Conference Synthesis

Harold T. Shapiro, President

Princeton University

It is not possible, within the scope of these brief summary remarks, to do full justice to the many intriguing observations and insights that were put before this meeting regarding the current and future health of the nation's research enterprise. I took careful notes throughout our meeting and made special notes after each session on what seemed to me to be the most interesting comments and suggestions. Our discussion, however, was so dense with useful observations that my “special notes” contained almost 100 separate entries! As a result, these summary remarks reflect—as faithfully as I can—the tenor and principal categories of issues that arose during the discussions and represent no attempt to deal systematically with each of the many stimulating—and challenging—ideas put forward.

The U.S. Innovation System and Evidence of Change

All participants were aware that the health of the nation's research enterprise—the particular focus of our consideration—is only one aspect of the nation's overall innovation system. Further, although the research enterprise is a critical component of the nation's innovation system, it cannot, by itself, deliver the bulk of the economic, social, and cultural dividends that are inherent in new discoveries regarding the natural world. Moreover, we were all acutely conscious of the fact that other countries—particularly our chief trading partners—have organized their overall innovation systems (from discovery research to commercial application) in somewhat different ways. Finally, given the broader geographic dispersion of the most advanced capacities in science, technology, innovation, and research training and the enormous expansion of worldwide “information nets” of various kinds (dealing with both science and industrial “know-how”), we all acknowledged that it is time to review all aspects of our overall system to be sure it is appropriately structured, given the enormous transformation of the external environment within which our nation operates.

We reviewed many of the special aspects of the U.S. innovation system (e.g., its large scale, the distinct role of university-based programs in education and research, the special role of small firms, the role of defense expenditures and the military procurement system, the role of patent and antitrust policies, the role of federal finance, and so on) and acknowledged the special forces that had—following World War II—caused the federal government to develop a special set of public policies to support research and development and advanced research training. These policies, together with public policies at the state level and the commitment of private industry, brought the United States—by the mid-



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Beginning a Dialogue on the Changing Environment for the Physical and Mathematical Sciences: Report of a Conference Conference Synthesis Harold T. Shapiro, President Princeton University It is not possible, within the scope of these brief summary remarks, to do full justice to the many intriguing observations and insights that were put before this meeting regarding the current and future health of the nation's research enterprise. I took careful notes throughout our meeting and made special notes after each session on what seemed to me to be the most interesting comments and suggestions. Our discussion, however, was so dense with useful observations that my “special notes” contained almost 100 separate entries! As a result, these summary remarks reflect—as faithfully as I can—the tenor and principal categories of issues that arose during the discussions and represent no attempt to deal systematically with each of the many stimulating—and challenging—ideas put forward. The U.S. Innovation System and Evidence of Change All participants were aware that the health of the nation's research enterprise—the particular focus of our consideration—is only one aspect of the nation's overall innovation system. Further, although the research enterprise is a critical component of the nation's innovation system, it cannot, by itself, deliver the bulk of the economic, social, and cultural dividends that are inherent in new discoveries regarding the natural world. Moreover, we were all acutely conscious of the fact that other countries—particularly our chief trading partners—have organized their overall innovation systems (from discovery research to commercial application) in somewhat different ways. Finally, given the broader geographic dispersion of the most advanced capacities in science, technology, innovation, and research training and the enormous expansion of worldwide “information nets” of various kinds (dealing with both science and industrial “know-how”), we all acknowledged that it is time to review all aspects of our overall system to be sure it is appropriately structured, given the enormous transformation of the external environment within which our nation operates. We reviewed many of the special aspects of the U.S. innovation system (e.g., its large scale, the distinct role of university-based programs in education and research, the special role of small firms, the role of defense expenditures and the military procurement system, the role of patent and antitrust policies, the role of federal finance, and so on) and acknowledged the special forces that had—following World War II—caused the federal government to develop a special set of public policies to support research and development and advanced research training. These policies, together with public policies at the state level and the commitment of private industry, brought the United States—by the mid-

