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- 6 The Optimal Climate for Basic Research In addition to identifying the most promising oppor- tunities for agricultural research, the Committee on Biosciences Research in Agriculture unanimously insisted that an optimal climate for basic research is at least as critical to productive science as the specific areas of research that are pursued. This chapter summarizes the committee's recommendations on research climate, based on 23 visits to 19 different ARS sites, and the collective experiences of the committee members. me recommenda- ations, for the most part, are applicable to modern basic biological research, both within and outside the ARS. Introduction Scientific research is most elegantly described by the unending pursuit of ideas and the pathways of ex- periments. It is also characterized by the flow of researchers in and out of laboratories, their person- alities and influence, publications, instrumentation, the network of communications, and the overall structure and policies of the institution. In their study Zenzen and Restive state: Scientific knowledge is created out of available resources--including formal and informal modes of communication, and instrumentation. In the deepest 1M. Zenzen' and S. Restivoe 1982. m e mysterious morphology of immiscible liquids: A study of scientific practice. Social Science Information 21:447-473. 105
106 sense, the available resources in a given laboratory refer to the researchers' capacities for creative and critical thought, persuasion, communication, conflict and cooperation. The indeterminacy of scientific criteria, the "looseness" of laboratory research, provide room for the exercise of those capacities. These factors, obvious and yet seemingly peripheral to the progress of science, compound to create a certain climate for research. Scientific progress is enhanced by a climate that offers the researcher and the program itself the flexibility to follow varying tracks of a problem, and that encourages immediate communication and exchange in the form of attendance at scientific meetings, sabbaticals, and participation in seminars. Now, with the quickening pace of tech- nological innovation and the increasing importance of a multidisciplinary approach in research, climate becomes even more important as an influence that can be optimized in a number of ways. The lag time between basic research and technological application is shrinking; the growing biotechnology in- dustry, for example, is drawing largely from the biology of the past 10 years. Floyd E. Bloom in his summary of Frontiers In Science and Technology2 states: In such an era of rapid transformation, the structures for basic research and technological development must be dynamic and must be constantly freshened by the infusion of new and highly trained scientists and engineers, by the very best instrumentation, and by unfettered communication of fundamental knowledge. The new biology, at its accelerated pace, brings with it the need for program and organizational changes and streamlined communications--visits to other research laboratories and the technologies that provide access to 2F. E. Bloom, 1983. Introduction: Science, technology and the national agenda. Pp. 1-13 in Frontiers in Science and Technology, a report by the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine. New York/San Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Company.
107 discussion through conference telephone calls and data base searches. New biology scientists require not only advanced instrumentation, but more importantly, increasing numbers of postdoctoral researchers in their laboratories, providing for the exchange of fresh per- spective with experience. All research organizations are attempting changes to stimulate new means of multidisciplinary research and development. Many private corporations are developing significant internal postdoctoral research programs in the biological sciences. Among the benefits are the rapid infusion of new ideas and capabilities as well as the incorporation of flexibility that a continuum of postdoctoral emDlovees Drovides. Such an aDDroach has ~ _ , ~ , _ _ _ _ _ _ ~ ~ ~ ~ , _ ~ been and is being extensively used in universities and at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, where, in fact, approximately 50 percent of the total staff are nontenured or of a postdoctoral status. Rigid priorities, particularly long-term priorities, can no longer be set as planners may still envision. As stated previously, research priorities and directions must now be broad enough to readily take advantage of unexpected results and new strategies for resolving research problems, but also, the setting of rigid disci- plinary priorities has become impractical as the face of science changes. The techniques that have evolved through an increasing knowledge of molecular and cellular genetics apply to all living things, from viruses to humans. mese newer techniques influence all the bio- sciences; they clear the way to better communications among researchers and to collaboration among scientists in agricultural and other biological fields. Disciplinary boundaries are disappearing among the biosciences, as well as between bioscience and biotech- nology. The stimulation of high-quality interdisci- plinary research in agriculture must be a top priority. The sophisticated technologies and products of research still emerge from the manners of science that have existed for hundreds and hundreds of years. Humberto Gerola and Ralph E. Gomory reported in a recent issue of Science: Electronic communication, even when given away free, has not yet altered the fundamental way in which scientific work has been done. Face-to-face communi- cation, so far, appears to be essential to scientific collaboration. . . . [It] has survived the change of
108 scale of science itself, from an activity carried out by a very small number of people to one involving thousands and thousands of researchers. It appears that it may well survive electronic communication.3 Recommendations As the principal intramural research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the ARS has a long history of conducting research that has been translated, with outstanding success, into applications in seed, food, and fiber production. The committee strongly believes that the following 17 recommendations, addressing the larger issues of review, communications, leadership and staffing, organization, and scientific opportunities for researchers, will combine to promote the optimal climate necessary for creative, quality research within the ARS. His in turn will provide the basis for the future worldwide competitive advantage of U.S. production agriculture and agribusiness. Periodic Outside Review An advisory council consisting of 5 to 10 leading scientists in the research community and reporting di- rectly to the ARS administrator should be created. The advisory council would provide a regular review of ARS research and, in addition, could communicate new direc- tions in research and suggest strategies for guiding national research. This ARS Advisory Council (ARSAC) would have a rotating three-year membership and would delegate subcouncils as needed for review of all ARS programs on a three-year cycle. The subcouncils would be similar to the existing advisory committee at the ARS Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York. It is imperative that the members of the ARSAC be selected from among those national leaders in agri- cultural research who have a strong and active research background. In addition the individuals must possess a global view of agricultural science and technology. 3H. Gerola, and R. E. Gomory. 1984. Computers in science and technology: Early indications. Science 225:11-18.
