High Performance Computing and Communications initiative. Enhanced cooperation at the more fundamental scientific level needs to be encouraged, as well. Teaming (including active international cooperation in large-scale, capital-intensive, basic-science ventures) will deliver greater return on public investment.
Past practices have had the effect of isolating research from the customer—U.S. industry—especially in those cases where universities and federally funded laboratories were the predominant performers of research. The transformation from discovery to utility has tended to be a stepwise, sequential process (research to development to application) rather than a continuous, integrated process. It is not surprising, therefore, that product realization has often been substantially slower in the United States than in countries that emphasize greater vertical integration in their product realization efforts.
There has been a recent trend toward more effective coupling of research to applications, especially in the federally funded laboratories. Many laboratory-industry partnerships now recognize that effective product realization involves continuous feedback. However, this process is still not balanced. When it is balanced, the strengths of research, development, and application are similar, the linkages among the three elements are strong, and the flow is bidirectional. Ideally, the coupling is so strong that simultaneous, complementary operations occur, for example, concurrent engineering.
We have sketched in some detail the elements, relationships, and accountabilities pertaining to utility as defined earlier. With some variations other important “utilities” supporting different societal goals such as improved health, increased personal safety, restoration of the environment, preservation of species, and so on can be involved in the accountability of the entire spectrum of science-based advances.
Only by invoking the accountability chain from scientific discovery to utility, and strengthening the linkages along that chain, can the scientific community expect a generous and sustainable social contract. As in any chain, every link is important. Without a broad, curiosity-driven, excellence-demanding, and affordably balanced basic-science base, there will eventually be no discoveries to transform into utility. Yet without improved efficiency and accountability in transforming discoveries into utility, the tangible societal benefits will be insufficient to argue convincingly for sustained support of science at levels much higher than our society has traditionally deemed appropriate for purely intellectual endeavors like poetry or music.
The simple, inescapable truth is that science needs society in order to thrive, and society needs science if its dreams of a better world for future generations are to be realized.