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Summary

The two regional dialogues at Burlingame, California, and at Vail,Colorado—and the one that preceded them, held in Chantilly, Virginia,in August 1993—addressed the several forces currently affecting thephysical and mathematical sciences in the United States. The forcesderive from the ending of the Cold War and resulting reduction indefense-related R&D; emergent federal policies emphasizing supportfor development of generic technologies in industry; shifts in publicattitudes toward universities; seemingly rising skepticism by Americansabout the efficacy of science in solving serious social problems;and reductions, if not outright closings, of corporate research anddevelopment laboratories. About 35 people from academia, industry,and government—some scientists and many from other sectors, suchas law, philosophy, and political science—attended each of the twodialogues and in common agreed that:

  • The pressures on the scientific community are very real, driven bymultiple factors and coalescing in sharp questions about the valueof science to national goals. Does its “output”—new knowledge, educated people—fit what the nation needs? How does science contribute to the generalwelfare?

  • The end of the Cold War has diminished, if not ended, the post-warrationale for the support of the physical and mathematical sciencesas a pillar of national security. New goals must be sought and clearlyexpressed. While the case has been made that fundamental researchis essential to economic competitiveness, no consensus has emergedon the exact nature of that coupling.

  • Accompanying recognition of these difficult pressures are signs ofan emergent agreement on a need to respond constructively. Thesetake various forms and include, for example, a reexamination of thepurpose and nature of graduate education in the physical and mathematicalsciences, consideration of new forms of interdisciplinary work, andnew partnership arrangements between academia and industry. In all,there is a need for the physical and mathematical sciences to “reoptimize” themselves, i.e.,

NOTE: These were true dialogues, and as such any summary fails inportraying their richness, style, and sharp disagreements; sufficeit to say that this is a synthesis of some nucleation points, withoutthe messy details.



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Regional Dialogues on the Changing Environment for the Physical andMathematical Sciences: Report of Two Conferences: Burlingame, California Boulder, Colorado Summary The two regional dialogues at Burlingame, California, and at Vail,Colorado—and the one that preceded them, held in Chantilly, Virginia,in August 1993—addressed the several forces currently affecting thephysical and mathematical sciences in the United States. The forcesderive from the ending of the Cold War and resulting reduction indefense-related R&D; emergent federal policies emphasizing supportfor development of generic technologies in industry; shifts in publicattitudes toward universities; seemingly rising skepticism by Americansabout the efficacy of science in solving serious social problems;and reductions, if not outright closings, of corporate research anddevelopment laboratories. About 35 people from academia, industry,and government—some scientists and many from other sectors, suchas law, philosophy, and political science—attended each of the twodialogues and in common agreed that: The pressures on the scientific community are very real, driven bymultiple factors and coalescing in sharp questions about the valueof science to national goals. Does its “output”—new knowledge, educated people—fit what the nation needs? How does science contribute to the generalwelfare? The end of the Cold War has diminished, if not ended, the post-warrationale for the support of the physical and mathematical sciencesas a pillar of national security. New goals must be sought and clearlyexpressed. While the case has been made that fundamental researchis essential to economic competitiveness, no consensus has emergedon the exact nature of that coupling. Accompanying recognition of these difficult pressures are signs ofan emergent agreement on a need to respond constructively. Thesetake various forms and include, for example, a reexamination of thepurpose and nature of graduate education in the physical and mathematicalsciences, consideration of new forms of interdisciplinary work, andnew partnership arrangements between academia and industry. In all,there is a need for the physical and mathematical sciences to “reoptimize” themselves, i.e., NOTE: These were true dialogues, and as such any summary fails inportraying their richness, style, and sharp disagreements; sufficeit to say that this is a synthesis of some nucleation points, withoutthe messy details.

OCR for page 1
Regional Dialogues on the Changing Environment for the Physical andMathematical Sciences: Report of Two Conferences: Burlingame, California Boulder, Colorado conserve their great and demonstrable strengths while respondingto a new national environment and changing national needs. Thus themathematical and physical sciences need to continue to ensure thattheir work serves national purposes. The dialogues are a useful beginning, but only that; and while severaladditional dialogues should be convened, the scientific societies,universities, and other institutions that make up the U.S. researchenterprise have a major responsibility to continue and broaden them. Background: The Chantilly Conference The first of the dialogues organized by the National Research Council's Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Applicationswas held in Chantilly, Virginia, on August 13-15, 1993. That conferencebrought together about 35 individuals with diverse backgrounds fromthe science community, government agencies (in both the executivebranch and the Congress), academic and other organizations responsiblefor science policy, and other sectors as divergent as philosophyand venture capital. What bonded the group was a common interestin the future goals of science, despite members' divergent viewson how science can best meet these goals. Five commissioned papers, together with an overview from conferenceco-chairs Richard N. Zare and Radford Byerly and a conference synthesisprepared by Harold Shapiro, president of Princeton University, werepublished by the National Academy Press in early 1994 in a smallvolume entitled Beginning a Dialogue on the Changing Environment for the Physicaland Mathematical Sciences. The organizers stressed the importanceof beginning a dialogue, recognizing that the changes now under way, and theconcerns and issues that they raise for the scientific and educationalcommunities, are unlikely to be fully understood, let alone resolved,in the context of any single conference or meeting. Expectations for the Regional Dialogues Many participants in the initial process urged continuing and propagatingthe dialogue set in motion at Chantilly. Among a number of stepssuggested for extending and publicizing the results of the conferencewas a recommendation that the National Research Council, in conjunctionwith cooperating local universities or research institutions, sponsora series of regional meetings to be carried out in the spirit ofthe Chantilly dialogue. As expressed by the co-chairs of the firstconference in Beginning a Dialogue,