New Advisory Structures for New Times

Charles F. Kennel

Department of Physics

University of California, Los Angeles

We who are gathered here do not talk together enough, although we share a deep interest in the science and technology enterprise and have devoted major parts of our lives to it. For several years now our discourse has been troubled, and this troubles me. Is our discord really due to the self-interest of research scientists or to policymakers ' incomprehension of the creative process? Surely, our suspicions may have been aroused by the arrogance of physicists and “policy wonks,” but they were not due to it.

The tension between those who do science and technology and those who think about, advocate, and make science and technology policy has to be a surface manifestation of far deeper changes affecting the entire enterprise that are unprecedented in the professional lifetimes of most of us. As the unease about the changing environment for science and technology has spread, many observers have taken to comparing today's context with the one that inspired Vannevar Bush to write Science, the Endless Frontier.1 Almost every feature of national life that sustained public support of science in Bush's day2,3 has changed in ways

NOTE: The author is currently associate administrator of the Office of Mission to Planet Earth at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

1  

Vannevar Bush, Science, the Endless Frontier, National Science Foundation, Washington D.C., 1945 (reprinted, 1990).

2  

Basic research in physics was supported handsomely because it was perceived that it would lead to long-term security in the nuclear age. Even when basic research produced results that had no application to the military, the visible signs of excellence—our Nobel prizes, our space exploits—eased what had to be profound public anxiety. And the system of classification by its design gave assurance to the public and government that the fruits of U.S. research would be brought to bear on U.S. military security. In other words, the return on the investment stayed within the country.

3  

For a discussion of the effects of the Cold War on MIT and Stanford, see Stuart W. Leslie, The Cold War and American Science, Columbia University Press, New York, 1993; similar issues are discussed in Big Science: The Growth of Large-Scale Research, edited by P. Galison and B. Hevly, Stanford University Press, Stanford, Calif, 1992.



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Beginning a Dialogue on the Changing Environment for the Physical and Mathematical Sciences: Report of a Conference New Advisory Structures for New Times Charles F. Kennel Department of Physics University of California, Los Angeles We who are gathered here do not talk together enough, although we share a deep interest in the science and technology enterprise and have devoted major parts of our lives to it. For several years now our discourse has been troubled, and this troubles me. Is our discord really due to the self-interest of research scientists or to policymakers ' incomprehension of the creative process? Surely, our suspicions may have been aroused by the arrogance of physicists and “policy wonks,” but they were not due to it. The tension between those who do science and technology and those who think about, advocate, and make science and technology policy has to be a surface manifestation of far deeper changes affecting the entire enterprise that are unprecedented in the professional lifetimes of most of us. As the unease about the changing environment for science and technology has spread, many observers have taken to comparing today's context with the one that inspired Vannevar Bush to write Science, the Endless Frontier.1 Almost every feature of national life that sustained public support of science in Bush's day2,3 has changed in ways NOTE: The author is currently associate administrator of the Office of Mission to Planet Earth at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 1   Vannevar Bush, Science, the Endless Frontier, National Science Foundation, Washington D.C., 1945 (reprinted, 1990). 2   Basic research in physics was supported handsomely because it was perceived that it would lead to long-term security in the nuclear age. Even when basic research produced results that had no application to the military, the visible signs of excellence—our Nobel prizes, our space exploits—eased what had to be profound public anxiety. And the system of classification by its design gave assurance to the public and government that the fruits of U.S. research would be brought to bear on U.S. military security. In other words, the return on the investment stayed within the country. 3   For a discussion of the effects of the Cold War on MIT and Stanford, see Stuart W. Leslie, The Cold War and American Science, Columbia University Press, New York, 1993; similar issues are discussed in Big Science: The Growth of Large-Scale Research, edited by P. Galison and B. Hevly, Stanford University Press, Stanford, Calif, 1992.

