|As a contribution to the House Science Committee's National Science Policy Study, the Board of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has prepared a paper presenting its views on the key issues to be addressed in a new science policy. The Board wishes to thank the leadership of the House of Representatives, the Science Committee, and Representative Vernon Ehlers for undertaking this important study.
This paper was presented with this cover letter to Rep. Ehlers on May 5. The Board would like to thank everyone who responded to its call for comments on an earlier draft of this paper. The comments and suggestions received in response to this call were very helpful in creating this final version.
|A Framework for Federal Science Policy
The Need for a New Science and Technology Policy
Over the past five decades, a dynamic partnership between the federal government and the scientific and engineering community has fostered unprecedented progress in scientific research and education in our nation. Our breakthroughs have redefined our understanding of ourselves, our planet, and the universe. Our universities and colleges provide advanced education in the sciences and engineering unmatched by any other country. The interweaving of scientific research and technology has brought opportunities scarcely imagined just a few years ago. Our technology today provides electronic global communication that is reshaping the way we conduct research, collaborate, and educate.
This is a critical time of both opportunity and responsibility for the federal government's science and technology programs. The connections between scientific progress and societal needs have never been so vital. Yet the system through which science is supported was developed fifty years ago in a Cold War context far different from the environment of today. AAAS believes that, if the U.S. is to respond effectively to the challenges of the 21st century, we must find ways to reorganize our science and technology enterprise to address tomorrow's needs and aspirations: maintaining global sustainability, improving human health, addressing economic disparities, understanding our place in the universe, promoting peace and security, and directing the products of technology toward the betterment of society, nationally and worldwide.
AAAS strongly supports a science and technology policy that commits the federal government to:
Areas That Deserve Special Attention
We believe the following areas deserve special attention in the development of a 21st century science and technology policy:
Producing the world's best scientists and engineers is only one part of what our educational system must do, however. A key goal of our science policy should be to provide K-12 education that is world-class, just as it is in our universities and colleges. Teacher education, professional development, and rewards need to be strengthened to achieve this goal.
All of our citizens need a better understanding of the science and technology relevant to their own lives and to their participation in a democratic society. Our educational system should produce lifelong science learners prepared to utilize science and technology in their work and daily life, interpret medical breakthroughs, make sense of advances in genetics, share in the wonders of astronomical discovery, vote on environmental questions, and regularly update their professional expertise. At the same time, scientists and engineers should be educated to recognize the complex relationships between science and society and to observe appropriate ethical principles in their research and practice. Educational institutions should address these needs in ways that respect and draw upon the richness and diversity of our nation and that recognize our place in the global family.
A science and technology policy for the 21st century must include mechanisms to assure that decision-makers in all branches of government - executive, legislative, and judicial - and at all levels in our federal system have access to the best scientific and technical information and advice. The policy must also include a major commitment to public scientific and technological literacy to assure that all Americans have the opportunity to make informed decisions on matters involving science and technology, in their personal and professional lives, as well as in their roles as citizens in a modern democracy.
International collaboration is more necessary than ever, given the global nature of environmental dilemmas, the complexity of problems at the frontiers of knowledge, and the high costs of major basic research facilities, such as high energy particle accelerators, synchrotron radiation facilities, and space telescopes. For the U.S. to participate successfully in such collaborations it must overcome a tradition of self-sufficiency in many areas of research and a policy and budgetary system that is too often incapable of making long-term, stable commitments to international projects. The new U.S. science and technology policy must cultivate a spirit of international cooperation while adopting a genuinely global outlook.
New initiatives are needed to foster research that involves collaboration among researchers from different disciplines, institutions, and sectors. But this is not a task for the federal government alone. We in the research community, particularly in academia, need to develop our own means for encouraging such collaborations, for example by appropriately changing the incentive and reward system for faculty, students, and researchers. The new national science policy needs to support enhanced interaction - technology transfer, research collaboration, and professional mobility - among universities, industrial research and development facilities, and government laboratories.
At the dawn of the third millennium, with the Cold War fading into memory, it is incumbent on the United States, as the preeminent global power, to use its scientific and technological potential to lead the world toward a secure, sustainable future. With a new, bold national vision for science and technology, we can lead humankind in reaching for the stars, maintain stewardship of the Earth, and help people of all nations to achieve a better life. As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of our founding, we in AAAS stand ready to respond to this historic challenge.