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30th Year of Program to Teach Policy to Scientists;
Provide Solid Science to Policymakers in Washington
This September marks 30 years since AAAS launched its Science and Technology Policy Fellows Programa palliative to two problems: the dearth of objective science policy advice for U.S. federal lawmakers, and the need for training in policymaking for members of the nation's scientific community.
Over the years, more than 1,500 scientists and engineers have thus far engaged in the fierce competition to become AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellows, but the program began modestly, pushed forward by a small group of scientists, with the persistence and support of long-time AAAS friend and then-treasurer (and now treasurer emeritus) William T. Golden.
"I brought it up in two meetings of the AAAS Board, and the Board listened but politely was not disposed to do anything about it," Golden recounts. "On my third attempt, I said, `I'm prepared to pay half the cost for two or three years to get it started!' The climate was favorable and the program was started."
Historical records show that Golden provided $27,000 in 1973; $8,500 in 1974; and $28,000 in 1976, to support the Fellows program through its infancy. The program began with two Fellows the first year.
30 Years Ago
The program began at a time when science seemed to have fallen out of favor in Washington. Shortly after his re-election in 1972, President Richard Nixon had eliminated the President's Science Advisory Committee and the White House Office of Science and Technology, and Congress was relying heavily on federal agencies for guidance in the making of science policy.
"Political scientists and congressional reformers had become increasingly concerned with the growing dependence of Congress on data and expertise provided by the executive branch," writes Jeffrey K. Stine, a former fellow and author of Twenty Years of Science in the Public Interest: A History of the Congressional Science and Engineering Fellowship Program. "For the legislative branch to play the kind of independent role envisioned by the framers of the U.S. Constitution, these scientists and reformers argued, Congress needed to strengthen the capabilities of its professional staff."
The concept for the Fellows program emerged slowly, beginning when Golden began talking with physicist Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967) and Charles Lauritsen about the desirability of internships for students.
Some 25 years later, in December 1972, Golden took part in a breakfast meeting with the AAAS Youth Council, which included William Drayton and Joel Cohen. Immediately afterward, he talked with Joel R. Primack, then a Junior Fellow at Harvard, and Frank N. von Hippel, then a Stanford University faculty member, in a corridor at the AAAS Annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
Hippel and Primack had organized a workshop that examined the role of science in congressional decision making, one of 22 workshops at Stanford in 1969-1970 that were aimed at addressing societal concerns during the politically tumultuous time. The two reported a pressing need for independent technical advice for Congress.
"We found that `insiders,' the scientists representing the executive branch, were often used to legitimize policies," says von Hippel, now a professor at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. "And, we had some suggestions for the role of science advisors for Congress."
In their report on the Stanford workshop, the two physicists write, "It is difficult for even the sharpest and best informed Congressman to sort out good from bad technical advice and information; partly as a result, even the most costly Administration technical programs are frequently evaluated by Congress on political and other non-technical grounds."
In the early 1970s, these ideas fell on fertile ground, says von Hippel. But Golden told the two scientists that they would have to demonstrate that legislators would be prepared to accept the Fellows for at least a year, and that accomplished scientists would be willing to spend a year in Washington. And, of course, there would have to be a way of funding the program.
Golden became convinced that a Fellows program could succeed. Primack gave Golden a list of senators and congressmen who said they would be willing to accept (but not pay for) fellows in their offices, along with applications from three well-qualified scientists interested in becoming fellows.
"And that inspired me to push ahead on this," Golden says.
He notes, however, that the notion of sending scientists to Congress had been around, "since way back in the Atomic energy period of around 1950."
In proposing the idea to the AAAS Board, Golden says, "I explained that what also would be needed to have such a program would be an organization that would be in charge of it, and that would be the AAAS," Golden says.
In the end, with Golden's donation leading the way, AAAS and its affiliated societies took on the cost of supporting as many as 125 fellows a year in ten fellowship programs. Today, the scientists and engineers are in great demand throughout Congress and the federal agencies that crowd the landscape in Washington, D.C.
"With Congress dealing with more and more science-based issues, the value of having fellows on my staff increases every year," says Rep. Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-NY), chairman of the House Committee on Science. "AAAS Fellows bring enormous learning, energy and curiosity to my office, as well as a fresh perspective. Indeed, many of my most valued staffers began their careers as AAAS Science Fellows."
This Septemberas it has every September since 1973AAAS has gathered a group of scientists and engineers, the latest crop of AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellows, to prepare them for a year spent learning about policy and providing technical expertise to the nation's policymakers. Depending on which of the 10 fellowship programs they applied for this year, the 96 current fellows will work in the areas of homeland security, diplomacy, environmental risk assessment, defense, health, or global security. There are now ten federal agencies signed up to each host a group of fellows, but Congress is where it all began.
Origins of Modern Science Policy
Golden recalls the roots of the interest in science policy in Washington, which began following the decisive role that science and technology played in the winning of World War II.
"It increased public and politicians' awareness of science and technology," Golden says. "It has taken root and has grown. With the establishment of the presidential science advisory apparatuswhich was just beginning in 1951 with the establishment of a presidential science advisor and the president's science advisory committeethe awareness of the need for science and technology grew."
News of the AAAS program's success in addressing the need for more science in policy has now spread beyond the borders of the United States. Two years ago, Switzerland adopted the Fellows model, the Swiss Parliamentary Science Fellows Program. South Africa and Australia are considering following suit.
"So many of the issues the Australian Parliament deals with these days have a scientific aspect to themdisposal of nuclear waste, management of water resources, biodiversity, greenhouse (effect), energy sources of the future," says Toss Gascoigne, executive director of the Australian Federation of Scientific and Technological Societies. "The AAAS model is unique, and it's been tested by time. It's the sort of thing Americans do very well, and we are quite to happy to borrow a good idea."
Indeed, Golden comments that "good ideas are sometimes contagious!" A desire to stimulate more good ideas also motivated Golden's historic $5.25 million gift to AAAS, announced 14 February 2003. The gift made possible the William T. Golden Endowment Fund for Program Innovation, which supports new programs that would not be fundable in the association's general budget.
One of the first fellows, Jessica T. Mathews, is now president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Another former AAAS Fellow, Jane Alexander, started her professional life as a researcher in solid state physics. She now works for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, where her job is to encourage the development and production of new technologies that can be used to protect the nation from terrorist attacks.
"An amazing number of pieces of legislation have some science underlying them," says Alexander, who was recently named deputy director of the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA). "And every time I got ready to leave Washington, I was offered a more interesting job."
Eight years after the demise of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), which once advised Congress on scientific and technological issues, federal legislators say they have few sources of "in-house" guidance. They say that the fellows assigned to Capitol Hill provide them with unbiased technical advice on the increasingly complex science that underlies legislation. Golden says the need for the fellowship program is perhaps more pressing today than it was 30 years ago.
"The increasing involvement of science and its product and facilitatortechnologyhas made the public more aware of their importance in everyday life," Golden says. "This has therefore increased the interest in what might be called science policy, which never existed as an academic subject until probably a decade or two ago."
The anniversary of the AAAS Fellows program is being marked with a symposium entitled, "Vision 2033: Linking Science and Policy for Tomorrow's World." Beginning on 18 September, the two-day event will be held at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and will focus on the future, as it explores the impact of research on society, security, energy, and the environment. The Honorable Sam Nunn, former Senator (D-GA) and co-chairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, will be the keynote speaker. More information is available at the following Web site address: fellowships.aaas.org/30th/registration.shtml.
16 September 2003