CHAPTER 3

NATIONAL GOALS FOR SCIENCE

Science and technology are closely linked to important national objectives in such areas as economic growth, health care, national security, and environmental protection. These linkages implicitly raise the question of what goals the nation should have for science and technology and how those goals should be reflected in levels of investment, organizational arrangements, and subjects for research and development. In this chapter, we examine these issues for science; in the next chapter, we do so for technology.

In setting national goals for science, several observations must be kept in mind. The first is that it has proved impossible to predict reliably which areas of science will ultimately contribute to important new technologies. History is rich in examples of scientific research that have led to practical applications in areas far removed from the original work. Fundamental research on electromagnetism contributed directly to the development of modern communications. Investigations in solid-state physics enabled the invention of the transistor. The recombinant DNA technology that led to the biotechnology industry arose from studies of unusual enzymes in bacteria. Mathematics, often regarded as highly abstract, is at the core of applications as diverse as aircraft design, computing, and predictions of climate change.

The second observation involves the importance of research for which applications are not yet known. For investigators who do such fundamental research, primarily in universities, the original motivation is seldom to develop new applications; rather, it is the desire to discover and to understand natural processes.



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SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: National Goals for a Near Era CHAPTER 3 NATIONAL GOALS FOR SCIENCE Science and technology are closely linked to important national objectives in such areas as economic growth, health care, national security, and environmental protection. These linkages implicitly raise the question of what goals the nation should have for science and technology and how those goals should be reflected in levels of investment, organizational arrangements, and subjects for research and development. In this chapter, we examine these issues for science; in the next chapter, we do so for technology. In setting national goals for science, several observations must be kept in mind. The first is that it has proved impossible to predict reliably which areas of science will ultimately contribute to important new technologies. History is rich in examples of scientific research that have led to practical applications in areas far removed from the original work. Fundamental research on electromagnetism contributed directly to the development of modern communications. Investigations in solid-state physics enabled the invention of the transistor. The recombinant DNA technology that led to the biotechnology industry arose from studies of unusual enzymes in bacteria. Mathematics, often regarded as highly abstract, is at the core of applications as diverse as aircraft design, computing, and predictions of climate change. The second observation involves the importance of research for which applications are not yet known. For investigators who do such fundamental research, primarily in universities, the original motivation is seldom to develop new applications; rather, it is the desire to discover and to understand natural processes.

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SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: National Goals for a Near Era Nevertheless, this motivation—enlarging the store of human knowledge—in the end brings advances and applications that cannot be made any other way. A substantial redirection of such fundamental research toward goal-directed work would reduce the potential for advances of economic and social importance without necessarily leading to solutions for the problems being addressed.1 A third observation concerns the cultural significance of science. The application of modern scientific research, beginning in the seventeenth century, is one of the most profound events in human history. Modern research has done more than change the material circumstances of our lives. It has changed our ideas about ourselves and our place in the universe, about human history and the human future. A final observation has to do with leadership. The great modern expansion of scientific knowledge has led to changes that have been of enormous benefit to humanity. Adjusting to these changes has in some cases proved disruptive to society. Nonetheless, leadership in science has become one of the defining characteristics of great nations. The United States has risen to a position of global prominence in part through its strengths in science and technology. Those strengths can continue to contribute greatly to U.S. leadership.2 In light of the above observations, we believe that the federal government, in partnership with the private sector and with other levels of government, should adopt explicit national goals for science. Our first recommendation is: The United States should be among the world leaders in all major areas of science. “Major areas” refers to broad disciplines of science (such as biology, physics, mathematics, chemistry, earth science, and astronomy) and to their major subdisciplines (such as the neurosciences, condensed-matter physics, and seismology). “Among the world leaders” means that the United States should have capabili-