109 Their selection should be based primarily on these strengths, independent of their affiliation, be it academe, industry, or government. Members of any sub- council should come from a strong and active research base. The ARSAC would act as a non-ARS source of information about state-of-the-art developments throughout the United States and the world for the ARS administrator and for other ARS leadership such as the National Program Staff. The ARSAC would suggest specific programs in basic agri- cultural sciences that will provide the highest dividends to U.S. agriculture. me council might also recommend program changes, including the initiation of new scientific efforts. m e precedent for such an outside advisory council has been set by scientific advisory boards to the National Bureau of Standards and the National Institutes of Health and by the National Science Board of the National Science Foundation. Many large corporations as well as smaller start-up companies have strong scientific advisory boards. Leadership The literature on leadership in organizations is dominated by the human relationship thesis that good leadership leads to high morale and that high morale leads to increased productivity of group members. The ARS must address its need for additional capable sci- entific leaders as laboratory chiefs. The committee particularly noted that both quality research and individual and group satisfaction were reflected by ARS laboratories supervised by dynamic and farsighted lab- oratory chiefs. mese individuals should be selected first on the basis of their scientific excellence and second on the basis of their management potential. The quality of laboratory chiefs is measured by the productivity and scientific excellence of their labora- tory groups. To meet this responsibility laboratory chiefs need authority and flexibility in budgetary and personnel matters. National Program Staff The ARS National Program Staff, in addition to setting the long-term direction for the agency, has major control ,,
110 of budget allocations for research. The committee per- ceived that communications between the National Program Staff and research scientists must be strengthened. One approach might be to assign laboratory chiefs temporarily to the National Program Staff on a rotating basis. The committee recommends that the National Program Staff provide strong support for creative research in the laboratory while assuring the flexibility that is essen- tial for pursuit of the most promising avenues of research. To accomplish this the National Program Staff not only must encourage open and frequent communications with ARS scientists but also must be receptive to the new ideas and new research directions emerging from those at the laboratory bench. What then becomes policy must be clearly communicated to all, management and staff. Science is best and most aggressively pursued when supported by the stability and continuity of program ob- jectives. During the past decade the ARS has undergone several reorganizations that have resulted in some abrupt and disruptive shifts in the direction of research pro- grams. Not unexpectedly, continuity has faltered, to the detriment of long-range research direction. The National Program Staff, along with ARS management, must ensure that, if and when such events occur, program stability is preserved and that this reality is conveyed to the scien- tific staff. New Centers The committee was informed of the plans for the Plant Gene Expression Center to be established in collaboration with the University of California at Berkeley and the California Agricultural Experiment Station, and supports this novel plan. me new center, which will be located at the ARS Western Regional Center in Albany, California, offers a new opportunity for increased focus on basic research in the plant sciences. The committee members agree that the mission of this center should be to pro- vide an understanding of gene structure and function with respect to key plant processes. m is report offers examples of programs appropriate for the center. The Plant Gene Expression Center will provide both the public and private sectors with the opportunity to con- vert the fundamental knowledge generated by the center to practical application. The long-term agricultural impact of the center will be to strengthen the base for U.S.
