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SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: National Goals for a Near Era CHAPTER 5 CONCLUSION AND NEXT STEPS The committee has discussed two broad components of the science and technology enterprise. The first is scientific and engineering research —the generation of new knowledge. The second is the development and adoption of technology—putting new knowledge to work. Together these components form part of a system—a system that works well when its components are strong and interact effectively. A third part of the system is equally important—the education and training not only of future scientists and engineers but of the public in general. Our society is growing ever more dependent on the creation and flow of information. Throughout their careers, the members of an information-based culture will spend much of their time learning new information and new skills. The committee believes that the issues surrounding education and training in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology are sufficiently important to merit a separate report. A number of important questions need to be answered. At the graduate level, students today tend to specialize early, prolong their studies, and strive for tenure in academic positions. How can graduate schools prepare their students for a world in which highly trained scientists and engineers move often among industry, academia, and government? At the undergraduate level, the structure of science and mathematics curricula appears to discourage many qualified students from pursuing careers in science and engineering. How can colleges and universities present these subjects so as to make such careers more accessible? How can universities promote
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SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: National Goals for a Near Era scientific literacy among their graduates? How can they improve the training of students who will become science and mathematics teachers in elementary and secondary schools? Finally, at the precollege level, how can the schools best take advantage of information-based technologies to optimize teaching and learning? How can teachers best prepare students for further education and for careers where science, technology, and mathematics will play an increasing role? The development of human resources is essential to meeting the fundamental challenge in the science and technology enterprise: that of maintaining and improving the linkages between research and the development and adoption of technology. If our scientific enterprise is to be more effective in a competitive world, these activities must be more effectively coupled. The principal link is through people—the scientists, engineers, and others who are trained in schools, colleges, and universities and then go on to work in industry, academia, and government. The development of human resources is also related to another issue that warrants further examination: the increasingly international character of science and technology. A nation’s work force is virtually the only factor of production in modern economies that does not move easily across international borders. Scientific knowledge, technical know-how, natural resources, and capital have increasingly become international commodities that flow quickly to those best able to use them. This report has focused predominantly on the national dimensions of science and technology, but the changing international context will have increasingly important consequences for national approaches to research and development. TOWARD A NEW PARTNERSHIP Despite the increasing internationalization of science and technology, the linkages between a nation’s internal scientific and technological capabilities and its well-being will continue to be strong. The countries that best integrate the generation of new
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SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT: National Goals for a Near Era knowledge with the use of that knowledge will be positioned to be the leaders of the twenty-first century. Each component of the science and technology system is important. The scientific research carried out in universities and in federal and industrial laboratories will continue to be essential in providing new knowledge and trained personnel. Today, society faces many problems whose solutions will depend on the knowledge generated by this research. Of equal importance will be the transformation of new scientific knowledge through engineering into new technologies. This process will require an economic, managerial, and legal environment that fosters innovation and the adoption of new technologies. In today ’s world, the federal government must be a partner with industry in identifying and developing technologies essential to national needs. For more than a century, the United States has been at the world frontiers in many of the technologies that have transformed society. This country can and should continue to be a technological pioneer. Finally, the science-driven knowledge of the twenty-first century will be successfully deployed only if our nation invests in human resources. This means more than just the production of future generations of scientists and engineers. The country needs a technically trained and flexible work force that can make use of new scientific and technological knowledge and can adapt to change in an increasingly dynamic economy. Science and technology cannot solve all of society’s ills, even if their benefits were distributed as widely as possible. But science and the technologies that increasingly flow from science are essential to generate the knowledge and the wealth that will be needed to address societal problems. This country therefore needs to explore how to ensure the progress of science and how to use new knowledge most effectively to meet human needs. If we succeed in doing so, human well-being will be greatly improved.
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