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SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: National Goals for a Near Era ties and infrastructures of support that are not exceeded elsewhere. Of course, there will be specific areas or skills in which other nations lead the world. But in considering the major subdisciplines in which such areas belong, the United States should meet world standards. There are several rationales for this goal: Excellence. When U.S. researchers are working at world levels in all disciplines, they can bring the best available knowledge to bear on problems related to national objectives, even if that knowledge appears unexpectedly in a field not traditionally linked to that objective. For example, by being among the world leaders in the areas of virology, immunology, and molecular biology, U.S. researchers were able quickly to devise a test for AIDS antibodies that helped ensure the safety of the blood supply. Receptiveness. By being among the world leaders in all disciplines, U.S. researchers can quickly recognize, extend, and utilize significant research results that occur elsewhere. For example, high-temperature superconductivity was discovered in Switzerland, but U.S. researchers were able to repeat and extend these findings within a matter of days. Education. Only by working in the presence of world leaders can students in American colleges and universities prepare to become leaders themselves and to extend and apply the frontiers of knowledge. Personnel. Maintaining excellence in a field is the best way to attract the brightest young students to that field and thus ensure its continuing excellence. In general, being among the leaders in each area of science means that U.S. scientists understand and participate in expanding the frontier of human knowledge. The United States could not have been the early home of the semiconductor industry without having been among the world leaders in solid-state physics. It

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SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: National Goals for a Near Era could not have been the home of the emerging biotechnology industry without having been a world leader in molecular biology. In addition to being among the world leaders in all areas of science, the United States will wish to excel in certain areas on a national level. Therefore, the committee’s second recommendation is: The United States should maintain clear leadership in some major areas of science. The rationales for maintaining a clear lead in selected areas of science go beyond those listed above. Among the criteria that would call for clear leadership in a field are the following: The field is demonstrably and tightly coupled to national objectives that can be met only if U.S. research performers are clear leaders. For example, the field of condensed-matter physics drives technological advances in such industrial sectors as microelectronics, advanced materials, and sensors. The field so captures the imagination that it is of broad interest to society. An example in astronomy is the recent detection of differences in the cosmic background radiation related to the creation of the universe. The field affects other areas of science disproportionately and therefore has a multiplicative effect on other scientific advances, especially those where clear leadership is the objective. For example, molecular biology is critical to advances in health care, biotechnology, agriculture, and industrial processes. The selection of those fields in which the United States wishes to maintain clear leadership ill be made by government decisionmakers with appropriate advice from various interested groups. These decisions must be fully informed by the comparative assessments of different scientific fields, discussed below, and by the extent to which different fields meet the criteria for clear leadership. These decisions thus differ in character from decisions about the most promising directions for research within an area of

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SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: National Goals for a Near Era science, which are made most effectively by researchers themselves and should be insulated from the political process. IMPLICATIONS OF THE PERFORMANCE GOALS The federal government needs a better way to gauge the overall health of research—as a whole and in its parts—and to determine whether it is adequately supporting broad national objectives. Such indicators as dollars spent or numbers of scientists supported are, by themselves, inadequate. Nor can such indicators determine the adequacy of overall funding or the appropriate distribution of funds among different fields. The committee believes that comparative international assessments of scientific accomplishment are a better yardstick for policy decisions. This concept, like others in this report, has been discussed in theory and applied in specific cases,* but the committee believes that it now deserves a central place in national considerations of science policy. To this end, we have developed it in much greater detail. The committee believes that it is feasible to monitor U.S. performance with field-by-field peer assessments. Researchers in many fields have, in recent years, identified research opportunities and even set funding priorities. The processes that they have used could be adapted for more general application. The committee recommends the establishment of independent panels consisting of researchers who work in a field, individuals who work in closely related fields, and research “users” who follow the field closely. Some of these individuals should be outstanding foreign scientists in the field being examined. The panels would assess the performance of U.S. research * See Ralph Gomory, “Goals and Priorities for the U.S. Government’s Role in Science and Technology,” testimony before the Subcommittee on Science of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, April 28, 1992; and William J. Clinton and Albert Gore, Jr.,Technology for America’s Economic Growth, A New Direction to Build Economic Strength. Washington, D.C.: Executive Office of the President, 1993.

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SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: National Goals for a Near Era scientists in a given field and compare it with performance of researchers in other nations. To do this, the panels might, for example, judge where the most exciting and promising ideas are emerging, consider where the best new talent is locating, and examine the comparative capabilities of research facilities or equipment. The panels could identify key factors enhancing—or blocking—performance within different fields and project trends into the future. They would assess both the internal performance of the field and its relationship to other fields of science. Finally, the panels could recommend actions for both the performers and the supporters of research (see box). Quantitative measurements, such as movements of individuals, literature citation counts, and quantity and quality of instrumentation, would be important tools for the panels. But the most valuable contribution by the panels would be the qualitative judgments of panel members working in each field. Scientists immersed in a particular field are best qualified to appraise the true quality of the work being done, to identify the most promising and exciting advances, and to project the status of the field into the future. The participation of representatives from other fields of science and from the users of research would help to allay concerns that the panels’ recommendations are self-serving. We believe that assessments of fields will prove useful in the allocation of resources both within and among fields. Within fields, the assessments will help identify the key factors affecting the comparative performance of its researchers. The assessments will be much more useful than current budgetary criteria for analyzing issues such as the adequacy of the infrastructure and the optimal number of students entering the field. By providing long-term perspectives, the assessments will increase the predictability and stability that are essential to a focused and sustained effort in science. Assessments of resolve debates over the support of megaprojects. research performance would also help The costs of a

