News: AAAS News & Notes
28 May 2004
War & Peace
Neureiter: Bridging the Gulf Between Science and Security
In the late 1950s, with Cold War tensions running high, young research chemist Norman Neureiter made a career change that would move him from the oil industry into the realm of high-stakes diplomacy and White House policy-making. It was not such an unusual career move; though Neureiter was uncommonly successful, thousands of other scientists and engineers devoted their skills to national security in a time of acute global tension.
Today, with the Cold War replaced by new threats and new battles, Neureiter has returned to public service, first as the top science adviser in the U.S. State Department, and now as the director of the new AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy.
The opening of the center, and the appointment of Neureiter to guide it, comes at a crucial time. With terrorism posing an unprecedented challenge to the United States, national security plans rely heavily on science, medicine, and engineering for controlling weapons proliferation, protecting transit systems, and preparing for the possibility of chemical or biological attacks. But increasingly, some analysts say, a disconnect between science and policy puts those plans in jeopardy.
Funded by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the center was conceived as a way to open new lines of communication between researchers and policy-makers, a way to provide the best available science to national security policy-makers. Neureiter, with deep experience in science, diplomacy, and policy-making in three presidential administrations, was the “ideal choice” to head the center, said Alan I. Leshner, AAAS’s chief executive officer.
“Norman Neureiter uniquely brings together international, diplomatic, and national security expertise,” Leshner said. “He has the personal credibility and stature to be well respected by policy-makers and academics alike.”
The center formally opened on 10 May, but even before then, Neureiter was laying the foundations. “The absolute first priority is to make sure that I’m in touch with all the relevant institutions here in Washington, that the policy community knows we’re here and interested in relating to them,” he said. “And second, I’m going to be in touch with all of the center directors to make sure they know we’re here to catalyze relationships for them, and not to manage them.”
During the Cold War, there were federal offices and a wealth of grants that brought the two sides into a productive engagement on defense issues. When the Soviet Union collapsed, those relationships began to fade; even before the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, there was a growing sense that science and policy-making were drifting apart. In 1999, a National Academy of Sciences report found that the State Department lacked science expertise, and it recommended that a science and technology adviser be appointed to aid the secretary of state. In the closing months of President Bill Clinton’s administration, Neureiter was named to a 3-year term in the post, serving first under Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and then, in the administration of President George W. Bush, under Secretary of State Colin Powell.
After 9/11, the need to couple good science and good policy became even more critical. The scientists of the Cold War era were aging, but few younger experts were moving in to take their place on issues that were once again of vital importance.
The Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy is seen as a linchpin in a 6-year, $50-million effort by the MacArthur Foundation to enhance the prospects for international peace and security. The foundation is funding a select group of security-related research programs and providing grants to universities to create faculty and research positions that will attract scholars, scientists, and engineers into national security fields. Foundation grants also will help train analysts in Russia, China, and the United Kingdom.
The Center was created after AAAS received a 3-year, $2.25-million MacArthur grant in January.
“I think the appointment of Norm Neureiter will help dramatically in giving visibility to the center,” said Kennette Benedict, director of international peace and security for the MacArthur Foundation. “He’s well known and plans to be in contact with a range of people to see what their needs are and to see how the center can direct information to them.”
Neureiter received a Bachelor of Science in chemistry at the University of Rochester (N.Y.) in 1952. Already an accomplished linguist, he was a Fulbright Fellow to Germany in 1955–56 at the University of Munich. At the time, Germany was just emerging from a decade of post-war occupation; Munich, as Neureiter recalls, was still partially in ruins. “I thought, ‘Perhaps even more important than chemistry is whether I can contribute in some way to avoiding this kind of ghastly cataclysm in the future,’” he said.
After a promising early career as a research chemist in the oil industry, Neureiter turned again to science policy on the global stage. He rose through the ranks of the U.S. Foreign Service to become the first U.S. science attaché in Eastern Europe. From 1969 to 1973, he served as the international affairs assistant in President Richard Nixon’s Office of Science and Technology, helping craft agreements with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China.
After serving for 23 years with Texas Instruments, he retired in 1996 as a vice president for TI Asia. Neureiter won the the 2003 AAAS Philip Hauge Abelson Prize for a distinguished career of scientific achievement and service to the community.
The new job is certain to require some diplomatic finesse. But “if we stick to our business, I’m confident people will welcome this exercise,” he said. “I’m excited about building up a scholarly community that really wants to be involved with this. Of course, ultimately the solution to the security challenge requires an international effort, with the U.S. engaging many partners.”
