Address to the 150th Anniversary AAAS Meeting (1998)
President William J. Clinton
Today, at the edge of a new century, the dawn of a new millennium, at a sunlit moment of prosperity for our people, we see before us an era of unparalleled possibilities. Our restless quest for knowledge, which has always been one of America's defining traits, will quicken. And more than ever before, the strength of our economy, the health of our environment, the length and quality of our livesin short, the success of our continuing pursuit of happinesswill be driven by the pursuit of knowledge. We must seize this moment to strengthen our Nation for the new century by expanding our commitment to discovery by increasing our support for science, pressing our progress in the war against cancer and other diseases, and protecting our children from public health dangers, most especially from the deadly addiction of tobacco.
We've come a long way in the last half of the 20th century. Fifty years ago, when President Truman addressed AAAS's 100th anniversary meeting, Bardeen, Brattain, and Shockley had just created the first transistor; Mauchly and Eckert had recently powered up the seminal ENIAC computer. Pauling and Franklin were developing techniques that would help unravel the mystery of our DNA.
Things are moving much more quickly now. Today, the store of human knowledge doubles every five years. Soon, every child will be able to stretch a hand across a computer keyboard and reach every book ever written, every painting ever painted, every symphony ever composed. We'll be able to carry all the phone calls on Mother's Day on a single strand of fiber the width of a human hair.
Where will we be 50 years from now? By the year 2048, when a future President of the United States addresses AAAS's bicentennial meeting, fusion and solar power may yield abundant energy. In any case, I am absolutely convinced that by then we will have discovered how to grow the economy by restoring, not depleting, our planet.
By then, telephones may translate foreign languages in real time. We may well have a permanent space station on the surface of Mars. And some of the greatest victories in the next 50 years doubtless will be in the ancient battle against human diseaseits prevention, its detection, its treatment, and its cure. Sophisticated new AIDS therapies already have given HIV-positive men and women a new lease on life. And if this progress continues, I believe we'll have an effective vaccine within a decade.
New treatments are already slowing the development of Alzheimer's and lifting people up from the dark depths of depression. Researchers have begun to regenerate nerve cells, raising the prospect that victims of spinal cord injuries will be able to rise up and walk again. Within a few years the Human Genome Project will have traced the very blueprint of human life. And I think it is important to remember, as Americans tend to focus on the health miracles that can come from scientific progress, that advances in health research and prevention and treatment depend upon the entire scientific enterprise, including engineering efforts. For example, the MRI, a diagnostic tool that has benefited many of us, originally came from research in nuclear physics. Space research today has vast implications for human health, which is one reason I am so excited about Senator John Glenn going back into space.
If we act now, we can catalyze the process of discovery and create even more dramatic progress. I have submitted the first balanced budget in 30 years. It is the result of five years of efforts based on a governmental philosophy that says we have to have fiscal discipline and greater investment in our people and our future by a government that is both smaller and more progressive. We, I believe, have now established beyond doubt that we can have a smaller government, larger investment, and a stronger nation. We have worked hard to increase investments in education, to open the doors of college to all and, increasingly, to improve the quality of education at the elementary and secondary levels.
I take it that hardly anyone would disagree with the proposition that we have the finest system of higher education in the world. It is America's great blessing. With more Pell Grant scholarships, hundreds of thousands of work-study positions, education IRAs, cheaper student loans that are easier to repay, a $1,500 tax credit for the first 2 years of college, and tax credits for the junior and senior years and graduate school, my passion has been to be able to say with a straight face to every American family, if your child works hard, money will not keep your child out of a first-class college education.
Now we must prove that we can have the best elementary and secondary education in the world. And we're working on a lot of frontsmore technology, better teacher training, smaller class sizes, more classrooms, higher standards, and greater accountability. One of the most promising approaches we have is the one first brought to me by the Congressman from Philadelphia, Chaka Fattah. Under our approach, which is part of this balanced budget, we want to have colleges go in and start working with children as early as the seventh grade, to be able to say to them and their parents, if you will stay in school, if you will learn, if you will perform, if you will be held accountable, we can tell you in the seventh grade how much college aid you can get when you are ready. You can know right now that you can go to college. You can know how much you can get. And we're going to help you for six years to make sure you are ready to succeed in the 21st century.
But there is probably no better example of this new approach, this so-called third way, than the proposal we have in the balanced budget for a 21st Century Research Fund, part of our gift to America for the new millennium. It provides for the first time a strong, stable, multiyear source of funding for research that will enable scientists to engage in long-term planning as never before.
This commitment represents the largest funding increase in history for the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. It will provide substantial budget increases for basic and applied research at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Energy, and the Department of Agriculture. It will spur technological innovations that will help us combat global climate change, a growing threat that the journal, Science warned us about more than 30 years ago.
Perhaps most important to American citizens at this moment, the 21st Century Research Fund will give us the means to win the war on cancer. For the first time, cancer death rates have begun to fall. The 21st Century Research Fund will build on this progress, with new classes of smart drugs that target specific molecules found in cancer cells. It will help researchers in this field to discover within a decade every single gene and protein that contributes to the conversion of a normal cell to a cancer cell. It will create new opportunities for prevention and new technologies for earlier and more accurate diagnosis. Today we can cure 80 percent of the patients with certain kinds of cancer; let us work to ensure that within the next generation we will cure 80 percent of the patients with all forms of cancer.
