Science and the National Interest

Remarks delivered by

John H. Gibbons


Forum on Science in the National Interest

World Leadership in Basic Science, Mathematics , and Engineering

Washington, D.C.

January 31, 1994

Opening Remarks

Welcome to the forum, and thanks for your willingness to contribute your timeand ideas on such short notice.

Our purpose in sponsoring this event is t o gather and share information andviews on the national investment in fundamental science and the criticalchallenges facing U.S. science. It is our intent to use this forum in thedevelopment of a national strategy for science that parallels the techno logyinitiative developed in 1993 by the Administration. To this end, we haveworked with our co-sponsors to identify plenary speakers who will provideperspectives from their vantage points as scientists working in academia andindustry, as well as from the vantage points of members of Congress who havelong-term interests in science policy. Our co-sponsors have also helped toframe breakout sessions that are organized around sets of questions designed toelicit discussion and ideas for policy directio ns. The briefing papers youprepared (and that AAAS collated and bound so nicely) are one of the firststeps in gathering information, and your papers will be helpful this afternoonand tomorrow as we meet in those breakout sessions.

American sci ence has much to be proud of: the nation is without peer in manyareas of scientific discovery -- whether measured in terms of Nobel Prizes andother awards for scientific discovery, citations to the work of our scientists,the type and number of discove ries, or the contributions of those discoveriesto industrial and informational innovations. Our scientific advances give usthe opportunity to enlist the forces of nature and put them to work in solvingmany of the problems we face today -- such as feed ing and providing energy to agrowing population, improving human health, protecting and undoing some of thedamage man has wrought on the global ecosystem, sustaining our naturalresources, and supporting our national security.

But today, we are facing a rapidly changing world and we have the opportunity,indeed the imperative, to examine our science policies and decide how torestructure them to both retain America's preeminent position in world scienceand assure their role in the broader natio nal interest. The forces that haveshaped the Federal government's policies toward science and technology arechanging, and as a result, the science and technology enterprise is undergoingits most thorough examination since the end of World War II. Our concept ofnational defense, which for decades was the main implicit underpinning ofsupport for science, has been dramatically modified. A new vision is emergingof national security, broadly taken, and the role of science in achieving thatsecurity.

"The Government should accept new responsibilities for promoting the flow ofnew scientific knowledge and the development of scientific talent in our youth.These responsibilities are the proper concern of the Government, for theyvitally affect our health, our jobs, and our national security."

These words are as relevant today as they were almost 50 years ago whenVannevar Bush wrote them. His report, Science, The Endless Frontier,articulated a vision for the future of science. It is worthwhile for us toconsider his words in the face of the new realities we face today.

Fundamental Science as An Investment

The Clinton Administration stresses investing: in people, institutions, andideas to assure our fut ure; and science is an integral part of that investment.We recognize the historically enormous rate of economic return on our publicinvestment in fundamental science. Even in the rather bleak atmosphere imposedby very tight budget constraints, the sci ence agencies have fared relativelywell in the allocation of Federal funding. This directly reflects theAdministration's twin commitment to deficit reduction and making keyinvestments for the future.

The Administration has taken a very strong position that recognizes thecritical role that science and technology must play in stimulating andsustaining the long-term economic growth that creates high quality jobs andprotects the environment. As you probably know, the President and VicePreside nt presented a science and technology strategy outlined in the February1993 document Technology for America's Economic Growth: A New Direction toBuild Economic Strength." That document establishes three goals:

o Long term economic growt h that creates jobs and protects the environment

o A government that is more productive and more responsive to the needs of itscitizens

o World leadership in basic science, mathematics, and engineering.

The document outlined policies and initiatives to achieve the first goal -- tostimulate innovation that will foster economic growth. The Vice President'sNational Performance Review addressed the second goal -- to make governmentwork better for its citizens and cost less. This Forum is designed to help usbegin to address the third goal -- maintaining world leadership in basicscience, mathematics and engineering.

The Clinton Administration believes that investment in science creates theintellectual capital to build our future . It provides the knowledgeinfrastructure necessary to secure the technological advantage that will beessential to assuring our children's future. Scientific research is the fuelfor technology's engine, and is essential to economic strength in the 21 stcentury. World class science and mathematics education are also essential forpreparing our children to lead fully productive lives in the next century. Butwhat constitutes science in the national interest in the post-Cold War era andhow to mainta in world leadership in basic science, mathematics and engineering,and how to translate that leadership into societal goals are questions that areengaging many of us today in the science community, in the Administration, andin the Congress.

Si nce Vannevar Bush's report, we have generally accepted his concepts of basicand applied research and a linear model with basic research leading to appliedresearch, development, and eventually to commercialization. This has been thedominant paradigm fo r describing the relationship of basic science totechnology for the last 50 years. For example, the transistor came out offundamental research in solid state physics that was informed by even earlier(and much less appreciated at the time) basic work o n quantum mechanicsperformed decades before. The later development of larger capacity and morecomplex microchips drew from our fundamental understanding of condensed matterphysics, microscopy, computer-aided design, chemistry, surface science, andoth er areas of research and technology. Today these chips have forever changedthe way the world communicates, transforming virtually every aspect of oursociety -- from our work, to our play, to our security -- in a variety of formsfrom esoteric military equipment to ways to provide for secure electronic fundstransfers. Unfortunately, too few Americans understand how these chips derivefrom an intricate interplay, our time, between science and technology.

