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AAAS President Shirley Ann Jackson Calls For New Investment And Improved S&T Education
The Council on Foreign Relations kicked off a new discussion series, "The Nexus of Science and Foreign Policy," with AAAS President Shirley Ann Jackson and Deputy Under Secretary for Technology Benjamin Wu facing off on the challenges to American scientific leadership presented by U.S. policy and competitive global innovators.
Both agreed that the United States still has all of the core ingredients to maintain its competitive, innovative edge, but many nations are positioning themselvesthrough greater investments in education, broad-based basic research and incentives to attract the best mindsto overtake the United States in key areas such as computing.
"Our ability to exploit information technology has been a major driver of our economy, and these advances came out of basic work in math, engineering and computing done many years ago," said Jackson. "Without investments across a broad front, we will not produce the scientific breakthroughs necessary to strengthen our economy and security over the long term."
The Council on Foreign Relations is a pillar of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. Jackson's appearance in the first lecture of the series allowed her to reinforce the idea that science and technology are of increasing importance in foreign policy, on issues ranging from defense and security to trade and global climate change.
Advances in biotechnology now largely hinge on high-performance computing to unlock information contained in massive data sets, she said. To get there requires a multidisciplinary approachbasic research investments in biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, computer science and engineering. Other nations are increasing their support in these areas to generate new knowledge at a time when the United States is focusing on development based on what is already known.
"The world is smaller because of technology and more countries can compete in terms of having a labor force and creating new technologies rapidly," said Wu. "They are challenging our ability to maintain a strong innovative climate." He added that the government needs better data to understand the full implications of the continuing trend toward global outsourcing, including training and education for those who are displaced.
"The question is who is in the position to control, lead, or exploit global innovation," said Jackson, a physicist and president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. "There has to be a certain critical mass of activity in this country to spawn industries on the order of those that created so much wealth and so many career paths in the 1990s. However, it is naive to think it will all be ours."
As in the past, federal investment across a broad range of disciplines will not only produce scientific breakthroughs but also nurture the science and technology workforce of the future, she said. "Our success has not been lost on other nations and they are imitating us with a vengeance with the result being steadily rising competition."
Both speakers agreed that, while innovation and economic opportunity cannot be confined within our borders, certain capabilitiesthose tied directly to national securitymust continue to be developed and maintained in the United States.
A key ingredient is for the United States to develop a more robust science and engineering work force as its personnel rapidly age and other nations successfully tap the global talent pool, said Jackson. A major barrier is lack of student interest and student under-performance in math and science. "Twenty-four nations awarded higher numbers of degrees in science and engineering than the United States," she said.
Founded in 1921, the Council on Foreign Relations is an independent, national membership organization and a nonpartisan center for scholars dedicated to furthering a better understanding of the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other governments.
15 November 2004