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Beginning a Dialogue on the Changing Environment for the Physical and Mathematical Sciences: Report of a Conference whose significance is not always clear. The historical situation of the United States has changed,4 its needs have changed5, and the public's view of science has changed.6,7 In this circumstance, it would be much more alarming if there were no tension between us. Surely, the issue is not the existence of conflict and disagreement, but how we deal with the larger causes. It is our national duty to do so, and it will be worth the effort, for almost all observers agree that the U.S. basic research infrastructure and work force are unequaled and that the United States is still a formidable technological competitor, and there remains a reservoir of public fascination with basic scientific ideas and technological innovation. Thus, given the near consensus that the environment for science and technology has changed in fundamental and irreversible ways, we ought to devote some time to considering tangible steps, however small, that we can set in motion at this convocation. We can certainly have an effect on what the National Research Council (NRC) chooses to do, and I will limit myself to this relatively narrow question. What I can do is address aspects of how we as scientists and policymakers sit down together to think. Of course, thinking goes on in all sorts of situations, but much of our collective thinking takes place in advisory committees, where formal advice is sought by and given to the government. Advisory committees have many different forms, functions, and reporting relationships,8 but my personal experience is confined largely to the committees of the NRC, and of these, the ones overseen by the Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Applications. The limitations of my perspective must be taken into account in evaluating the suggestions that follow. 4   For a discussion of the implications of the end of the Cold War, see J.A. Alic, L.M. Branscomb, H. Brooks, A.B. Carter, and G.L. Epstein, Beyond Spinoff: Military and Commercial Technologies in a Changing World, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, Mass., 1992. Even before the Cold War ended, U.S. military R&D spending had become a nondominant fraction of the world total, and so relying on spin-off from the military to the commercial sectors had already become an inefficient route to wealth creation. 5   Economic and environmental security rival military security now that the Cold War has ended. 6   Concerns about ethical conduct stimulated a major NRC report, Responsible Science: Ensuring the Integrity of the Research Process, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1992. 7   It is difficult to see how public support for science will be sustainable in the long run unless the composition of the scientific community becomes more representative—in the words of President Clinton, “looks like America.” Moreover, the fact that fewer and fewer native-born Americans, who instinctively understand our national life, are taught about science and engineering, much less go into it, suggests that not only the public but also the decision makers in government, finance, and industry will increasingly consider the scientific community culturally alien. 8   An interesting history of several of the most prominent scientific advisory committees may be found in Bruce L.R. Smith, The Advisors: Scientists in the Policy Process, Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C., 1992. Written by an experienced conference participant, his account is limited to standing committees covered by the Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972 and excludes those of the National Research Council, which is my focus here.

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Beginning a Dialogue on the Changing Environment for the Physical and Mathematical Sciences: Report of a Conference The Taxonomy of Disciplines In Science, Technology, and the Federal Government: National Goals for a New Era, the NRC's Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP)9 advocates the position that the United States should strive to be among the world leaders in all major areas of science and the clear leader in some (which would be chosen by considerations relating to the national interest). COSEPUP goes on to suggest that it is possible to allocate resources according to assessments of the comparative performance of U.S. research in each major area10 of science. Surely, we must try to do this, for no prudent nation willingly invests large sums in any enterprise without monitoring the return on its investment. COSEPUP does not tell us how to assess scientific areas, though it seems confident that we will be successful. If the NRC were charged with the task, it would respond by creating committees.11 In designing the assessment committees and their compositions, the scientific community would be forced to revisit a fundamental question: What are the major areas of science? The present system of research support and administration mirrors the taxonomy of the science and engineering disciplines as it emerged from World War II.12 In many cases, research strategies and funding decisions are formulated by approximately the same groupings of disciplinary representatives today as they were a half century ago. Yet, together with staunch and well-reasoned defenses of the “core” basic disciplines, one hears all the time that science is becoming more and more interdisciplinary, or that the really interesting discoveries are to be found on the interfaces between scientific fields. Many have remarked that the lines between science, applied science, and engineering are becoming increasingly blurred. What do such comments really mean? Much of it speaks to the vastly increased power and size of today's international research and development community, which pursues research so far and so fast that it quickly spills over disciplinary boundaries and finds applications sooner than ever before. This is one positive difference between the current situation and the one that prevailed in 1945. But the optimism that stems from this observation is often tempered by frustration with the many institutional hindrances to interdisciplinary work. Universities have trouble providing a supportive environment for scientific efforts that cross disciplinary (departmental) boundaries. And projects (often the most interesting ones) that fall between committee jurisdictions and agency funding offices frequently cannot find support, compounding the universities' difficulties. These problems suggest that the institutional structure of science no longer matches its intellectual structure as well as it once did. The fact that the “problem of interdisciplinary research” has not been “solved” despite the forceful persuasions of policymakers and legislators tells us that before we can adapt the 9   Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP), Science, Technology, and the Federal Government: National Goals for a New Era, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1993. 10   COSEPUP intentionally did not use the term “discipline.” 11   I believe the review would actually have to be broader than this, if strategic funding decisions were to be based on it. 12   Smith (The Advisors, 1992) describes how the Defense Science Board became oriented around the scientific disciplines, despite the profound mission orientation of the oard's sponsors.

