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Regional Dialogues on the Changing Environment for the Physical andMathematical Sciences: Report of Two Conferences: Burlingame, California Boulder, Colorado . . . the regional dialogue meetings would seek to encompass a widerange of viewpoints and continue the practice of reaching beyondthe science community to involve representatives of state and localpolitical institutions as well as academics from nonscience disciplinesand other participants, who can give voice to the concerns and interestsof the broader public. Selected participants from the original conferencecould help to organize these meetings and carry the spirit of thedialogue to a broader community. Such an approach would extend thedialogue and make it more pertinent to local needs and take betteradvantage of local resources. (p. vi) In January of 1994, the National Research Council approved two regionalconferences to be organized by the Commission on Physical Sciences,Mathematics, and Applications as “pilot tests” to extend the original dialogue.These dialogues were duly held—in June 1994, in Burlingame, California,and Vail, Colorado—and this brief report encapsulates those discussions. Highlights of the Burlingame Conference Overview of the Conference The Burlingame dialogue, jointly sponsored by the National ResearchCouncil and Stanford University, was held June 3-5. Entitled “Conferenceon the Future of the Physical and Mathematical Sciences,” it waschaired by Richard N. Zare, professor of chemistry at Stanford Universityand chair of the Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, andApplications. The Burlingame participants were asked to focus on three generaloutcomes in their discussions: Continue the dialogue begun at Chantilly on the changing environmentfor the physical and mathematical sciences; Identify areas where tensions might exist or where expectations mightbe unmet in the relations among government, universities, business,national laboratories, and society at large; and Suggest the questions that should be answered and the experimentsthat should be run to lend clarity to the future for the physicaland mathematical sciences.
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Regional Dialogues on the Changing Environment for the Physical andMathematical Sciences: Report of Two Conferences: Burlingame, California Boulder, Colorado Participants/Composition of the Group1 Thirty-seven participated in the Burlingame dialogue, including physicaland mathematical scientists from academic institutions (6); scientists/engineersfrom industry (5); entrepreneurs/founders of “high-tech” companies (4); engineers/computerscientists from academic institutions (5); officials/staff of thenational laboratories (3); members of the press (3); a technologytransfer specialist (1); deans and other academic administrators(3); social scientists (2); officials/staff of federal agencies (3);a science and technology policy analyst and writer (1); and a congressionalstaffer (1). A list of participants is appended. Themes and Issues Several broad topics were the focus of much of the discussion atBurlingame: (1) generation of wealth and technology transfer, (2)preparing professionals in science and technology for the futureeconomy, and (3) clarifying and affecting the future of the physicaland mathematical sciences (including political activism and the engagementof professional societies). In that context, a number of themes emerged, shared by many but notall of the conferees: There is certainly no lack of new “frontiers” for the physical and mathematical sciences, but within that truism several realities prevail, judging from acollation of comments: “the science budgets can't continue to grow, or rather growth willoccur in some fields at the expense of others”; “there should be nosupport for science for the sake of science”; “the physical sciencesare a means to an end”; “need to sharpen our rhetoric, such as how output(education and new knowledge) relates to investments”; “what does sciencecontribute to the general welfare”; “need to ask the unthinkable question:How much science can be absorbed?” The issue was focused more sharplyusing high-energy physics as an example: What value is placed onsupport of the most basic inquiries where the rewards are intellectual,the palpable national gains distant and indirect, and the level ofpublic support required very high, both absolutely and against theneeds of other sciences? Is the United States losing its capacity for carrying out researchwith very long time horizons? Who will do the long-term, precompetitiveresearch once pursued by, for example, Bell Laboratories and du Pont?In one discussion, a participant traced the basic origins of thetechnologies embedded in the laptop computer and asked where ourfuture society might 1 Both this classification and that for Vail participants are necessarilyarbitrary and imprecise; for example, the listing of current workoften masks a scientific background—the entrepreneur with a doctoratein physics, the ethicist trained in molecular biology, and so on.In reality, the common strength of the participants at both Burlingameand Vail was scientific understanding.
