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FYI Number 46: April 19, 2002

Marburger Speaks at AAAS Colloquium

As the keynote speaker at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's 27th annual Colloquium on Science and Technology Policy, Presidential Science Advisor John Marburger articulated his views of the Bush Administration's strategy for science and technology. In his speech, he discussed the roles of OSTP and federally-funded science in the war on terrorism, developing a science policy based on seizing the greatest opportunities for discovery, introducing clearly articulated criteria to the process of evaluating science, and the important roles of the social sciences and education.

Marburger was asked why, in light of workforce needs and declining interest by U.S. students in the physical sciences, the Administration did not place a priority on increased funding for physical sciences. He responded that the discourse so far was missing "a discriminating factor." To what fields, he questioned, should this increase be applied? Should it favor one agency over another? Would tripling the NSF budget solve the problem? What areas within DOE should receive increases? Marburger asked for further justification of where increases should be targeted and how they should be utilized.

Most of the prepared text of Marburger's April 11 speech follows. The full text is available at

"Thank you very much for inviting me to speak today about the Administration's science and technology strategy. I received the invitation just hours before the Senate confirmed my appointment last October, and at that time I had only the dimmest notion of how our strategy would be shaped by the terrorist attacks of the month before. My first actions were to structure OSTP to serve the President in the war against terrorism, and to reach out to the science and higher education communities with a call to action.... This Colloquium comes at an ideal time to take stock and reflect on what has happened, and what a reasonable future course might be for the nation's science policy in this vulnerable world.

"OSTP TODAY: In the Bush administration the Office of Science and Technology Policy continues to play a strong role in shaping science policy. The interagency coordinating mechanism of the National Science and Technology Council has proved important, not only for the integration of agency actions in the war against terrorism, but also as a nucleus for the crystallization of agency expertise needed for immediate response to urgent issues. Early service to the Office of Homeland Security following the exploitation of the U.S. mail for bioterrorism last fall was the first in a series of new activities somewhat different from the historical OSTP norm. Today OSTP manages the research and development needs of Homeland Security through a shared senior staff member.... The entire office is now organized to provide focused advice when and in the form needed by the agencies and policy offices we support. The NSTC interagency task forces, committees, and working groups continue to function as before, with less emphasis on analysis by OSTP staff, and more on seeking strategic input from other appropriate organizations including the agencies and the National Academies. The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) has been formed and is functioning through a series of panels, one of which focuses on terrorism, others on energy, telecommunications, and science funding policy. I have endeavored vigorously to reconnect the office with the Academies, the science and engineering societies, higher education, and the technically oriented private sector. We are working closely with the Office of Management and Budget to implement the President's Management Agenda, and to shape funding policies to meet the rapidly changing conditions of contemporary science. Today OSTP is active, engaged, and effective in the formation and execution of the nation's science policy.

"INITIAL RESPONSES TO THE WAR AGAINST TERRORISM: My message to the science and higher education communities last fall was first and foremost to appreciate how deeply committed the President is to winning the war against terrorism. That commitment includes the mobilization of every sector, including science, engineering, and higher education. Shortly after the September 11 attacks, many federal agencies launched initiatives to respond to terrorism issues, and funded them with existing appropriations.... Many of us realized that [the] longer-term issues would require considerable thought and consultation with the nation's intellectual community. To this end, the National Academies sponsored an important meeting late in September to consider how they might organize science input to the war effort. I...agreed to establish an interagency task force that would take up recommendations produced by a NAS committee proposed at the meeting...[which] will produce useful guidance by mid-summer.

"The institutions that produce science and technology are not only sources of solutions and advice, they are also potential targets and means of exploitation for terrorism. Universities can inadvertently provide materials, skills, and concealment for terrorist operations.... Universities need to think through these responsibilities and advise governments where to draw the line between avoiding terrorist risk, and obstructing the processes of education and discovery. During the weeks following September 11, I met with higher education leadership organizations to urge them to begin dialogues on their campuses to define their positions on terrorism and to clarify where the balance must be struck in response to society's desire to protect itself. OSTP is fostering and closely monitoring the broader dialogue on these issues within the Administration.

"INNOVATION VERSUS IMPLEMENTATION IN THE WAR AGAINST TERRORISM: As I learned more about the challenges of terrorism, I realized that the means for reducing the risk and consequences of terrorist incidents were for the most part already inherent in the scientific knowledge and technical capabilities available today. Only in a few areas would additional basic research be necessary, particularly in connection with bio-terrorism.... The deep and serious problem of homeland security is not one of science, it is one of implementation.

"This has two consequences. First, although antiterrorism efforts contain an important R&D component, they will not be a significant driver for science funding in general. Second, those seeking federal agency customers for specific technology products are likely to be frustrated while implementation strategy is being developed....

"SCIENCE BASED SCIENCE POLICY: I do not mean to imply that the science role in the war against terrorism is unimportant. Nor that substantial funds will not be forthcoming to solve technical problems critical to the war effort. But science is moving forward with its own powerful dynamic, and it is producing the means for addressing many of society's difficult problems, terrorism among them. Federal support of science must be directed first of all to sustain this dynamic, and secondly to seize the greatest opportunities it is creating for discovery, and for the improvement of the human condition. This is what I have called a 'science based' science policy. It differs from what might be called an 'issues based' policy in recognizing that discovery and the creation of entirely new technologies are unlikely to emerge from mandates in service to a particular social issue.