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SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: National Goals for a Near Era RESULTS OF THE PANELS’ DELIBERATIONS The independent panels of researchers and research users, drawing on their assessments of the comparative performance of U.S. researchers, could make several kinds of reports to the broader research community and to the federal government. Here are three hypothetical outcomes: In one area of science, an assessment panel might find that the U.S. research effort is not at world levels of performance. The panel would diagnose the reasons for the deficiency—perhaps inferior facilities or a shortage of qualified young researchers. It could then translate its findings into proposals for the funders, performers, and users of research that would help bring U.S. performance up to world standards. In another field, an assessment panel might find that U.S. performance is at world levels and does not seem to be in danger of falling behind. In this case, the group could recommend actions that would keep the United States among the world leaders. In yet another area, an assessment panel might conclude that the United States leads the rest of the world. If that area is not one in which the United States should maintain clear leadership, the panel might recommend reductions in funding, which could then be applied to areas requiring additional support. megaproject would be assessed in terms of the performance goals. If the area of the megaproject was one in which the United States chose only to be among the leaders, participation would almost certainly depend on international collaboration and cost sharing. For an area where clear leadership is justified, the United States might choose to pursue a megaproject even without international partners. One could envision this process being applied, for instance, to the Human Genome Project, the Superconducting Supercollider, NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth, fusion reactors, synchrotron radiation light sources, and so on. The goals that we recommend also have implications for the research infrastructure. Meeting the goals requires that appropriate elements of the U.S. research infrastructure remain second to none. Educational institutions are essential to this infrastructure;

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SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: National Goals for a Near Era only by providing the finest instruction in mathematics and science can the United States produce world class young scientists and engineers. The committee believes that these goals can be met within the existing overall federal R&D budget. First, because of its traditionally strong support for science, the United States is already a leader in most areas of science. Second, through the application of the goals outlined above, the federal government is likely to find that the United States has clear leadership in some areas of science in which we need only to be among the leaders; funds can be redistributed accordingly. Third, relatively minor reallocations of the federal government’ s R&D budget, which now exceeds $70 billion per year, could have a major effect on the research portion of the budget. A NEW FRAMEWORK FOR FUNDING The performance goals stated above would provide the basis for a new approach to designing and enacting federal research budgets. 3 Today, the federal R&D budget emerges from a process that is only loosely coordinated. Each federal agency supports research in pursuit of its individual mission, and research is often a relatively small part of that mission. Guided by the performance goals of being among the world leaders in all areas of science and maintaining a clear lead in some, the Executive Branch and Congress could take a more coherent approach to setting R&D budgets. In the Executive Branch, the assessments of scientific fields could guide initiatives designed to achieve specific scientific or technological goals. In the past few years, initial steps in this direction have been taken by the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology under the Office of Science and Technology Policy. If a major field of science were found to be behind world standards, the Executive Branch could boost funding across all the agencies that support research in the field.

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SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: National Goals for a Near Era When the budget reaches Capitol Hill, the House and the Senate would conduct comprehensive reviews of the proposals for science and technology before disaggregating the budget for agency-by-agency examination. Limited versions of such reviews now take place in both houses, but they need to be structured so that their results have more impact on the decisions of individual appropriations subcommittees. PRINCIPLES TO BE FOLLOWED IN ACHIEVING THE GOAL OF NATIONAL LEADERSHIP Scientific research, like any large social endeavor, is influenced by a set of principles that distill the experience of the past into guidelines for today. These principles take on new significance in light of the goals discussed above. The Need for Quality Research that is not creative and innovative has very little impact on society. The funders, erformers, and users of research therefore need to adopt and enforce procedures that ensure the quality of research. Since World War II, the process of ensuring quality in federally funded research has been shared by the federal government and the research community. The federal government has established broad priorities and criteria for the distribution of its funds. Individual projects have then been funded based on an assessment of their merit, commonly using advice from peer reviewers outside government. The government has solicited this advice on the belief that the public interest is best served by letting scientists decide, on the basis of their experience, which research is most qualified for support. In recent years, this partnership has become strained on both sides. The scientific community has criticized the federal government for appropriating over a billion dollars a year for specific R&D projects and facilities that have undergone little or no

