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Experiments in International Benchmarking of US Research Fields
When the committee issued its "goals report" (Science, Technology, and the Federal Government: National Goals for a New Era),5 it recommended that the federal government continue vigorous funding of basic research and that it seek to support this research across the entire spectrum of scientific and technological investigation. That advice was justified by the fact that leadership in science had become one of the defining characteristics of the United States and other great nations.
Specifically, COSEPUP suggested two goals. First:
The United States should be among the world leaders in all majorareas 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 capabilities and infrastructures of support that are not substantially exceeded elsewhere. The primary rationale for the recommendation is that working at a world standard of excellence in all fields allows this nation to apply and extend scientific advances quickly no matter when or where in the world they occur. The value of being among the leaders was dramatized when, for example, the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity was demonstrated in an international laboratory in Switzerland. US researchers, although they did not participate in that breakthrough, were able to replicate the results in a matter of weeks because they were working at the frontiers of solid-state physics (the general field in which the breakthrough occurred) and they had the ability to move quickly. In addition, because of the degree of interconnection between fields, there is a concern that if one were neglected (placing the United States behind the world leaders), others might be slowed as a result. For example, much of the progress in life sciences research is made possible by the availability of instruments designed by scientists and engineers in physics and chemistry.
The United States should maintain clear leadership in some majorareas of science.
Such areas would include those which are required to meet national objectives, which capture the imagination of society, or which have multiplicative effects in other important fields. For example, the United
National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 1993. See excerpt in Appendix B-1.