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Regional Dialogues on the Changing Environment for the Physical andMathematical Sciences: Report of Two Conferences: Burlingame, California Boulder, Colorado hope to look for breakthroughs such as the transistor or the laseronce all long-term industrial research has become short-term andprofit-focused. It is time to rethink the “social contract” between science and society, i.e., that the scientific community could select through peer reviewthe recipients of federal support, with the proviso that the researchdone with public funds was of high quality and in time would benefitthe nation. Rewriting the agreement will require good will, understanding,and even education for both political leaders and scientists. Science is joining other institutions—industry, state governments, and now the federal government—in “recasting itself” to reflect tectonic changes in the society of which it is a partand which it serves. The universities are one institution that continuesto lag. A university scientist commented that “we don't yet have the incentives in place to make changes, and weremain optimized for an earlier environment that is now passé.” The United States has a very effective system for “wealth generation” based on advancing knowledge and new technology. Small businessesare a necessary, but not sufficient, ingredient to ensure the disseminationof new technologies throughout the economy. Firms of all sizeshave a vital role in moving new technologies into broad applicationsin the market economy. The movement of people is very important tothe process of “technology transfer.” Some participants felt that “technology development” is a better term in reflecting the complexity oftranslating new knowledge into economic and social gain. Put anotherway, the “stove-pipe model”—i.e., a view of research as part of a linear process ofwealth generation—is simplistic and often wrong, and needs to bereplaced by the concept of a “buffet,” in which much is created and servedup to diners with differing tastes. Ph.D.s are a valuable product of the educational enterprise and areimportant contributors to “wealth generation” for the future. A task for universitiesis to ensure that the nature of graduate education squares with itsbroad purposes: to prepare students not only for academic researchcareers but also to serve the needs of industry and other sectorsthat need highly trained and able men and women. A leading figurein engineering education commented that on this issue “maybe thescientists can catch up with the engineers.” Possible reforms ingraduate education include a revival of professional master's-leveldegrees in areas that are responsive to the needs of industry; thePh.D. degree is actually considered to be a liability in some industrialsettings because of its narrow focus. Defenders of the doctoratedegree as the best means for “learning how to learn”
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Regional Dialogues on the Changing Environment for the Physical andMathematical Sciences: Report of Two Conferences: Burlingame, California Boulder, Colorado agreed that steps should be taken to shorten the time to degree forthe Ph.D. and to make it more relevant to professional careers outsidethe academic sector. There was much discussion that some form ofindustry internship might help to broaden doctoral education, shortenthe time to degree, and increase employment opportunities outsidethe academic sector. Scientists need to engage more effectively in the political processin their own interests and that of the public. They are not yet verygood at it. At dinner on Saturday evening, a congressional staffergave an impromptu lecture on Congressional Relations 101 that askedthe question: When was the last time your institution invited yourcongressional representative to visit and learn about your activities,achievements, and problems? At the same time, the notion of colleagues“lobbying” Congress to fund their own projects gave pause to some of the participants. Professional societies provide an effective means for reaching consensuson future directions for research and education and for carryingthe message to the larger society, including political representatives. The conferees were challenged to create “experiments” to clarify uncertainties about the future of the scientific professionin the context of the rapidly changing external environment of the1990s. This resulted in a proposal by two participants—presidentsof professional societies—to take to their respective membershipsdrafts of new “mission statements” for their organizations, explicitly addressing thedemands of congressional leaders that scientists' work should demonstratemore relevance to national needs and strategic objectives. The conferenceparticipants seemed to agree with the point that increasing worldwidecompetition does not require the reinvention of the “wealth-generating” research system but rather its reorientation. Highlights of the Vail Conference Overview of the Conference The third dialogue was held in Vail, Colorado, June 10-12, 1994.Local arrangements and support were provided jointly by the Universityof Colorado, the Environmental Research Laboratory of the NationalOceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Boulder laboratoriesof the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), andthe Walter Orr Roberts Institute of the University Corporation forAtmospheric Research. Co-chairs for the conference were David Norcross,director of the NIST Boulder laboratories, and Radford Byerly, formerlychief of staff of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee ofthe U.S. House of Representatives.
