In his recent defense of Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill funding research grant projects, Rep. John Picchiotti, R-Fairfield, reveals a fundamental misunderstanding about how innovative products and services are conjured into being and find their way to the marketplace.

One would be hard-pressed to name a breakthrough technology in chemistry, agriculture, medicine, communications, entertainment, computing, electronics, transportation, construction, manufacturing — you name it — that can’t trace its provenance to a government grant.

Why? Because, by and large, the private sector is too short-sighted and too timid to engage in fundamental research. It wants a sure thing, and R&D is anything but.

So, in spite of the weary bromides about it not being the government’s place to pick winners and losers, it’s always fallen to the government to roll the dice (with taxpayer dollars, of course) because no one else will touch them.

The communal payoff — at least in financial terms — comes when a successful research project spins off commercial businesses, often planted down the street from the incubating laboratory that begat them. (If you doubt this, take a stroll around the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and count the number of high-tech companies that have sprung up in its shadow.)

If we’re serious about fostering high-tech in Maine, we must be prepared to ante up a share of the R&D burden.

As for Picchiotti’s critique of the “Autonomous Marine Survey” project — namely that it “stifles” economic development because “the data gathered by the survey will help determine what can’t be done” — it’s like advising a woman not to get that mammogram because the doctor might find a malignancy.

I ransacked my thesaurus for an hour but couldn’t find a polite word to describe his misguided critique.

Keith Vallencourt


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