"...The scope of existing science is defined by the limits of existing technology. New science requires advances in technology that are not obviously relevant to any social need.... This is a familiar argument for societal support of basic science. But it is not the main point of the science-based policy that I am advocating. The main point is that science has its intrinsic needs and processes that have to be supported if the whole apparatus is to work effectively. If we ignore these needs, and direct funding according to the severity of social problems we would like science to address, we tend to enrich only one part of the machinery, and diminish our ability to address the critical problems.

"BALANCE IN SCIENCE FUNDING: This is my way of discussing the problem of 'balance,' sometimes expressed as too little funding for NSF compared with NIH, or as too little for the physical sciences compared with the life sciences. I think 'balance' is a misleading term for the real issue, and it is a dangerous term. Elsewhere I speculated, to make this point, that perhaps the recent large increases for NIH have simply enabled health researchers to exploit the same fraction of opportunities for discovery in their field as physical scientists can in theirs under existing budgets. A strong case can be made that the discovery of the molecular basis of life processes created research opportunities vastly greater than those in the physical sciences. It is not so much the balance among fields of science that is problematical, it is the balance among the different parts of the machinery of science.

"We are witnessing advances in the technical infrastructure of science that do justify large increases in certain fields, and large increases have been forthcoming. The President's proposal to complete the doubling of the NIH budget in FY03 is an example, so are the priorities given to information technology and nanotechnology.... One product of these capabilities is the current excitement of biotechnology and its inorganic counterpart, nanotechnology. Both deserve support in proportion to the potential they hold for discovery. My impression is that potential is greater in the vastly more complex organic domain, but huge opportunities remain to be exploited in both areas.

"This oversimplified revolutionary scenario has four central components: two enabling technologies of instrumentation for atomic scale imaging and control, and computation for simulation and management of the atomic scale information, and two discovery-oriented fields of biotechnology and nanotechnology that have been empowered by these tools. Only one component, instrumentation, is not currently identified as a priority in the federal budget. Attention to instrumentation will require analysis of the related issues of aging or inadequate facilities. Because some of the instrumentation dwells in the domain of 'big science' (for example, synchrotron x-ray sources, or nuclear reactors) this issue is also related to the funding of science within the national laboratories. If we want to achieve balance in federal science funding, we are going to have to understand how the complicated funding process works, or fails to work, to sustain the essential tools upon which our most exciting and productive areas of science and technology depend. Once the quality of this infrastructure is assured, then the questions of priority and adequacy of funding for the dependent fields remain. These questions must be answered in different ways for the two types of research that are typically described as basic and applied. I call them discovery oriented, and issue oriented. Priorities for issue oriented science are driven by the nation's policy agenda. For discovery science, priorities must be consistent with the opportunity for discovery, and that is a matter for the scientific experts.

"THE PRESIDENT'S MANAGEMENT AGENDA APPLIED TO SCIENCE: Scientists do, of course, make judgments all the time about promising lines of research.... It makes sense for the world's largest sponsor of research, the U.S. Government, to want to make such choices as wisely as the most productive scientists do. This, in my opinion, is how to think about the President's Management Agenda as it applies to science. I shared the podium last month with Budget Director Mitch Daniels at a National Academy workshop on this subject, and witnessed much nervousness in the audience about the prospect of evaluating basic science. But is it possible to decide rationally when to enhance or to terminate a project if we do not possess a way of measuring its success? Most program officers within the science funding agencies insist on peer reviews and peer judgments of the projects they are funding, and undoubtedly peer review will remain an essential part of evaluation. I think peer reviewers apply criteria in coming to their judgments, and I think the process of evaluation would be more credible if those criteria could be made explicit. That is why I support OMB's effort to introduce clearly articulated criteria in the science evaluation process. Good advice about the principles that should guide evaluation has been produced by the National Science Board, and the National Research Council. More needs to be done to adapt this process to different parts and different ways of doing science.

"THE IMPORTANCE OF THE SOCIAL SCIENCES: Management and evaluation are activities that can be studied objectively and improved systematically with the tools of social science.... I do not completely understand why we have failed in the past to develop and use the social sciences more effectively as a tool for public policy. Perhaps here too, we have not paid enough attention to the structure of the field itself, and what it needs to function well. Social science also possesses the three tiers of infrastructure, discovery science, and issue-driven science, and agency programs need to reflect these more explicitly...."

"WORKFORCE ISSUES: No issue deserves more attention from the social sciences than that of the future of the technology workforce.... What would happen if all the foreign graduate students returned to their countries of origin immediately after receiving their degrees? A catastrophic loss of technical capability would ensue. Already many industries are having difficulty recruiting technically trained personnel.

"The prospect of such a catastrophe is one motivation for a widespread interest in education, especially math and science education. President Bush cares passionately that children acquire skills systematically throughout their education that will prepare them to participate in the twenty first-century workforce.... I believe the workforce problem is more complicated than we have yet acknowledged, and will be difficult to define, measure, and resolve. The market for intellectual talent has been a global one for many years, and will continue to be in the future. How we ensure national security and national economic competitiveness in such an environment is an unanswered question. Surely we will need wise advice on this issue from the social science community. "I wish to thank the Association for making it possible for me to reflect on these issues at such a high level of abstraction."

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3094

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