Dr. Stephen Dahms of San Diego State University recalled a meeting recently in San Diego hosted by the Chairman of Qualcomm on behalf of the Chairman of the House Committee on Science, James Sensenbrenner. Rep. Sensenbrenner discussed new legislation designed to increase funding for information technology R&D, particularly research funded at the National Science Foundation. At the meeting, Rep. Sensenbrenner was asked about funding for biotechnology research. In response, according to Dr. Dahms, Rep. Sensenbrenner noted the importance of biotechnology, but the congressman viewed it as medical research, not as part of science R&D as traditionally understood. Dr. Dahms asked Congressman Boehlert what the scientific community needed to do to break down such interdisciplinary barriers.
In response, Rep. Boehlert recalled advice he had given to the president of Cornell University, which is in his district. The university’s leadership and scientists would make the case for funding various projects, and Rep. Boehlert would point out that they had his support, but they had to talk with other Members of Congress. This example, Rep. Boehlert said, pointed to the fact that the scientific community “is not particularly adept at lobbying for its own interests.” Scientists spend far too much time talking with Members who are already sympathetic to their interests, but not nearly enough time educating new Members or Members whose committee assignments do not relate to science. Scientists, Rep. Boehlert continued, must explain to rank-and-file Members of Congress just how important their work is to the nation.