According to a news article in Nature, there are now only four PhD scientists left at Bell Labs doing basic research. Four. Leaving aside that I know those guys personally, we should all be saddened by this.
I know that in industry there's always a tension between the immediate company bottom line and longer term investment. I can't help but wonder, though, in these days of institutional investors, mutual funds, and huge executive compensation, if we've really screwed up. Let me put it this way.... Once upon a time there were long-term investors who bought, e.g., AT&T, and really cared about whether AT&T was going to be competitive in ten or fifteen or twenty years. Now most stock is held by institutional investors and mutual funds who really don't care whether AT&T exists in ten years - they just care that there's something with a risk/reward profile like that in ten years. Furthermore, the executive compensation system is designed to massively reward short-term results (how much is this quarter's rate of growth greater than last year's? Note that making a big profit isn't enough - you have to be increasing your profit rate, not just the absolute amount of money the company makes.). As far as I can tell, we have effectively removed much of the economic incentive for long-term investment. No wonder any research and development with a 10-year horizon is almost gone from the American technological landscape. The only exceptions, as is often the case, are companies with so much money that a small research investment is negligible and can give decent PR, like Intel, Google, and Microsoft. Yeah, I know that HP Labs still exists, and I know that IBM still has people playing with STM, and I know that Exxon and Dupont and 3M have lots of talented chemists, but it looks like the days are largely gone of having a staff with a critical mass of tens of physics and chemistry PhDs doing cutting edge long-term research in an industrial setting.