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Regional Dialogues on the Changing Environment for the Physical andMathematical Sciences: Report of Two Conferences: Burlingame, California Boulder, Colorado At the outset, the organizers urged the conferees to: Examine issues that tend to create tension between the research communityand government and society; Create an opportunity for representatives of the research community,government, and other elements of the broader society to communicateeffectively with each other about these issues and their impacts;and Suggest actions that can be taken, either by the research communityalone or in concert with elements of government and society, to transformchanges in the environment for science into opportunities. Participants/Composition of the Group The individuals participating in the Vail dialogue included physicaland mathematical scientists from academia (4); scientists/engineersfrom industry (2); a technology transfer specialist (1); recentlygraduated scientists (2); members of the press (2); social scientists/philosophers/economists(4); practicing attorneys/law professors (2); deans and other academicadministrators with science backgrounds (3); officials/staff of federalagencies (all with science backgrounds) (4); officials from scientificand technical professional societies or associations (3); scienceand technology policy analysts and writers (2); congressional staff/supportagencies (2); and a rancher/citizen activist (1). A list of participantsis appended. Themes and Issues Vail lived up to the Chantilly and Burlingame conferences in resistingsummary; as at the other two dialogues, the discussion at Vail wasspirited, wide-ranging, candid, and informed by a shared goal thatthe nation be given and that it make use of excellent science. Againstthat, several themes emerged, accepted by many but not all of theconferees: It's puzzling that while science is doing quite well in federal funding,the sense of unease is wide and growing. Part of the reason is thatthe scientific community “has bred up to its resource limits”; i.e., it has grown with growing funding.Another may be that science has lost its monopoly in controllingits image, its ability to interpret itself. The unpleasant message emanating from the Washington political leadershipabout the need for change in federally sponsored research and highereducation must be—indeed, is—being heard. While some scientists may be unaware of (or ina state of denial about) the drastic nature of the public's changedexpectations concerning scientists and their role in
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Regional Dialogues on the Changing Environment for the Physical andMathematical Sciences: Report of Two Conferences: Burlingame, California Boulder, Colorado society, others have heard the message and are setting about understandingthe implications for their institutions. An “academic culture” that seems to favor research over teaching is eroding the public's esteem for scientists and their work and for research universities. Academic tenure and the established structures of disciplinary scienceand technology contribute to making it difficult for universitiesto adjust to the sweeping changes now under way. The issue is howto maintain the strength of the academic enterprise while treatingits problems, e.g., the clash between pressures to do research andthe obligations to teach undergraduates well. Scientists need to become more aware of their place in society andof how to influence the public (including its political representatives)about the value of their contributions. Some participants suggestedthat science should seek to better understand its own culture, includingits elitism. Others suggested the need to develop better means forcommunicating with the public about the results and positive impactsof science and technology on the public's welfare. As part of theirself-reflection, scientists also need to listen to the concerns,values, and aspirations of the emerging generation of new scientistswho face vastly different career circumstances than did former generationsof scientists. A discussant argued that the scientific communityremains largely insular: “They create their own context, their owndialectic.” Next Steps The discussions at Vail tended to focus from the beginning on largerissues of science policy and education facing society in generaland their implications for higher education and the research establishment.One participant suggested that the broad perspectives voiced on manyissues and topics tended to reflect the “systemic” or holistic viewpointsof the natural sciences (including environmental science) more thanthe traditional “reductionist” approach of the physical sciences and mathematics.An environmental scientist used a conceptual framework concerning“addictive behavior” to explain the steps that all communities (and individuals) mustgo through to incorporate changing environmental circumstances intobehavior that is more appropriate to the new environment. In thecontext of the changing environment for the physical and mathematicalsciences, he suggested that the affected science communities arejust now passing through the stage of recognition of “a need forchange” and that the Vail conference represented the beginning ofa new phase in which constructive work can begin on how best to adaptto the new external environment.