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Beginning a Dialogue on the Changing Environment for the Physical and Mathematical Sciences: Report of a Conference 1960s—to a position of unquestioned leadership across broad areas of science and technology. The expansion of our national commitment to R&D in this period was substantial, moving the R&D enterprise from about 1 percent to 3 percent of our annual gross domestic product. Overall, about one-half of this effort has been financed by the federal government, and industry has been by far the greatest performer (75 percent of the total), with universities and government laboratories sharing—in quite different niches—most of the remaining effort. Despite the many successes of the existing arrangements, many troublesome signs require our thoughtful consideration. Some of the more important of these are the following: Increasing evidence that the federal government is reevaluating all its major investments (e.g., in health, welfare, and defense), including its investment in R&D—particularly the nature and level of its support of its own laboratories and of university-based research programs. Increasing evidence that the number of highly qualified investigators, and of challenging research issues, is growing faster than the public 's willingness and/or capacity to support such efforts. This has led to what some consider an unproductive competition for funds and suboptimal allocation procedures. More important, it is unclear whether the dynamic evolution of the system established in the post-World War II period can be sustained. Increasing evidence that, despite a high level of federal support for R&D, the federal investment in the overall R&D system is no longer based on any coherent overall policy or strategy. In a rapidly changing environment, U.S. science policy has been unable to strengthen its moorings, leave its moorings, or —to date—select a new framework of reference. Increasing evidence that the post-World War II consensus achieved between the scientific community, the government, and industry on what public policy in science would serve the short-term and long-run needs of society is becoming undone. Increasing evidence that science, technology, and innovation will not, by themselves, solve the nation's most pressing problems. Increasing evidence that circumstances have shifted in such an important way that a rather different, or modified, set of approaches to public policy in the area of science is required. In particular, the issue of sustaining continued growth in national economic productivity has begun to supplant some of the earlier goals expressed in U.S. science policy. In this respect, there is a growing sense among some policymakers that it would serve our national interest to focus less on the generation of new ideas and to develop instead a better national capacity for more

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Beginning a Dialogue on the Changing Environment for the Physical and Mathematical Sciences: Report of a Conference effective implementation of new concepts—in other words, to shift efforts “downstream.” Further Discussion In many respects it was quite startling that there were so many issues on which we all seemed to agree, despite the fact that we brought many different commitments, backgrounds, and ideas to the discussion. It is useful to reiterate those points of apparent agreement. Areas of Agreement Science has been—and will continue to be—an enormous source of ideas through which society can achieve many important goals. Scientific developments have had many unanticipated side effects —both good and bad. Moreover, more science cannot always be counted on to deal with some of the difficult side effects. Despite the rising level of skepticism and declining level of trust in the scientific establishment, there remains a great pool of goodwill and faith in the basic enterprise. Future perceptions regarding the importance of science and scientists will depend not only on what benefits science continues to deliver but also on the values and aspirations we hold as a society. Science alone cannot solve everything. Moreover, it cannot solve many important things. The external environment is changing in many ways (i.e., there are many transforming events), and many of these changes have implications for the scientific enterprise. It is therefore an appropriate time to reexamine the roles of all institutions in our society—including those institutions involved in the nation's research system. Economic growth is important to science, and science can make an important contribution to economic growth. An enormous amount of innovation goes on when the economy is growing that would otherwise not occur. Science requires public support, and publicly supported science is therefore a civic activity (i.e., has civic responsibilities). Although it is impossible to predict the benefits from investments in science (i.e., we are never sure what will be discovered), a sense of public responsibility should pervade the enterprise. Any steps we might take to improve communication between the various patrons and performers of research (universities, industry, and government) would be very beneficial. In particular, it is important that all members of the vast enterprise

