Science & Technology in Congress
In speaking at the Morgan State University commencement on May 18, President Clinton addressed many broad science issues, emphasizing social responsibility in the application of new knowledge. The President also issued a challenge to AIDS researchers to develop a vaccine for the disease within ten years.
The President's speech was motivated by challenging new scientific discoveries and developing technologies, such as the cloning of an adult sheep, the possibility of life on Mars, new views of the universe from the Hubble Space Telescope, and advances in communications and computer technology. The President said that while science holds great promise for the future, with the potential to improve lives and strengthen the nation, it can also create moral and ethical dilemmas which need to be dealt with responsibly. "Science often moves faster than our ability to understand its implications," he stated, "leaving a maze of moral and ethical questions in its wake."
The President went on to highlight and illustrate some basic priniciples that society should use in applying new knowledge. Citing the Tuskegee experiment, in which a group of African American subjects infected with syphilis were left untreated so that researchers could watch the disease progress, the President stated that science should be conducted to the benefit of all citizens, not just the privileged few. On behalf of the government, the President formally apologized for the Tuskegee experiment earlier in the month. President Clinton also urged Congress to pass legislation prohibiting insurance companies from using information gained from genetic screening to discriminate against individuals, and voiced his desire for strong protection of individual privacy against the threat of potentially invasive information technologies. Finally, the President reminded the audience that "science is not God," and that advances such as cloning require renewed attention to issues of individuality and faith.
AIDS Vaccine Research Center
It was the President's announcement of a new push to develop an AIDS vaccine within ten years which grabbed the most attention, however. Drawing a parallel to the drive to send a man to the moon in the 1960's, the President stated that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) would be establishing a new center for AIDS vaccine research to help achieve the ten-year goal, and he would also gather international support for the effort. After the speech, skeptics, including AIDS activists, were quick to point out that no mention had been made of providing increased funding for the initiative.
Details about the new vaccine research center are still being worked out by the NIH AIDS Vaccine Research Committee. In the center's beginning stage, staff and administrative resources will be provided by the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The center will take an interdisciplinary approach to vaccine research, attempting to integrate immunology and virology, as well as other fields.