. "New Advisory Structures for New Times." Beginning a Dialogue on the Changing Environment for the Physical and Mathematical Sciences: Report of a Conference. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 1994.
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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.
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 aChanging 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.
Economic and environmental security rival military security now that the Cold War has ended.
Concerns about ethical conduct stimulated a major NRC report, Responsible Science: Ensuring theIntegrity of the Research Process, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1992.
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.
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.