Honorable George Brown
U.S. Representative from California
I want to thank you for inviting me to join with you today at the start of two days of discussion on how science and technology (S&T) can contribute to U.S. economic performance in the next century and what national policies are needed to support that effort. This forum is tackling a very difficult set of issues and is trying to map a policy course at a time when predicting international economic directions, or S&T breakthroughs, seems to have become a game of chance. Now I was going to say that your chances of finding the right S&T policy for these times was about the same as your buying a winning lottery ticket, but after Chairman Sensenbrenner's recent outstanding performance in beating the lottery, the metaphor does not work.
Much of your discussion over the next two days is likely to center on the contribution that S&T makes to the economy and how to maximize the economic impact of our public investment in research and development (R&D) programs. In my remarks today, I would like to examine a broader set of issues that become linked to S&T policy when we look to economic performance as an outcome of public R&D investments.
However, this examination of the relationships between R&D investments and economic performance is long overdue. It is being forced upon us by the social disruption following the end of the Cold War, changes in high-technology industries, and dizzying advances in science. As an indicator of the magnitude of the change that surrounds us, I cannot let pass an observation that today's National Academy of Sciences conference on linkages between federal R&D and national economic goals is exactly the kind of conversation I sought to initiate some years ago. My goal then, and now, is to encourage these discussions in order to counter-
act an attitude that I perceive among some in the S&T community that their work is entitled to large and growing public support without any demonstration of the contribution of such work to national economic or other goals. Perhaps more important has been a reluctance on the part of the S&T community to join in the process of defining and prioritizing public goals during a time of rapid global economic, social, and political change, largely due to the impacts of S&T applications.
Although I believe in the importance of expanding human knowledge and its application to human needs as a matter of faith, most of those whose duty it is to decide on how public funds are spent require a more tangible demonstration of how their decisions will play out than mere faith.
My call to arms was an effort to strengthen the position of S&T in the decision-making process, not weaken it. Yet when I raised this issue a few years ago, some of you thought I was off my rocker or had abandoned my support for S&T. Now that the debate is progressing so well, as evidenced by this forum and other similar explorations, my challenge today is to see if I can help to move the boundaries of the discussion yet further out.
In the past, our economy, even the high-technology parts of it, operated in a much different environment. We were in a national security competition with the former Soviet Union and an economic competition with most of the rest of the world. Many high-technology advances came from defense spin-offs and moved from defense labs to the marketplace. Product life cycles were measured in years, allowing ample returns from industrial research investments. The financial markets were relatively patient and looked at a wide range of factors in determining a company's health. Federal R&D investments seemed to be on a stable growth path and, at their high point, constituted about two-thirds of total national R&D funding.
Of course, all of that has changed over a very short period of time. We won the Cold War and have a new set of international economic conditions. Old competitive relationships have been replaced with cooperative business ventures on a global basis that defy any attempt to determine national ownership. Product life cycles are now frequently measured in months and, combined with crazed investment fixation on quarterly profit-and-loss statements, this has forced many in the private sector to shed their long-term R&D operations and move research toward a short-term, product development focus. And as federal R&D funding has flattened, a major reversal in funding sources has occurred with industry now providing two-thirds of the nation's R&D funding, albeit with this shorter-term, product-oriented focus.
Driving much of this shift are advances in S&T that bring new products to market almost as fast as cutting-edge research is published. We are now on the threshold of seeing yesterday's science fiction enter the marketplace: animal cloning, talking electronic road maps installed in automobiles, powerful computers as small as a pack of cigarettes, and so on.
As individuals, our view of ourselves is changed by these advances, with S&T getting both the credit and the blame. As members of institutions involved in science policy or the conduct of research, we are challenged to rethink the roles of our institutions in this constantly changing state and must even contemplate future scenarios in which our respective institutions might become obsolete. For political institutions, the situation becomes even more complex as the changing and expanding role of S&T encounters debates taking place in other parts of society.