Similarly, the emerging biotechnology i ndustry is based on the fundamentalresearch on DNA conducted by Watson and Crick over 40 years ago, which in turnrested on X-ray diffraction methods that came out of atomic physics andelectromagnetic radiation research carried out decades before by Bra gg, vonLaue and others. That industry also relies upon many more recent fundamentaldiscoveries in molecular biology and genetics, from the technique forpolymerase chain reaction to "knockout" mice. Today, the biotechnologyindustry appears to be on t he brink of fundamentally transforming criticalaspects of how we diagnose and treat disease, as well as transforming our foodproduction and processing systems. The industrial technology, in turn, hasprovided powerful new experimental and theoretical m ethods which enable basicresearchers to pursue their trade more aggressively.

Basic research on human and animal behavior has been drawn upon by manysectors to illuminate a myriad of issues, ranging from how to develop people'sleadership skills to how to rehabilitate drug abusers. Today, everything fromthe way products are marketed to how we place our street signs has its roots inbehavioral research. Yet we still have much to learn about behavioral change.

And basic research in mat hematics has continued to be, in the words ofEugene Wigner, "unreasonably effective" in providing new language fordescribing the world about us. For example, the recent developments in chaostheory have literally opened our eyes to the universalit y of phenomena incomplex systems, from atoms to population dynamics.

In all of these examples, the research was not undertaken because it was knownat the outset that it would point to useful applications. Rather it was drivenby researchers' im agination and drive to understand how things work. Becausethe potential gains of this kind of research were too uncertain, too far in thefuture, and too open to exploitation by others, no business or private sectorparty would pay for it. The Federal government properly was the majorsupporter. These and many other examples of the ultimate practical utility offundamental research fill the annals of science and provide powerfuljustification for public support of scientific research. When you conside rthat we invest $15 billion annually in fundamental research in what has becomea $1.5 trillion budget, we can take pride in the enormous rewards flowing fromthis very modest one percent "venture capital" investment by the Federalgovernment.

Science, the Endless Frontier posits that there is "a perverse lawgoverning research" that "applied research invariably drives out pure."Implicit in this idea is that science can be classified as basic or applied,and that there is a presumed tensi on, rather than complementarily, between thetwo; and these concepts have often shaped our science and technology policies.Here, however, is where we depart from Vannevar Bush's canon.

There are many examples for which the linear model is inappro priate. LouisPasteur's enormous contributions to microbiology are an often-cited case inpoint. His initial work unraveling the mysteries of racemic acid weremotivated by curiosity. Throughout his scientific career, however, Pasteuralso tackled prac tical problems in agriculture and health. His work on makingalcohol from beet juice led to improved fermentation technologies, and is oftencited as both applied and basic research. Much of his research on appliedproblems led to practical applications , such as the pasteurization of milk,while it also stimulated further fundamental breakthroughs that led him to thegerm theory of disease.

We can also cite examples of technology enabling new breakthroughs infundamental science. Take large s cale computational capabilities as anemerging example. We have already mentioned the origin of such a capability insolid state physics. As we approach the teraflops computational milestone, itwill be possible for the first time to address adequately the science of highlynonlinear complex physical and biological systems. These range from the quarkstructure of matter to the atomic structure of materials to the molecular basisof structural biology to the large scale dynamics of our atmosphere and oc eans.The potential technological applications of this new science are enormous; asone example, important elements of molecular recognition essential to rationaldrug design will become computationally feasible for the first time. Thissynergy between s cience and technology requires coherent Federal policies inboth areas.

I would posit that an integrated model that acknowledges the interactions,feedback, and interdependence among basic research, applied research, andtechnology is more appropr iate for the future. Indeed, the distinction betweenbasic and applied research is seldom clear; there are as many examples ofapplied problems and technological applications influencing fundamentalscientific breakthroughs as can be cited for the linear model.

My conclusion, and that of several other groups that have wrestled with thesequestions, is that continued economic development, improvements in health, anda secure future will not only be enhanced by a healthy American scientificenterpr ise ... it is a fundamental determinant. While we all value thecreation of knowledge about all aspects of our universe as a worthwhile humanendeavor, in its own right, we also reaffirm the growing dependence of moderneconomies in such diverse areas as industrial performance, health care, andenvironmental protection on a vibrant science and technology system. Indeed,Vannevar Bush came to the same conclusion in 1945:

"Science, by itself, provides no panacea for individual, social, and economi cills. It can be effective in the national welfare only as a member of a team,whether the conditions be peace or war. But without scientific progress noamount of achievement in other directions can insure our health, prosperity,and security as a nat ion."

