I've been mentioning R&D in talks and articles a lot lately. Most audiences outside the beltway don't immediately know I mean Research and Development - until I explain it's the part of our federal budget accounting for a good deal of "science stuff." R&D supports basic research and leads to new innovation while helping boost U.S. competitiveness. R&D translates to job creation, economic recovery, and new technologies. It matters.

So the news that China is set to overtake the United States in R&D spending by 2020 according to the OECD Science, Technology and Industry Outlook 2014 is worrisome as science faces additional challenges from Congress. For example, if the Republican-led House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology gets its way, the National Science Foundation will have to start justifying how every basic-science grant it awards will benefit the country.

Times have changed. During the 1960s, R&D accounted for almost 12 percent of the total U.S. budget. Today it's just over three percent. Not good.

If our national priorities can be illustrated by where we spend tax dollars, this country is not very focused on the big stuff like food and water security, the threat of global pandemics, climate change, and our energy future. These aren't science's challenges - these are humanity's challenges. And we're falling behind.