111 crop biotechnology. me committee recommends that a subcouncil of the ARSAC be created to provide scientific program advice for the center. The ARS must constantly consider other new opportu- nities arising in the agricultural sciences and seek innovative ways such as this to exploit these opportunities. Interdisciplinary Activities me ARS has an unusually broad base and has excelled in many areas of traditional biology. The new biology now provides a set of techniques that are making possible advances in the understanding of major biological systems and processes. His understanding may then be translated to new technologies. Central to the successful use of these newer techniques is the promotion of interdisci- plinary research. me committee recommends that the scientific and managerial leadership of the ARS seek ways to facilitate interdisciplinary activities. m e ARS appears to be in a most fortunate position to pursue such approaches, since the agency is not constrained by the departmentalized disciplinary organization that is char- acteristic of academic institutions. Consolidation The committee has noted that there is inadequate communication and duplication of scientific efforts at a number of the 147 ARS research centers. m e committee recognizes that multiple geographic research locations are important to agricultural research, but also believes that the number of sites is too large and must be reduced to create a critical mass--more effective research groups--at fewer sites. Although modest duplication may be beneficial to science, excessive duplication is not an effective use of limited economic and scientific resources. m e committee recommends three approaches. In one, sites specializing in similar research areas would be consolidated to give a more effective concentration in a scientific area. In another, the smaller numbers of ARS scientists at some centers would be coupled with strong academic groups to achieve the same end result. In- creasing scientific sophistication requires that some of
112 the 147 centers be consolidated and/or located on a uni- versity site to make best use of facilities, to comple- ment areas of expertise, and to increase the opportunity for additional interdisciplinary interactions. In the third case, smaller research groups having scientific missions that are no longer critical or of high priority would be discontinued. The committee recommends that the ARSAC be asked to make specific recommendations for the consolidation of scientific programs within the ARS. Leveraging In general, one of the ARS's outstanding advantages is that a large capital investment in facilities has already been made. Program changes and the addition of crucial staff members will yield a significant positive effect. The addition of a number of people with newer biology skills to the current ARS scientific staff, with its substantial base in the more traditional biology, could provide a strong synergistic effect. This would ensure the ARS future status as a strong world leader in many areas essential to advances in the agricultural sciences and technology. Postdoctoral Program The ARS has responded to the demands of the new biol- ogy by creating a special postdoctoral program and by streamlining the hiring process for those temporary employee appointments. (Twenty-five researchers were hired in fiscal year 1984, and future additions are anticipated.) The committee recommends that the ARS aggressively expand its newly adopted program, with the goal being a steady state of about 750 nontenured posi- tions dedicated to postdoctoral fellows and senior staff fellows. These nontenured positions should be distrib- uted throughout the most productive basic research programs of the ARS. The resulting ratio would be less than one nontenured position per tenured basic research scientist. This type of program is virtually the best single mechanism for bringing new techniques, new capabilities, and new ideas into the ARS. The postdoctoral appoint- ments should be for a miniumum of two years, with an
113 option to extend the position on a yearly basis, to a maximum of five years. Each research scientist should be responsible for the recruitment and selection of postdoctoral candidates to fill positions in his or her laboratory. The hiring period should be as short as possible. Even the approx- imately 150-day hiring period that will result from the recent ARS plan to reduce hiring time is much too long for top-ranked postdoctoral candidates to wait for job confirmation. Successful implementation of a growing postdoctoral program would assure the ARS stature as a major contrib- utor to U.S. competitiveness in providing trained people for the agricultural sciences, much as the National Institutes of Health is viewed as a provider of trained personnel for the medical research community. Appointment of New Staff The ARS possesses a well-recognized procedure for internal evaluation of tenured staff that has been the model for other federal agencies such as the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy. The current policy of evaluating employees within one year from the time of hiring, however, does not allow for an adequate assessment of an individual's scientific productivity or potential. me committee recommends that the decision to grant tenure should be made upon review after five years, for Ph.D.-level basic research scientists. me committee also recommends that the decision to offer a permanent appointment include an appraisal of the candidate's sci- entific contributions by outside scientists in the can- didate's field. Currently, nearly 100 percent of those individuals evaluated one year after the time they were hired received tenure. With the institution of a larger postdoctoral program and a rigorous outside appraisal system, the committee expects that this figure might drop significantly. Budget The new biology requires special equipment and ex- pendables, such as restriction enzymes, other specialized biologicals, and tissue culture supplies, that are rela- tively high in cost. His highly intensive, equipment-