Given our commitment to basic science, mathematics and engineering leadership,the question is how we best pursue this goal of excellence with an eye trainedon the national interest. Of course, changing political, social and economiccondi tions inevitably result in an evolution of national strategic goals andof the institutions which serve them. This includes the scientific enterprise.In particular, the end of the Cold War, while in no way eliminating ournational security concerns, h as certainly changed them. The threat of globalmilitary conflict has receded dramatically, if not completely; but new regionalthreats (exacerbated by modern weapons technologies) are with us, along withthe economic challenge to restore U.S. competitiv eness and raise livingstandards for all Americans. This gives a new urgency to science andtechnology policies that nurture the Nation's long-term civilian economicstrength. To this end, President Clinton has already announced his intentionto shift t he balance between military and civilian research and development.In addition to these pervasive changes, we are still faced with the broadquestion of evolving and implementing our science and technology policy so thatit resonates more clearly with the national interest.

Several groups have addressed this question, or parts of it, over the lastseveral years, including the Carnegie Commission; the National ResearchCouncil's Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy; the Office ofTe chnology Assessment, and the PCAST. (Copies of some of these reports wereprovided to you.) Just a few days ago I received Bill Golden's 2ndedition Science Advice to the President; I suggest you all get a copy.Some degree of consensus emerg es from these thoughtful studies. All rest onthe need for ongoing leadership in basic science. All stress the need forharmonizing the considerable resources devoted to science research andeducation across the government.

With your help and that of our co-sponsors of this Forum, OSTP hopes to buildupon this occasion and move quickly toward an explicit, comprehensive,rationalization of the federal role in the support of science. Two steps havebeen taken that greatly improve our capability to achieve these goals: thecreation by the President of the Cabinet-level National Science and TechnologyCouncil, and the re-establishment of President's Committee of Advisors onScience and Technology.

On November 23rd, President Clinton si gned an Executive Order creating theNational Science and Technology Council (NSTC). Like the National SecurityCouncil and the National Economic Council created before it, the NationalScience and Technology Council is chaired by the President and compr ised of theSecretaries and Administrators of the Federal departments directly involved inscience, space, and technology. The NSTC is charged with establishing clearnational goals for federal science and technology investments and to ensurethat scienc e, space, and technology policies and programs are developed andimplemented to effectively contribute to those national goals. OSTP serves asthe Executive Secretariat of the NSTC.

Within the NSTC, we have established nine committees, including a Committeeon Fundamental Science, co-chaired by Drs. Harold Varmus, Neal Lane, andM.R.C. Greenwood. All the Federal agencies co-sponsoring this Forum aremembers of that Fundamental Science Committee. The Committee members are allrepresented here today, and are looking forward to listening and learning fromthe discussions.

Our Administration commitment to world leadership in basic science,mathematics and engineering must, of course, include a major commitment toeducation at all le vels. The investment in our children's education is key tothe nation's future strength and to their individual fulfillment. Our systemof advanced education has clearly been a major success in developing a talentedand creative scientific and technical workforce. We must and will sustain ourcommitment, linking advanced education to a healthy university-basedfundamental research enterprise. The products of this system -- well-educatedgraduates -- are an immediate and critically important return fro m our basicresearch investment. On the other hand, we clearly have other challengesthroughout our educational system, starting at the pre-kindergarten level. TheNSTC Committee on Education and Training will be the focal point forcross-agency coordination on this issue. Principal goals include:

that all of our citizens learn mathematics and science and acquire afamiliarity with technology at the level needed for full participation in our21st century society

that better partner ships be established between the education community andthe work place to facilitate the transition from school to work

that the Nation's strength in population diversity be reflected in thescience and technology pipeline.

We look forward t o your input in this critical area as well as in thedevelopment of our research portfolio and infrastructure.

As we look toward the new century a scant 71 months away, we are painfullyaware that the funding for the scientific enterprise is anyth ing but endless.There is now probably greater skepticism, more misinformation (and in somecases, naivete) about the societal relevance, moral acceptability, and economicvalue of fundamental, pioneering scientific research than at any time since theapp earance of Science, the Endless Frontier in 1945. Some fear that wemay even be on the verge of shredding the tapestry of our nation's magnificentscientific enterprise.

The reality of our situation should, however, be seen in the context that theadvent of the post-Cold War era permits a change in the nation's goals and aredirection of Federal funding from defense to nondefense purposes. It is nowimperative that we clearly and concisely articulate the intimate relationshipbetween the pursuit of fundamental science and the long term health,intellectual capital, longevity, and prosperity of our nation, and indeed, theplanet. We must communicate this persuasively to the public and to ourrepresentatives in government. The Administrat ion has set world leadership inscience, mathematics and engineering as a goal, but now comes the task not onlyto make solid progress in that direction, but also to see that it results inthe national interest.

To guide this process, we look to t he Forum discussions to provide ideas aboutdealing with the challenges we are facing and for insuring the development andflow of new scientific knowledge and the nurturing of scientific talent in ouryouth. Vannevar Bush provided us with an enduring se