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Beginning a Dialogue on the Changing Environment for the Physical and Mathematical Sciences: Report of a Conference understand their indebtedness to each other. We agreed that there is no “most important” sector in the enterprise. We will all sink or swim together. If any easy problems can be identified, we should solve these first! The scientific enterprise is not well served by uncritical lovers or unloving critics. Rather, the enterprise would be enriched by critical lovers and loving critics! The complexity and uncertainty of the current situation will probably require a robust set of strategies rather than a single “golden rule. ” Problem Areas In addition to areas of agreement, we also identified a number of problem areas that all participants in the nation's innovation enterprise need to address together. The particular problems on which much of our discussion seemed to focus can be tersely described as follows: There is a kind of counterproductive tension and misunderstanding (between the key patrons and performers within the research enterprise) that increasingly characterizes the system. This is not the productive tension of a competitive enterprise that can lead to innovation and adaptation. Rather it is a tension that increasingly seems to be generating unnecessary anxiety and stress on all sides. The public policy problem. Primarily, this is the challenge of deciding what is the appropriate level and allocation of federal investment in the research enterprise. But there is also the problem of deciding what tax, antitrust, patent, and overall economic policy will appropriately stimulate the innovation process. The problem of the diminishing attractiveness of academic careers. The issue is not whether university-based researchers are treated well enough, but whether the current portfolio of privileges and responsibilities will attract a sufficient share of the nation's best talent to enable this critical component of the nation's education and innovation system to meet its civic responsibilities. The scientific agenda problem, or the question of who should control the scientific agenda. Again, this is not so much a matter of “turf rights” as an issue of what arrangement will best serve the nation 's interests. The “aggregation” problem, which includes at least two broad classes of issues. First, despite the fact that each area of science faces quite different initial conditions, opportunities, and constraints, we fall easily into the habit of talking about “science” as if all branches faced the same —or roughly similar—circumstances. Second, we need to be more careful to articulate the differences between changes needed in the way the system operates and changes that might be

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Beginning a Dialogue on the Changing Environment for the Physical and Mathematical Sciences: Report of a Conference called for in the way individual investigators behave. The failure to make this second distinction leads to a great deal of misunderstanding. The “university problem.” Many (not all) participants expressed the concern that the nation 's research universities are not being adequately responsive to the nation's contemporary challenges. In particular, there was some concern regarding whether the research universities are making the most effective use of their existing resources. Some of the concerns focused on inefficiency, some on the claimed distortions of the tenure system, and some on the question of whether or not the social outputs of the university are well balanced (e.g., teaching versus research). The entitlement problem. Perceptions differed as to who is entitled to how much support and for what purpose. In this respect, there seems to be a mismatch in the perceptions of the various components of the current research enterprise. The goals problem. What is the appropriate goal of science and technology, or more particularly the goal of U.S. science policy? For example, is the goal of U.S. science policy economic competitiveness and/or national security and/or the provision of a public store of knowledge that individual organizations have little incentive to provide? Is the goal of U.S. science policy the full employment of all qualified investigators, or the assurance of U.S. leadership in all—or selected —scientific and technological areas? The convergence problem. Given the rapid convergence among the advanced industrialized countries in the areas of per capita income, scientific capacity, industrial productivity, and so on, and a more open world commerce in goods, people, services, capital, and ideas, how should U.S. science policy be altered? Perhaps in this new environment we should not expect—or even want—to be best at everything or to be the geographic center of all high-technology industries. Perhaps in this new world it is to be expected that a certain amount of reallocation of production —from one country to another—will take place and should not necessarily cause any concern. Perhaps, therefore, we should keep the focus of public policy on overall national productivity, investment, and income and not solely on the particular movements of certain industries. Most important, however, is the need to review how the “burden” of investment in basic research should now be shared among the most economically developed nations. Summary Although it was our purpose—at this initial session—to outline the issues and to improve the focus of our concerns rather than to develop solutions, we did seem to agree that—one way or another —an era of important change is upon us and we should continue to meet —in smaller groups—to improve our focus on the mathematical and physical sciences, to develop a better set of data, and to think through some responses that address, in particular, areas where the interests and activities of the universities, government, and industry overlap.

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Beginning a Dialogue on the Changing Environment for the Physical and Mathematical Sciences: Report of a Conference It was generally believed that the current dynamic of the research enterprise cannot be sustained. Important changes are already under way in industrial laboratories, the U.S. administration is considering a new approach to science policy and new roles for government laboratories, and universities are experiencing considerable distress in trying to maintain quality and vitality in carrying out their responsibilities within the overall research system. In this rapidly changing environment, new ideas and flexibilities are required, but the greatest need is a better understanding of how our national innovation system, which was greatly changed and vastly expanded after World War II, needs to be reshaped to meet the civic responsibilities of the science enterprise in the next decade. These are uncertain times, and we should prepare for a certain amount of inevitable insecurity, but we should not lose sight of the continued promise of the overall enterprise and the fact that it represents—if appropriately deployed—one of the greatest national assets we have.