114 oriented research does not diminish the importance of ideas; however, to carry out new ideas, the ARS must plan for the cost of equipment and maintenance contracts. The committee noted that in many ARS centers nearly 90 percent of the total budget was designated for salaries, and thus recommends that this figure be reduced to approximately 75 percent. In instances where purchase of materials is particularly critical to the maintenance of high-quality research, funds designated for salaries might be as low as 60 percent of the total budget. me flexibility to alter direction in exploratory research is critical to scientific excellence. The committee recognizes that long-term financial planning is essential, but budgets must be shaped with an inherent flexibility to allow for redirection of research into unexpectedly promising new scientific areas. m e ARS should designate approximately 10 percent of the total budget of centers as flexible funds to support meeting attendance and research-related travel, and perhaps more importantly, to allow for a rapid response to significant findings that require a change in research direction. Continued scientific oversight would provide review of the effective use of these discretionary funds. Support Staff The ARS should continuously monitor its need for sup- port staff (technicians), particularly with the addition of any new programs. The availability of a substantial number of support staff trained at the bachelor's or master's degree level will allow the ARS scientific staff to compete effectively with researchers throughout the world. Many areas of the new biology are highly labor- intensive and require skills in monoclonal antibody production, protein sequencing, and oligonucleotide synthesis. The ARS must always plan for the addition of some special research capabilities and instrumentation as science advances. Centralized facilities that provide special assistance or technical service and are accessi- ble by other sites might be most cost-effective. Sabbaticals/Retraining The ARS should encourage its scientists to take sabbaticals to maintain skills at the leading edge of
115 science. The committee recognizes that sabbaticals can be expensive to the agency, but also believes that it is not cost-effective to support scientists who are not trained to utilize current techniques. Funding from outside the ARS should be used for sabbaticals when possible. The committee noted that a small number of ARS centers supported very active retraining programs that involved almost all of the scientific staff members. me ARS should take advantage of the opportunity to enhance the capabilities of some of its scientists by retraining them in newer research-oriented methods. Scientific Meeting Attendance Attendance at national and international meetings by ARS scientists is critical; face-to-face communication, as noted earlier in this chapter, is still the most effective method for the exchange of ideas in the sci- entific arena. me committee believes most strongly that the ARS must give a higher priority to allocation of funds for this aspect of scientific exchange and growth. Adequate travel resources should be available for invited ARS speakers and organizers, session chairmen, and select research scientists. me flexibility to respond quickly to travel approval requests is essential. To promote scientific exchange and help alleviate budget constraints, ARS scientists should be encouraged to accept outside travel support when available. Publications Limited peer review of papers within the ARS labora- tory, combined with a routine scientific journal review, will bring research results into publication more quick- ly. A protracted internal publications approval process is unnecessary. The quality of publications is an important measure of a scientist's productivity. me committee noted that the method of awarding merit points in order of authorship on publications--a technique employed at some ARS centers-- can lead to inappropriate orders of authorship and can fail to reflect the true scientific contribution of the individual. Such a merit point system could inhibit collaborative work, which is the basis for progress in the new biology.
116 University Relationships The committee noted that several strong relationships have been established between the ARS and universities, most recently that between the ARS center at Albany and the University of California at Berkeley in the develop- ment of the Plant Gene Expression Center. ARS/university associations or relationships can provide a valuable source of information and inspiration as well as feedback and critical review. Those ARS centers located on or very near university campuses appear to profit from the richness of such an exchange of information and partici- pation of researchers. The university can contribute to and strengthen such relationships by awarding adjunct professorships where appropriate. me establishment of additional relationships between strong university groups and select ARS scientists is encouraged. Such relationships involving even just a few ARS scientists can bring that number to the essential critical mass needed for the pursuit of creative research. The mutual scientific benefits of continuing such relationships should be evaluated on a regular basis. Industry Relationships The ARS must begin to explore research relationships in biotechnology with industry, just as many universities have recently begun to do. These may range from seminars or laboratory visits to cooperative research. All pro- grams must be open to the scientific community. The ability of ARS scientists to supplement their incomes with honoraria from industry-sponsored public seminars would help alleviate the constraining salary cap that now may preclude the ARS from hiring or retaining the best scientists. The committee understands that such an approach is currently being used by the National Institutes of Health. Public Relations The ARS, along with industry, universities, the states, and private foundations, must make an effort to educate the public about the importance of agriculture to the health of the U.S. economy and to that of its people. Programs such as the U.S. Department of
117 Agriculture's Agriculture in the Classroom" will broaden the understanding of how high-quality foods are brought from the farm to the consumer at relatively low cost, and perhaps stimulate young people to pursue careers in the agricultural sciences. All individuals within the ARS have a responsibility to communicate both the oppor- tunities and the need for adequately funded support of agricultural research and technology. Conclusion The committee made note of the inherent assets of the ARS--the superb facilities at some of the research cen- ters; the network of centers that offers the ideal foun- dation for rapid communication throughout the system; its basic structure as a potential training ground for new scientists; and the opportunity to stress long-range, high-risk, high-reward research without the more intense pressures of product development and profit. It is of utmost importance that these strengths be maintained and perhaps amplified. The committee was very encouraged by the major effort of the administrator to position the ARS as the leader of world agricultural science and technology. me members hope that this report will assist him in this challenging endeavor. Coupled with these strengths of the ARS, the factors contributing to an optimal climate for research, as des- cribed in this report, will enable the ARS to provide a strong basis for continuing progress in U.S. agriculture. The ARS, as with the entire research establishment, can most effectively adapt to the rapid pace of scientific developments and maintain research leadership by creating a competitive yet rewarding research environment that attracts and encourages the most creative and productive scientists. This foundation will be critical in estab- lishing strong competitive programs, in both U.S. agri- cultural production and support industries, that will successfully meet the ever-increasing challenges of world agriculture.