News: AAAS 2008 Annual Meeting News Blog
AAAS President Baltimore: Five Rules for International Science Development
BOSTON--David Baltimore spent part of his AAAS presidential year crossing continents, taking on the role of AAAS ambassador as the organization embarked on a yearlong exploration of science as a global enterprise. And after seeing one of his articles edited in a modern glass tower in India and visiting revitalized science institutes in Rwanda, the Nobel laureate is convinced that developing countries need to start slow, grow small, and protect academic freedom to have the best chance at building science and technology capacity.
In his Presidential Address at the 2008 Annual Meeting on Thursday, Baltimore announced his five rules for international academic development, inspired by his travels and informed by his own career accomplishments at places such as the California Institute of Technology and Rockefeller University.
First, countries should choose excellent people to run their academic programs, even if means leaving positions unfilled until talented individuals appear, Baltimore said. Countries should also favor smaller research enterprises over larger institutions to concentrate scarce resources, and create small research groups within large institutes. Teaching and research should go hand in hand, and support for academic freedom, particularly through tenure, is crucial, he noted.
"What I saw led me to believe that liberating the spirit of entrepreneurship is a key to economic success," Baltimore told the capacity crowd. "I thought I saw the beginnings of that liberation in Rwanda. There is no doubt that in India, as in China, the liberation is in full swing."
But there is an "apparent contradiction" in the way science is practiced globally, he admitted. On one hand, scientists think of themselves as professionals without borders, regularly collaborating with far-flung colleagues. But scientists also want to build the economic strength and security of their home countries, potentially at the expense of international cooperation.
Baltimore says the contradiction can be resolved if economic competition drives countries to invest in their development, which can in turn bring international stability. Americans need to "keep ourselves strong and encourage others to develop. That will create a world where the tension of competition enriches us all," he suggested.
This tension, "not the threat of a military strike," will keep the world stable and peaceful in the future, Baltimore asserted. "The AAAS can play a role, helping to guide our country back on a path that can at once provide internal strength, international morality and a concern for worldwide development."
The theme of this year's Annual Meeting, "Science and Technology from a Global Perspective," was inspired in part by Baltimore's reading of The World Is Flat by the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, which suggests there is an increasingly level field for global commerce and competition. [To hear more about this year's Annual Meeting theme, listen to Science Podcast's interview of David Baltimore] Despite these changes, Western salaries, career opportunities and education remain a big draw for citizens in developing countries, Baltimore suggested.
"Yes, the world is flatter, but it is at the moment tipped in a Western and Northerly direction with people sliding down the incline in our direction," he said.
The obstacles to building science and technology capacity differ depending on the country, Baltimore suggested. In China, for instance, commerce has become markedly more open, "but the notion of a free market for doing science has not penetrated," he said. Despite India's scientific tradition and research centers such as the Indian Institutes of Technology, the country has a shortfall of engineers and only 57 percent of its school-age children ever enter a classroom. In Rwanda and other African nations, legacies of tribal conflict often undermine attempts to develop institutions, Baltimore noted.
The U.S. presidential elections in the fall were much on Baltimore's mind throughout his address. To the applause of the crowd, he noted AAAS's endorsement of ScienceDebate 2008, an effort to mount a presidential debate on science, technology and economy before the November elections. In particular, the candidates should be asked whether they support an increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health, to reverse what he called "the decimation of one of the jewels of American science" by the current administration.
Baltimore is the Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Biology at the California Institute of Technology. He was a founder of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and president of Rockefeller University and Caltech, as well as a leading figure in national policy commissions on recombinant DNA and AIDS research. He was a co-recipient of the 1975 Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of reverse transcriptase, which opened the door to understanding HIV infection.
His work on HIV/AIDS continues at Caltech's Baltimore Lab, where his team searches for new ways to genetically boost the immune system's response to infectious pathogens like HIV. At a Thursday morning breakfast with reporters, Baltimore said the prospect of an HIV vaccine remains "dismal," despite intense research. "We're no closer to a vaccine than we were in the early 1980s, when we thought that a vaccine was ten years away," he noted.
On Monday, 18 February, Baltimore will become chairman of the AAAS board, succeeding Dr. John Holdren, the Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. At that time, James J. McCarthy, the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard, will begin his one year term as president. The AAAS president-elect is Nobel laureate Peter C. Agre, director of the Malaria Research Institute at Johns Hopkins University and professor of cell biology and medicine and Distinguished Senior Scientific Advisor at Duke University.