Beautiful “Chaos,” and Beautiful Learning
Think back to one of your first-year science classes. You probably remember a vast lecture hall, the lecturer’s uninterrupted monologue, the show-and-tell demonstrations that didn’t really show or tell much at all. Eric Mazur, physicist and professor at Harvard, knows the phenomenon well. And that is why, when you enter one of his lectures, everything is differenteverything.
Mazur has been in the vanguard of a growing movement in education that is seeking to make science and math instruction more interactive and more effective. He was one of about 400 faculty members, learning experts, and students who gathered for “Invention and Impact: Building Excellence in Undergraduate Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education,” a 2-day conference sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and organized by AAAS.
“In my class, I’ve moved information-gathering out of the classroom,” he explained recently. “I assign reading before the class and then I use the class interactively. I ask questionsI ask questions rather than telling. I basically spend all the time helping people assimilate the information.” How does it look in practice? “Chaos,” he says without qualm. “Indirection. Thinking.”
While interactive learning experiments have been under way for years, the Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement program begun by NSF in 1999 is pushing the movement toward critical mass. The foundation has awarded a total of $240 million in grants to projects seeking innovative teaching methods, says Rosemary Haggett, director of NSF’s Division of Undergraduate Education. In all, 1750 projects have been funded at 600 institutions, from community colleges to major research universities. An estimated 1.4 million students and 25,000 faculty members have been involved, Haggett said.
But the 2-day session outside of Washington, D.C., last month, opened by a Capitol Hill briefing on 15 April, marked the first time that instructors, researchers, and other education experts had gathered to share ideas and evaluate their programs.
In a mood of almost unbridled optimism, speakers covered topics ranging from the practicalhow to improve online homework systemsto the sublimeteaching the physics of music. A number of presentations focused on how innovative teaching methods can engage ethnic minority students, students with disabilities, and women in science, technology, engineering, and math.
Michele Wheatly, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, has helped develop a comprehensive program to bring physically disabled students into the sciences. In an interview, she described the initiative as “an extreme effort” to reach under-represented students. If a student in a wheelchair wants to study geologic formations in the field, then find a place that’s accessible to wheelchairs, she said. If a blind student wants to work in the lab, then the latest technology can help make that possible.
AAAS, with funding from NSF, is also working to support improved undergraduate education. It has joined with biology-based groups to develop a digital library of biology teaching materials, said Yolanda George, deputy director of Education and Human Resources. The effort even extends to making Science magazine, which is published by AAAS, a tool that can be used in higher education science classes, she said.
AAAS and NSF have asked those who made presentations at the conference to submit papers documenting their innovations. The collection will be published later this year, George said.
An Anniversary Marked with Soul-Searching
Despite the great promise of the 21st century, scientists and engineers in the developed world face a daunting challenge, says Ismail Serageldin. Unless they help build the foundations of science and technology in the developing world, they “will exacerbate the divide between the rich and the poor, providing more for those who have much and nothing for those with nothing.”
Serageldin, a former vice president of the World Bank and now director of the Library of Alexandria in Egypt, was the keynote speaker at an event marking the 30th anniversary of the AAAS Science and Technology Fellows program. Several hundred scientists, engineers, and journalists gathered 13 to 14 May at the Carnegie Institution of Washington to focus attention on the perilsand the possibilitiesthe world will likely face over the next 30 years.
The event mixed a celebration of the S&T Fellows program’s success and influence with soul-searching about the role of science in a troubled world. Two billion people worldwide have no access to clean water, Serageldin said. Some 800 million are chronically malnourished. Fifty percent of the world’s wetlands have been lost in the last 100 years.
“Science needs to be harnessed to solve these problemsclean water, clean air, fertile lands,” Serageldin said.
Technological advancement and the global connectivity made possible by computers give cause for optimism, he said. But most nations in the developing world lack a science and technology foundation.
More than a dozen other experts spoke at the conference, including two prominent alumni of the fellowship programMaureen I. McCarthy, director of the Office of Research and Development at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, a physicist and Democrat from New Jersey.
The AAAS S&T Fellows program was founded in 1973, sponsored by four science and engineering organizations. During the past 30 years, it has been backed by 60 such groups. About 1600 fellows have gone through the program, some advancing to top government policy positions. The U.S. Senate passed a resolution this month honoring the fellowship program for the “new insights and ideas [and] extensive knowledge” it has brought to federal policy-making.