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SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: National Goals for a Near Era formal assessment of quality. Representatives of the government have criticized the scientific community for defending certain programs with arguments that are subjective or self-serving. To be among the world leaders in all major areas of science, our nation must ensure quality by more objective means. Merit review must be safeguarded from political distortions. If Congress cannot stop the earmarking of R&D funds, it should isolate these appropriations from the rest of federal science and technology and openly establish a different set of criteria. For its part, the scientific community must do a more equitable job of setting priorities within areas of science. Adequacy and Stability of Funding Scientists and engineers conducting research sponsored by the government have been under increasing financial pressure. As a result, they have been spending more time writing proposals and less time at work in their laboratories. Furthermore, when funding is tight, they tend to produce more conservative proposals. This discourages venturesome, long-term work—the kind of research that may lead to major advances. A more cost-effective and productive funding strategy would be to provide stable, multiyear funding based on a system of evaluation and support that identifies the most qualified investigators and minimizes their administrative burdens. This would apply both to established investigators and to young researchers. Year-to-year funding levels would be more stable, bringing a degree of predictability to research that would make it more attractive to talented American students. The financial support provided to a field and the manner in which it is allocated among training, salaries, equipment, facilities, and so on would be based on the assessment of the field’s comparative performance and whether the goal for the field is to achieve world standards or clear leadership. On this basis, support for a field might be reduced, maintained, or increased.

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SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: National Goals for a Near Era Organization of Science Traditionally, science has been organized into specific disciplines. However, science, by its nature, is in continual flux. New disciplines emerge at the edges or intersections of existing ones. Old disciplines are transformed by new knowledge and new techniques, while new disciplines draw knowledge and techniques from the old. Furthermore, many of the problems that scientists are now trying to solve require contributions from more than one discipline. For this interdisciplinary research to succeed, scientists must be able to extend their knowledge to new areas and work effectively as members of teams. The performers and funders of research must allow these dynamics of science to drive its organization. They must remove barriers to emerging areas of research and encourage permeable institutional structures that allow for the flow of interdisciplinary opportunities. The Synergy Between Research and Education Achievement of our national objectives in science and technology must be supported by continuous development of human resources. Research that includes an explicit educational component contributes to these objectives more powerfully than research done independently of education. But the quality of research should not—and need not—be subordinated to education. In evaluating the merits of research, its educational component should be an explicit criterion. Much of the discussion about reaching and research has missed an essential point. The two skills are not necessarily congruent. Skill at research does not guarantee skill at teaching. But teaching is a skill that almost always can be greatly improved with effort. And excellence in research can enhance the value of what is taught. In this sense, participation in work that extends the

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SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: National Goals for a Near Era frontiers of knowledge can magnify the effectiveness of a committed teacher. The committee returns to this subject briefly in Chapter 5. REFERENCES 1. National Science Board, Commission on the Future of the National Science Foundation. A Foundation for the 21st Century: A Progressive Framework for the National Science Foundation. Washington, D.C.: National Science Foundation, 1992. 2. Frank Press. “Science and Technology Policy for a New Era.” Speech presented at the 129th Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Sciences, April 27, 1992. 3. National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. Federal Science and Technology Budget Priorities. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1989.

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SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: National Goals for a Near Era SUMMARY OF SCIENCE GOALS For half a century, the federal government has strongly supported basic research in science and engineering. However, the government has never formulated an explicit policy for setting the level of that support. We have recommended two performance goals for science that would allow the appropriate level of support to be determined. The first goal is that the United States should be among the world leaders in all major areas of science. Achieving this goal would allow this nation quickly to apply and extend advances in science wherever they occur. The second goal is that the United States should maintain clear leadership in some major areas of science. The decision to select a field for leadership would be based on national objectives and other criteria external to the field of research. The comparative performance of U.S. research in a major field would be assessed by independent panels of experts from within and outside the field. The implementation of these goals for science requires more coherent federal budgetary procedures. We have suggested a framework for action based on mechanisms already in place. Allocations across fields would be guided by the two performance goals. Allocations within fields should be guided by scientists in those fields.

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