Bruce Alberts, President
National Academy of Sciences
I would like to thank the Steering Committee and Marye Anne for organizing this symposium. This is the first time that we have ever had such an event at our annual meeting.
The members of the Steering Committee, in addition to Marye Anne Fox were Margaret Burbidge, Mildred Cohn, Millie Dresselhaus, Maria New, Vera Rubin, and Karen Uhlenbeck. We also need to thank the co-chairs of our Committee on Women in Science and Engineering, Lilian Wu and Howard Georgi. I'm very appreciative of their continued efforts on this important issue.
We all recognize that science is, and must be, an elitist enterprise. It needs our very best minds. Unfortunately, we turn many, probably most, of those potential scientists away from science at an early age. When we do so, we are shortchanging both science and our nation.
To date, science has never really looked like America. It has always been carried out
predominantly by white males. But included are immigrants from all over the world participating in science. Therefore, no matter where talent arises, our enterprise recognizes it without regard to the culture or the country of origin of the individual.
Science is a merit-based enterprise. How do we bring more people into this enterprise? It is very important that we do so for many reasons. One often talks about the unfairness of not giving everybody a chance to contribute. But an even bigger issue in this country, as it becomes more and more diverse, is that a science establishment run primarily by white males runs the danger of alienating our nation and our people from science.
In my field of biology, my university, the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) has been competing with MIT for the very best graduate students in the nation. For at least 10 years now, over half of these graduate students have been women.
In biology, women are doing very well as undergraduates and in graduate school. We need to understand what follows afterward. This is an important issue that could be scientifically studied.
Our symposium today is designed to encourage discussion about the efforts that are being made by some of our very best scientists to bring more diversity to science at all levels, and you will hear about some important ideas.
As you heard, the Academy has a committee that is being informed by this symposium today and will be empowered by it. In the process of working on this issue, we want to make science appear to everyone as what it truly is: a wonderful enterprise, a worldwide enterprise in which anyone with talent, ambition, and interest can participate. If we do that, science will have a much larger role, both in this nation and the world.