide disagrees with the conventional wisdom. He thinks most Americans are much better prepared for the global economy than alarmist reports would lead one to believe, and thus there is little need for increased spending to ensure more Americans are participating in basic research. His opinion rests on the idea that many people are mistaken about America's strengths, which were never necessarily in top-level scientific research, but instead in the broad middle range: people without specialist technical training who figure out new ways to apply existing technology in the business and service spheres.
Bhide would like to see more emphasis on educating the people who work in that broad middle range, encouraging them to innovate, to think for themselves, to understand the principles of what they do so they might be able to improve how they do it. This makes a lot of sense.
What makes less sense is that we should stop worrying about whether Americans can compete/participate in that top range, where the most original innovations and scientific discoveries are made. Bhide seems to suggest that it doesn't matter where those high-level innovations occur, because they will be distributed globally no matter what. He then draws the conclusion that America should invest in its strengths (administration of, for example, retail businesses), in effect outsourcing the areas in which Americans are weak (areas which seem to include the kinds of innovation that require science and engineering training). This, however, does not follow.
Hopefully, that is a misunderstanding either on my part or on that of the reporter.