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Beginning a Dialogue on the Changing Environment for the Physical and Mathematical Sciences: Report of a Conference institutional structure to the changing environment, we have to perceive the intellectual structure as it really is. We may find that inside some of the multidisciplinary groups clamoring for recognition is a young discipline waiting to get out. This already has happened in the recent experience of the Board on Physics and Astronomy. Several years ago, the Board sponsored a major study of the emerging field of materials science. Many of the important practitioners of the subject met each other for the first time working on the various panels of the study. This group recognized the comprehensive scope of the related activities in the field for the first time. I think we will come to recognize that a new discipline was created, one that is neither pure science nor pure engineering, but a modern amalgam of both.13 Materials science spans the range from the most mathematical solid-state physics to metallurgy to materials fabrication. Optical science and engineering may be another prediscipline, similar in character but somewhat smaller in scale and scope than materials science, and there are undoubtedly others. Even the ancient core subject of astronomy is changing, and most, if not all, of its practitioners now recognize the important contributions to astronomical knowledge made not only by traditional astronomers who use ground-based telescopes, but also by space scientists and high-energy physicists. In short, it may be a productive time to reexamine the taxonomy of the disciplines. Most sensible people would probably leave such a task to the impersonal workings of history and content themselves with monitoring the changing composition of the scientific societies. However, implementation of COSEPUP's strategy would require the NRC to consider the taxonomy of (at least) the committees that evaluate the “major areas of science.” The committees' evaluations and soon the committees themselves would be discarded if their composition did not reflect the true state of affairs. Since the process of reaching closure about scientific issues is noncoercive and takes place in peer groups that are formed by voluntary association, the best the NRC can do is invite the scientific communities to consider the issue and provide a comfortable forum for doing so. At the same time, by expressing its views about what constitutes a discipline and what each discipline ought to know about itself, the NRC can encourage debate about what alignment of knowledge, practice, and institutions will make the greatest contribution to society in the next century. One need not draw sharp lines between basic science, applied science, and engineering or between research and teaching. One could hold disciplines accountable not only for the generation of new knowledge but also for how effectively it is diffused. The scientific activities inspired by great issues of public policy, such as those concerned with global change, might be viewed as a new kind of discipline, rather than as a forced synthesis of atmospheric and ocean science, of vulcanology and glaciology, of economics and ecology.14 13   Two years after release of the NRC's report (Materials Science and Engineering for the 1990s, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1989), my colleagues in the UCLA physics department who once considered themselves solid-state physicists happily started to call themselves materials scientists. More importantly, they started calling for a realignment of teaching and research programs, asserting a greater affinity with (certain) members of the chemistry department and school of engineering than with their departmental colleagues in high-energy physics and astrophysics. 14   The enormous scale of the interrelated activities related to global change is testimony to the expanded range of the late-20th-century science community.