That last point bears a little more detailed examination. It is not sufficient to debate the role of S&T in the nation's economic well-being without putting that set of variables into a larger and more complex social equation. Some of this work is under way in other policy discussions. Dr. Jane Lubchenco's Presidential Address at last year's annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), as reflected in the January 23 issue of Science, is a good look at this integration of debates as she calls for the development of a new social contract for science. The "Conversation with the Community" on the AAAS Web site is a fascinating debate under way on the relationship between science, technology, and society at the end of one century and the start of another. In Congress, Representative Vernon Ehlers is undertaking a review and update of our nation's science policy that will continue this debate throughout the year.
So, let's take a moment to look at some of the larger questions being raised by the focus of this conference.
First, what is this economic well-being that we seek? How do we define it? Economic well-being means one thing if we own stock in company X and has a different meaning if we are an hourly wage worker whose job is eliminated by company X's advanced technology product or a new and more efficient manufacturing process. Do we have a sufficiently complex definition to take into account all of these effects? How do we anticipate any negative effects of technological advance and how do we make appropriate adjustments to avoid or minimize them? Whose job is it to do this?
Next, since we are looking at "America's economic future" today, what measure do we use for the national economic performance that we seek? Do we want to use the same short-term measures that investors use, the ones that have forced industry to look at quarterly profit-and-loss statements instead of long-term economic sustainability? How can we measure the benefits to the U.S. economy from multinational partnerships that produce manufacturing jobs and corporate profits around the world? Are we using an outdated set of concepts left over from an earlier, simpler economic model?
This last point should prompt some discussion during this meeting. Our world view, our language, our legal and trade systems, our whole national perspective have been focused on global competition, but much of our current economy is based on global cooperative ventures that have a different perspec-
tive. These cooperative economic arrangements come into conflict with our competitive orientation that has its roots in the Cold War.
So, when U.S. computer companies seek to operate in the new world order, they must seek exemptions from the old-order trade laws in order to reimport components they sent to their Asian factories for assembly. When U.S. satellite companies seek to use the U.S.-Russian joint launch venture at Baikonur in Kazakhstan, they must frequently get special permission from the government to export their satellites. U.S. auto companies perform intricate import and assembly maneuvers to sell their essentially foreign-made cars as domestic automobiles. And when Department of Energy labs sign a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with a U.S. consortium that may license extreme ultraviolet lithography technology to foreign companies, cranky U.S. congressmen want to know how this new economic arrangement fits within our old national policies.
On another front, our national economic progress raises issues of equity that must be addressed. While we are justified in our celebration of scientific and technological advance that moves the boundaries of human understanding further out, what do we do about the people left behind by those advances? In a rapidly changing world, we may strand those who are left standing still, those without access to the benefits of our technological advance. We cannot ignore these people. We cannot become a nation of technological haves and have-nots. This situation leads, on the one hand, to social unrest and instability, conditions that will threaten our continued economic well-being and that, in past ages, brought down the beauty that was Greece and the glory that was Rome. On the other hand, these people left technologically disenfranchised constitute underutilized human resources, people who could have been brought along through better education and training to perform the high-technology jobs that companies now seek immigrant scientists and engineers to fill.
Just as Edwards Deming revolutionized Japanese industry by bringing Total Quality Management to the factory floor and involving an even larger number of workers in improving quality throughout the system, we now need a new generation of Demings who will see the broader society as a system requiring quality improvements. And that new generation will include scientists, engineers, and political leaders with the vision to see and understand that a flawed society with distorted priorities and goals and underutilized human resources is a major economic burden on the productivity and stability of that society, and hence an impediment to its ability to survive and compete on a global basis.
