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Annual Invention Index Survey Finds Extra-Terrestrial Life
Outranks Cloning Research

CAMBRIDGE, MA (January 1998) — More Americans would support a tax hike for a cancer cure than AIDS cure, and twice as many Americans would pay more taxes to fund the search for extra-terrestrial life than for cloning experiments, according to the Invention Index, a national survey on inventions and inventors sponsored yearly by the Lemelson-MIT Program. The Invention Index is one several public awareness activities conducted by the Lemelson-MIT Program, a national educational initiative celebrating American invention and innovation.

The survey was conducted by telephone in November, 1997. A representative sample of 1,014 Americans, 18 and older, were asked a series of questions gauging the level of public support for various types of inventions and inventors. Respondents were asked if the government should fund the search for inventions in general; whether government-sponsored inventors should profit from their work; and if they would support or oppose a tax hike to fund the search for inventions to cure cancer or AIDS, and inventions related to fetal tissue research, improved atomic energy, better spy satellite technology, the search for extra-terrestrial life, and cloning. Percentages reflect the proportions of all respondents voting on each invention individually. Respondents were not asked to rank items against each other.

Almost all respondents — 99 percent — would pay more taxes for inventions in general. However, respondents disagreed on the topic of government-sponsored inventors profiting from their inventions.

"This survey indicates that Americans are still adventurers at heart and understand that science is the endless frontier where there are always new explorations to be made," said Dr. Lester Thurow, author, professor of Management and Economics at the MIT Sloan School of Management and chair of the Lemelson-MIT Awards Board. He added, "With the cold war over interest in biological areas is up and military sciences is down."

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Cancer cure outranks AIDS cure, search for life beyond Earth wins over cloning 2—1
Almost nine in ten (87%) Invention Index survey participants said they would pay more taxes for a cancer cure. Support for an AIDS cure came in second with 80% of the vote. Medical breakthroughs were so strongly endorsed among those polled that close to four in ten (38%) approved increased funding for controversial areas such as fetal tissue research.

An energy-conscious one-third of those polled supported atomic energy-related inventions. Increased spending on military technology — improving spy satellite capabilities — ranked fourth at 31 percent. The popularity of such television shows as the X-Files was reflected by the endorsement of almost one-fifth of respondents — 16 percent — of a tax hike to search for life on other planets. However, only a minority of those polled (8 percent), said they would support a tax increase for cloning-related inventions.

Dr. E. James Chern, former candidate for the half-million dollar Lemelson-MIT prize and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center engineer observed, "While cancer and AIDS research to benefit our physical well being are of the highest priority, advancing energy research to support future needs, new satellite capabilities for world peace monitoring, and technologies to enable the search for life beyond Earth are also in order. Clearly, the dream is alive, and people are willing to pay for it."

Similar response from women and men on fetal tissue research
Men and women agreed equally on the importance of a cure for cancer, with 87 percent of both sexes supporting a tax increase for a breakthrough. Women were slightly more likely than men to back an AIDS cure at 82 percent of women vs. 78 percent of men. Approval of fetal tissue research was almost equal between the sexes (38 percent of men vs. 37 percent of women).

In the remaining categories, men were more inclined to spend extra dollars on high-technology than were women. Significantly more men than women (41 percent vs. 26 percent) supported improved atomic energy and better spy satellite technology (38 percent vs. 24 percent). Men outpointed women almost three-to-one (22 percent vs. 9 percent) on the search for extra-terrestrial life, and endorsed cloning almost two-to-one over women (10 percent vs. 6 percent).

Younger respondents favor search for life beyond planet Earth The Index's youngest participants (18-34) led all age cohorts in support for the search for life on other planets (22 percent) and cloning (11 percent). However, the Invention Index found the search for extra-terrestrials almost equally popular among the 55-64 age group with 18 percent of the vote. Although young respondents favored additional taxes for research overall, the 55-64 age category scored the highest among all ages — 94 percent in favor of a cancer cure. Atomic energy and betterspy satellite technology were equally important (36 percent) to the youngest respondents.

Who profits? Opinion divided, Index discovers
Slightly more than half of the respondents (54 percent) believed government-funded inventors should profit from their discoveries, but 38 percent opposed such profit for inventors. Eighteen percent had no opinion on the topic. Men were significantly more inclined than women to support the profit motives of government inventors, with two thirds of men (63 percent) taking this view compared with fewer than half (46 percent) of the women polled. Women were more likely than men to oppose making a profit on an invention (43 percent vs. 33 percent).

About the Lemelson-MIT Program

Based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Lemelson-MIT Program was established in 1994 by the late independent inventor Jerome H. Lemelson and his wife, Dorothy. The Program celebrates inventor/innovator role models through outreach activities and annual awards including the world's largest for invention, the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize. The Program encourages young Americans to pursue careers in the fields of science, engineering, technology and entrepreneurship. The Lemelson-MIT Program is funded by the Lemelson Foundation, which supports other invention initiatives at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Hampshire College, the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance and the University of Nevada, Reno.

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