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Beginning a Dialogue on the Changing Environment for the Physical and Mathematical Sciences: Report of a Conference Some disciplinary associations formed around earlier technical opportunities and national priorities might be encouraged to modernize or realign themselves, thereby increasing the social efficiency of the science and technology enterprise. When such things are done in many fields, the search for pure knowledge in a few can be more credibly advocated for its true humanistic value, rather than in terms of improbable and indirect spin-offs. Serendipity can be given its due without making it seem socially irresponsible. Even if we choose not to create a whole new taxonomy of disciplines all at once,15 it might be a fruitful step to admit that one is on the way. In the short run, this means the NRC should take a relaxed attitude about the formation of new disciplinary aggregations and a strict attitude about the continuance of old ones. This may encourage social fluidity at a time when the science and technology community needs to adapt to its changed circumstances. Regional Councils for Science, Technology, and Education Science has been a robust international enterprise since the seventeenth century, while technology has proven to be fragile and culture bound. Scientific knowledge is transparent and easily transportable across national boundaries and cultural divides; “know-how” is not. Yet our recent experience in international technological competition16 only reminds us of how much our post-World War II dominance was based on know-how, or more exactly, the linkage between rational knowledge and know-how that we forged during the war. Other nations learned about that linkage, use it, and yet have prospered by concentrating on the know-how end of the chain, as the United States did after the Civil War, and even to a large extent with the Manhattan project. Our own earlier experience, together with that of our international competitors, tells us that while good science and innovative technology may be necessary for the creation of national wealth, they are not sufficient. Although the pace of discovery and innovation has quickened in the past half-generation, the U.S. economic performance has not. Countries that are far less innovative than the United States have proven to be formidable competitors using our own discoveries. It has been suggested that the diffusion of knowledge and know-how to the many people who must work with them may be fully as important for the creation of wealth from discovery as discovery itself.17COSEPUP agrees:18 Today, society faces many problems whose solutions will depend on the knowledge generated by . . . research. Of equal importance will be the transformation of new scientific knowledge through engineering into new technologies. This process will 15   This is probably a ten-year task and might be a reasonable objective for the celebrations associated with the turn of the millennium. One could compare science at the beginning and the end of the 20th century. 16   America's recent performance in eight industries has been discussed in M.L. Dertouzos, R.K. Lester, and R.M. Solow, and the MIT Commission on Industrial Productivity, Made in America: Regaining the Productive Edge, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1989. 17   J.A. Alic et al., Beyond Spinoff, 1992. 18   Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, Science, Technology, and the Federal Government, 1993.