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Regional Dialogues on the Changing Environment for the Physical andMathematical Sciences: Report of Two Conferences: Burlingame, California Boulder, Colorado Some next steps discussed at Vail included: Organizing more dialogues; Involving professional societies and associations as mechanisms forextending the dialogue, perhaps as an adjunct to annual meetingsof these groups; Engaging in small-scale “pilot tests” to bring about desirable institutional changes (e.g., modificationsto career training for scientists, including interdisciplinary studiesand possible internships in industry settings); Enhancing public understanding of what science is and does: gettingscientists more involved in dialogue among themselves and with thegeneral public, seeking to influence the public's expectations ofscientists in both their educational and knowledge-generating roles.At the same time, it is essential that scientists not overpromiseand that they work hard both to control expectations of the publicfor what science and technology can deliver and to deliver what ispromised; Developing programs so that committed scientists and nonscientistscan work collaboratively to catalyze change in critical areas, fromscience in the schools to integration of science, morals, and politics; Developing alternate graduate programs that will better prepare peoplefor nontraditional careers involving use of science—both its knowledgeand methods; and Establishing a “blue-ribbon” commission to examine the impact of science on society, broadlyconstructed. Such a commission should comprise “users” of what sciencedoes—from industry, environmental concerns, social needs, education,and the like. Concluding Observations The report of the Chantilly conference had a major influence on thedirection and style of the regional dialogues, and the report wasreferred to throughout the Burlingame and Vail conferences. Severalof its themes were echoed and strengthened at the two regional dialogues:(1) the need to bring about significant change in both the educationaland research missions of universities; (2) a recognition that thetraditional training of scientists may be too narrow from the perspectivesof
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Regional Dialogues on the Changing Environment for the Physical andMathematical Sciences: Report of Two Conferences: Burlingame, California Boulder, Colorado society, industry, and the scientific community itself; and (3) adesire to move from analysis to action. The characteristics of the local and regional economies clearly influencedthe selection and representation of participants at both the Burlingameand Vail conferences. In Burlingame, there was a clear sense of theimportance of science and technology as a source of “wealth creation” and enhanced productivity and competitiveness for the society atlarge. Despite the participation of several founders of successfulhigh-technology firms from “Silicon Valley” and the surrounding Bay Area, the Burlingamedialogue concluded that the role of “small businesses” as a source of future economicgrowth did not require any special public policy measures beyondthose already in place (e.g., the Small Business Innovation Researchand technology transfer activities of the federal agencies). Indeed,according to the Burlingame participants, small businesses shouldbe viewed as making a particularly important contribution to innovation,but job creation and successful commercialization of technology involvethe full continuum of small, medium, and large-scale firms sensitiveto the business opportunities presented by advancing technologicalcapabilities. Conversion of defense-oriented research was discussed, but not asa major theme despite strong representation from the national laboratoriesconcentrated in California. At Vail, there was heavy representationfrom the natural and environmental science communities, but againthe discussions tended to focus on broader national concerns abouthigher education and the need to enhance the political effectivenessof the science community. In summary, the focus of both regionalmeetings was on national issues and not the particular concerns ofthe regional and local economies. Finally, it's fair to say that while the debates and arguments at Vail and Burlingamewere wide-ranging, spirited, and sometimes contentious, they wereconsistent with the observation by Thomas Kuhn that “attempts todesign a new paradigm begin not when the predecessor is fully exhaustedbut when anomalies begin to accumulate and when far-sighted or visionaryminds perceive that the end of the current approach is in sight.” Acknowledgments The organizers of the conferences are deeply grateful to the followingorganizations for providing the necessary financial and logisticalsupport: the National Research Council, the National Science Foundation,the Environmental Research Laboratory of the National Oceanic andAtmospheric Administration, the Boulder laboratories of the NationalInstitute of Standards and Technology, the University Consortiumfor Atmospheric Research, Stanford University, and the Universityof Colorado. Finally, the organizers of the conferences are deeplygrateful to Paul
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Regional Dialogues on the Changing Environment for the Physical andMathematical Sciences: Report of Two Conferences: Burlingame, California Boulder, Colorado Shoemaker of the Sandia National Laboratories, who facilitated boththe Vail and Burlingame dialogues (as well as the original one atChantilly) and played a major role in their effectiveness. That gratitudeextends also to Albert Narath, president of Sandia, who made Dr.Shoemaker's services available gratis.
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Regional Dialogues on the Changing Environment for the Physical andMathematical Sciences: Report of Two Conferences: Burlingame, California Boulder, Colorado Appendices
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