The public health responsibility must be more broadly shared among our people. It cannot be the sole province of medical researchers and medical doctors. The rest of us have a job to do, tooon our own lives, the lives of our friends and neighbors and, most importantly, the lives of our children.
We can take one major leap forward right away. We have an historic opportunity to curtail the deadly epidemic of teen smoking. More than three decades ago, responsible peer-review journals, including Science, presented our society with a stark conclusion: Smoking causes cancer. We now know it is also linked in a deadly chain with emphysema, heart disease, and stroke. For years, our efforts to reduce smoking have been outmatched by billion-dollar industry ad campaigns targeted at our children. Now we have the opportunity to save millions of those children from a life of addiction and a premature and very preventable death.
I have asked Congress to enact comprehensive legislation to raise the price of cigarettes by up to $1.50 a pack over the next 10 years, to give the Food and Drug Administration full authority to regulate tobacco products, to change forever the way tobacco companies do business, to further public health research, and to protect tobacco farmers and their communities in the transition that will come. The Treasury Department has released an analysis of the probable effects of this comprehensive approach, projecting that the price increase and other measures we have proposed will cut teen smoking by almost half over the next five years.
Let me point out what that means in terms of real people. (In Washington, in a different way we sometimes do what researchers dowe talk statistics and numbers and things that don't often grab people.) If we act this year (instead of having a year-long political debate and doing nothing) if by the year 2003 we can stop almost 3 million young people from smoking and save almost 1 million lives as a result. We ought to save those lives and you should demand that we save those lives.
Senator Kent Conrad from North Dakota introduced a strong bill in Congress that meets all the objectives above. I look forward to working with him and with other Members to enact comprehensive and bipartisan legislation. But I ask for your support as well. The scientific community can speak with a very loud voice. Speak loudly for our children. Tell people you're going to do all this research. Tell people we're going to do unbelievable things. Tell people there will be miracles they can't imagine in the 21st century. But tell people that in the 21st century parents will still have to take responsibility for their children and people will still have to take responsibility for doing sensible things if we want a healthy, strong America. Help us lead the way in this fight.
The extraordinary promise of science and technology carries with it extraordinary responsibilities for those who seek to advance the promise. It is incumbent upon both scientists and public servants to ensure that science serves humanity always, and never the other way around.
Recently, like most Americans, I learned the troubling news that a member of the scientific community claims to be laying plans to clone a human being. Human cloning raises deep ethical concerns. There is virtually unanimous consensus in the scientific and medical communities that attempting to use known cloning techniques to actually create a human being is untested, unsafe, and morally unacceptable. Recently, the Senate voted to take the time necessary to carefully craft a bill that will ban the cloning of human beings while preserving our ability to use cloning technology for morally acceptable and medically important purposes. Already, scientists have given us the scientific foundation for this debate. I thank you for that, and I urge you to continue to play an important role as the Senate, and then the House, considers this very significant issue in the coming year.
In spite of the pitfalls and the perils, our nation has always believed that what scientists do would always transform our world for the better in the end. Benjamin Franklin, the father of our scientific revolution, once wrote: "The progress of human knowledge will be rapid and discoveries made of which we at present have no conception. I begin to be almost sorry I was born so soon since I cannot have the happiness of knowing what will be known in years hence."
I have been so struck by the contrast between Ben Franklin's vision and the depiction of the future we see in so many books and on television and in movies and. The world of the future is so often portrayed as a terribly frightening, primitive, brutal placea world where science has run amok or where the community and the government have withered away, where people have to wear gas masks to walk around and the entire Earth has been completely devastated by craven greed; where life is once again, as Thomas Hobbes said, in the state of nature, nasty, brutish, and short.
I don't think scientists believe that's what it's going to be like. And I think it's important that we all accept the responsibility to imagine and invent a very different kind of future, and then to tell our fellow Americans that that is the future we are working toward. We need never run away from the dangers of our work run amok. We need never run away from our innate fear of the abuse of power, whether political or scientific. Indeed the whole genius of our creation was the understanding that human nature is a mix of elements, and all of them must be restrained. But we must never for a moment be afraid of the future. Instead, we must envision the future we intend to create.
AAAS's bicentennial meeting can convene in a world where climatic disruption has been halted; where wars on cancer and AIDS have long since been won; where humanity is safe from the destructive force of chemical and biological weapons, wielded by rogue states or conscienceless terrorists and drug runners; where the noble career of science is pursued and then advanced by children of every race and background; and where the benefits of science are broadly shared in countries both rich and poor. That is what I hope it will be like, 50 years from now, when my successor stands here before your successors and assesses how well we did with our time.
Let me say, I believe in what you do. And I believe in the people who do it. Most important, I believe in the promise of America, in the idea that we must always marry our newest advances and knowledge with our oldest values. When we do that, it's worked out pretty well. That is what we owe our children; that is what we must bring to the new century.
William J. Clinton is president of the United States. This article is based on remarks he delivered at the 150th Anniversary AAAS Annual Meeting, held February 1217, 1998, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.