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Beginning a Dialogue on the Changing Environment for the Physical and Mathematical Sciences: Report of a Conference require an economic, managerial, and legal environment that fosters innovation and the adoption of new technologies. (p. 49) Science is conceived and managed on a national scale, as are some technological enterprises such as those related to defense and the global environment. But economic development based on technology seems to be regional in scope. The post-World War II examples of Route 128 and Silicon Valley suggest that the social components necessary for vibrant economic development based on innovative technology are assembled on a regional scale. We are entering an age of rapid and copious electronic communication, which promises to deregionalize certain transparent technologies such as computer software. But the technologies leading to manufactured products require empirical skills, effective social organization, and the exchange of sophisticated physical artifacts, and for these there is an advantage to regional concentration, even though the final product may be manufactured elsewhere. The small technology companies for which the United States is justly renowned cluster in regions where they can exchange their services. Clever people and good ideas mean nothing unless the financial, legal, and political environment is fruitful, and these communities are substantially regional.19 In short, the growth of the international science and technology enterprise has shortened the time scale for scientific discovery and engineering innovation; discovery alone does not lead to economic advance; the translation of discovery into wealth depends upon the diffusion of vision, knowledge, know-how, and motivation between social sectors; and the generation of wealth from technology has an important regional aspect.20 At one time, it was thought that economic growth would follow scientific discovery without further intervention of human thought and organization. The experience of the last half century, which has given us some understanding of the chains of events and people linking discovery to wealth, has taught us otherwise. Now that enhancing national competitiveness has become an explicit goal of our efforts in science and technology, it is time to make use of what understanding we have achieved of how discovery is translated into wealth. All this suggests that it might be useful to create regional science and technology councils that bring together the various types of people who should be communicating with one another about regional technology development. Regional councils could also promote more efficient utilization of resources by encouraging universities, colleges, and industry to share facilities and programs. The National Research Council could play an effective role as facilitator because it commands the respect and attention of scientists and engineers, academic administrators, industrial managers, officials of the federal government, the Congress, and the educated public. But, the NRC does not speak effectively to two sectors that are important for economic development. The NRC recruits many scientists and engineers from major industrial corporations for its panels, but it has trouble even finding individuals from small companies. Given that the major corporations are reducing their central laboratories and that they will “outsource” more and more of their research and development to small companies here and abroad, it is becoming increasingly important to involve the small-company sector in the NRC's activities. The NRC would also have to 19   It was Tip O'Neill who said, “All politics is local.” 20   Indeed, diffusive processes favor regional concentration.

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Beginning a Dialogue on the Changing Environment for the Physical and Mathematical Sciences: Report of a Conference extend its reach to state21 and other local governments. Presumably the councils would report to Congress22 and to appropriate regional bodies. None of this will have any lasting effect unless science education improves. Education in science is a small part of the much more profound issue of U.S. education in general, but it is one in which the science and technology community is beginning to act at the federal level. However, success probably requires nothing less than social reintegration of the science and educational communities at the local level. While it is tempting to create separate regional councils for science education because of the magnitude of the problem, this will tend to separate education from science and technology. We must not allow this to happen. Concluding Remarks We have been asked here to “invent and begin to propagate a process that will lead to . . . cultural shifts”—a large task indeed. I have focused on a much narrower issue, but one where this conference is more certain to have an impact— the role of the NRC in that much larger process. The specific suggestions made in this paper are meant primarily to provoke the participants into a creative response. If I am right in my assessment, the unusual mix of people and ideas assembled here cannot fail to lead us in creative new directions. Acknowledgment This paper has benefited from the insightful contributions of Donald Shapero, director of the Board on Physics and Astronomy, as I have benefited personally over the years from his sound advice and broad knowledge. I am also indebted to Norman Metzger, executive director of the Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Applications, for an excellent review of the NRC's recent activities involving the states. 21   Recently, the NRC sponsored a Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable, which comprised senior officials in federal and state government and from the National Governors' Association. The Roundtable recently concluded its activities with the issuance of a discussion paper, entitled “Federal-State Cooperation on Science and Technology Programs.” With the conclusion of this dialogue, there appears to be no other major NRC activity involving the states, unless one believes that the activities of the Transportation Research Board are relevant to the concerns expressed here. The National Research Council does of course take on discrete activities on behalf of states from time to time. However, there seems to be nothing like what we are proposing here, regional networks of researchers, investors, managers, teachers, and those who conceive and make decisions about policies on science and technology. 22   Should the councils win the confidence of Congress, they might be able to take on another useful function. There isn't a legislator who doesn't dream of creating the Silicon Valley of the 21st century in his or her own district. Many do what they can by sponsoring bills that encourage various research and technology initiatives in their districts. The science and technology community is, from its own point of view, justified in complaining that peer review has been bypassed. Lack of peer review does interfere with the integrity of scientific decision making, after all. But scientists' complaints will not hold back the tide of pork. (Pork to one person is food on the table to another.) What is more serious is the fact that these appropriations are not systematically examined from the point of view of their compatibility with the existing infrastructure, their national and international competitive position, their synergy with other initiatives, and, in general, their readiness and aptness relative to their explicit goal of regional economic development.

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