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Science and Engineering Research in a Changing World to provide support to graduate students. Establish a national database on employment options and trends for scientists and engineers. Provide the flexibility to redress pay inequities and reward superior performance in compensating federal employees, including scientists and engineers. Recruit highly qualified scientists and engineers into key policy positions in government. Science and Engineering Research Generates New Technologies Cellular telephones, computers, medical lasers, diseaseresistant crops, satellites, biotechnology, optical fiber networks—all these 20th-century technologies and many others can trace their origins at least in part to science and engineering research. New knowledge alone is not enough to achieve major economic, military, or social objectives. But through the combined efforts of business, government, and academic and other nonprofit organizations, new knowledge has been converted into new technologies, new means of production, and new industries. In the process, science and engineering research has enhanced national security, improved human health, produced a stronger economy, and led to a cleaner environment. Science and engineering research will be even more influential in the 21st century than it has been in the 20th century. No one can predict which technologies will define the next century. But we know that the increasing interconnection of computers into a global network will transform work, communications, entertainment, and education. Greater understanding of biological processes will help to meet the needs of an expanding global population while reducing the adverse effects of humans on the environment. And new treatments and preventive measures for diseases and injuries will improve the quality of life and lengthen the human life span. The United States has risen to a position of global leadership in part through its strength in science and engineering research. With wise policies for resource allocation and governance, that strength can continue to catalyze US leadership in the next century. The United States Should Remain at the Frontier in All Research Areas The call for the United States to stay at the frontier in all areas of science and engineering research reflects the synergistic nature of the enterprise. Many scientific and technological advances have had their origins in research that could not have been predicted to have those outcomes. For example, modern communications is founded on research into the fundamental properties of electromagnetism and electron flow in semiconductors, which resulted in the transistor. Recombinant-DNA technology arose from studies of unusual processes in bacteria. Mathematics, a contributor to engineering and technical arts for more than a century, continues to be at the core of applications as diverse as aircraft design, computing, and predictions of climate change. Research not only produces new knowledge, it deepens and broadens the experience of scientists and engineers who will go on to apply that experience in many productive ways. The research universities educate the young scientists and engineers who will take jobs in industry, government, and academe. The movement of scientists and engineers among these three sectors diffuses ideas widely and cross-fertilizes different fields of endeavor—often in unexpected ways. The direct interaction of scientists and engineers with each other and with others in society is a particularly effective way of transferring and enlarging new knowledge and technologies. Scientific information now moves quickly around the world, both through information technologies and through the movement of students and researchers across borders. Because the US maintains a ferment of cutting-edge research across the entire frontier of knowledge relevant to science and engineering, US industry and academia have in place or can readily find the trained personnel they need to take advantage quickly of new opportunities and findings whenever and wherever in the world they occur. This flexibility will become ever more important in the next century, as the complexity of new technologies increases the importance of interdisciplinary knowledge transfers and the pace of change intensifies worldwide. World-Class Research Is Crucial Given the growing role of research in meeting national goals, an appropriate objective for US policy is as follows: The United States should be among the world leaders in all major fields of research and should achieve preeminence among nations in selected fields. (A-1, A-2) “Among the world leaders” means that the United States should have capabilities (including research excellence and the ability to recognize, extend, and use important research results that occur elsewhere) and infrastructure (including education and
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Science and Engineering Research in a Changing World personnel) that are not exceeded elsewhere. Of course, other nations will lead the world in specific fields or skills, but by striving for preeminence in selected research fields, the nation can focus its resources on research subjects deemed most promising or important for economic productivity and competitiveness, military strength, human health, environmental protection, or other national objectives. By being among the world leaders in major fields of research, the United States is “poised to pounce” when an important research development occurs either here or in any other country. When US researchers are working at the world level in all disciplines, they can bring the best available knowledge to bear on problems related to national objectives, even if the knowledge appears unexpectedly in a field not traditionally linked to those objectives. For example, by being among the world leaders in virology, immunology, and molecular biology, US researchers were able quickly to devise a test for HIV antibodies that helped to ensure the safety of the blood supply; and the United States could not have been the home of the emerging biotechnology industry without having been a world leader in molecular biology. US researchers also are able quickly to repeat and extend findings that occur in other countries, such as when high-temperature superconductivity was discovered in Switzerland. Much knowledge transfer takes place in the graduate science and engineering system. Only by working in the presence of world leaders can students in American colleges and universities prepare themselves to become the future leaders who will extend and apply the frontiers of knowledge. The excitement of working with the world’s experts in a particular field also is the best way to attract the brightest young students to that field, thereby ensuring its continued excellence. The federal government has accepted the general principle of across-the-board leadership, but no mechanism exists to implement it. The federal government should convene panels of researchers and other experts to compare US performance in particular fields of research with other countries’ performance. (A-1, A-2) These panels could identify emerging fields of interest, recommend budgetary changes, and examine opportunities for international cost-sharing. The panels also could recommend to the executive branch and Congress fields in which the nation should strive for clear leadership. Achieving national objectives in science and engineering research requires continuous development of human resources. Research that includes an explicit educational component contributes to these objectives more powerfully than research done independently of education. Government agencies generally should favor funding projects at academic institutions, as opposed to other entities, because they directly link research to education and training in science and engineering. (A-2) For more information on staying at the frontiers of science and engineering research: A-1. Science, Technology, and the Federal Government: National Goals for a New Era, Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, 1993 A-2. Allocating Federal Funds for Science and Technology, Committee on Criteria for Federal Support for Research and Development, 1995 The US Needs a Unified Budget for Federal Science and Technology The federal government currently spends more than $70 billion a year on research and development, but about half that amount goes to preliminary production, system development, evaluation, and testing of existing technologies, as opposed to creation of new technologies. To enable the science and technology budget to be properly considered, a new budget category known as federal science and technology (FS&T) should be established. (B-1) The FS&T budget would be defined as federal funding for science and technology activities that produce—or expand the use of—new knowledge and new or enabling technologies. Spending in this budget category is now funded at about $40 billion per year. Comparing the institutional distribution of funds for research and development, as traditionally defined, with that in the FS&T budget illustrates the striking difference between the two concepts. Private industry performs the largest share of federally funded research and development as traditionally reported, but most of this work is downstream product demonstration, testing, and evaluation that would not be included within the FS&T budget. When the FS&T category is used, federal laboratories (both in-house and contractor-run) account for the largest share of FS&T (39%), followed by academic institutions (31%), industry (21%), and nonprofit and other institutions (9%). Note that the definition of the FS&T budget deliberately blurs distinctions between basic and applied science
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