Now I must point out that it is not the duty of every scientist and engineer, or every high-technology company, to anticipate and describe every potential social consequence, good or bad, of their work. Nor is it their job to solve these problems. A free and effective market system combined with an open and democratic political system should carry most of this burden. But it is incumbent upon all of us working in these areas during this period of such rapid and unpredictable change to identify potential stresses and inform the public policy process so that
the public can make rational decisions about what they want to do, perhaps using tax and regulatory mechanisms where necessary. In these new public-private partnerships that you are discussing at this meeting, we need to look at changing responsibilities on both sides of the equation. As the government gives a little more support and assistance to the private sector, the private sector needs to be more sensitive to public policy issues that they encounter.
Here I must point out how much easier all of this would be if we still had a prudent technology assessment operation in this country, preferably imbedded in most of the major public and private institutions that impact on the future. Without such an entity, we are left to rely on the wisdom and good will of those of you involved in the process of discovery and commercialization. I hope that you accept this broader set of responsibilities.
I would like to make one last point in my attempts to stimulate discussion of a broader perspective. You should think about how each of you and your institutions will be transformed by the changed economic atmosphere and the changing set of relationships you are discussing. We would all like to think that our individual institution will emerge unchanged through any storm. As a Democrat in Congress, I can tell you where that lack of flexible thinking leaves you.
We need to examine those institutions that forgot to set their clocks ahead when the times changed. Research universities come to mind as a set of institutions that are struggling against change, or at least have not yet developed an effective transition strategy. It is unclear what the U.S. academic research system, our engine of discovery, will look like in the future. I know how much it has changed since I was a graduate student of physics 50 years ago. It will change at least as much again in the next 25 years. Like many other institutions whose identities were formed during the Cold War, and I will include in this group our national system of laboratories and much of our science policy apparatus, U.S. research universities still do not fully accept the transforming nature of the changes taking place today or their role in energizing these changes.
To help shape and guide these transformations, we may need to develop a new set of principles, perhaps even a new myth that will empower our efforts with a new sense of purpose. The goals that we seek as a society can be expressed through our economic undertakings, as shaped by S&T, if those activities are guided by an appropriately visionary set of principles.
What we are seeking is a free and open global society, within which we can harness the power of S&T for innovation and global economic gain. But that economic activity must be sustainable over the long run, broadly defined to include both intergenerational and resource sustainability. It must have a dynamic and adaptive stability that utilizes an appropriate level of technology assessment and has a reasonable predictive or forecasting capability. To be sustainable, it must be equitable and just and avoid alienation or polarization of society. It should allow for individuals and individual nations to profit, but not at inhumane or exploitative costs to other individuals or nations.
On the level of a guiding myth, we need to see ourselves and our current challenges as leading to a higher level of integration of human activity. Perhaps what we are moving toward is a new state of global relationships that constitute a "Noosphere," or a set of global interconnections that will define the Earth as a sphere of globally-shared knowledge and culture. Dr. Alberts writes about evolution in terms of an increasingly complex signaling process between biological entities, at every level of development. We can view this process as one that starts with simple biochemical signaling within cells, moving to simple signaling between cells to produce colonies of organisms, followed by more sophisticated signaling between cells leading to the evolution of multicellular organisms, and finally signaling between organisms allowing them to organize into herds, tribes, and eventually develop into human society and culture. Today we are using S&T to link the globe in a sphere of knowledge and understanding, a global web of interconnectedness for which the new satellite telecommunication systems such as Iridium and Teledesic are an effective metaphor. We have the universal language of mathematics and the increasingly universal nomenclature and reasoning of S&T. Can we be far from a universal mythology, or religion, or culture communicated through one verbal and written language?
Now I know that you will not rise to this level of discussion in only two days, but what I have sought to do in my remarks is to set your work in a broader context. You need to keep this context in mind if your deliberations are to have meaning outside of these halls and beyond the present.
I wish you well in your undertakings during this conference and I look forward to the results of your work. I hope that you can help to narrow the odds for success in the policy process and make the choices that face us look less like part of a game of chance. I, on the other hand, am going to check today's lottery number and see if I can follow Chairman Sensenbrenner's model for economic well-being. Thank you.