NSF Director Lane: "Understanding the Issues and Entering the Fray"

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Publication date: 
7 July 1995

Addressing a June 26 AAAS Forum, NSF Director Neal Lane spoke on
the need for scientists to become a part of the policy formulation
process.  Selected portions of his address follow:

"...unique and valuable components of the [R&D] enterprise are
being targeted for elimination, often by those with no experience
in how the enterprise as a whole functions.  Currently, cutbacks in
R&D are occurring simultaneously in industry, universities,
government labs, and extramural programs."

"At this crucial moment, when many segments of the R&D system are
embattled by threats of dramatic reduction or outright elimination,
we must be careful not to give in to our individual instincts to
save ourselves at the cost of others.  There is strong potential at
such times to fall prey to petty fratricidal divisions -- between
disciplines, among organizations, and separating agencies -- the
frantic behavior of circling the wagons and shooting inward."

"...A strong R&D enterprise does not have a sturdy technology leg
and a weak science leg, or vice versa.  It does not support the
physical sciences to the exclusion of the social sciences, or the
reverse.  Its goal should not be only Nobel prizes but rather
social and economic benefit as well as first class achievement.
And, the latter requires a strong balanced portfolio of science,
engineering, and technology."

Lane also addressed the relationship between scientists and
non-scientists:  "For a variety of reasons, many having to do with
a Cold-War research culture, science and scientists have fallen
into the habit of separateness...."  "This separation, which
reflects both isolation and autonomy, nullifies a great many
contributions that scientists and engineers can make to our larger
societal goals.  It also appears to exonerate us from many of the
responsibilities we should carry in the society.

"Many of you, like me, are employed directly by the taxpayers as
public servants.  Many others here are recipients of the public's
largesse through your taxpayer-funded research, generous public
support of your explorations and inquiries into the unknown.  With
this privilege, and it is a privilege, comes the responsibility to
explain to the American public the contributions that science and
technology make in meeting the goals of the nation and its
citizenry.  It is only then that we can expect society to truly
understand and value those contributions.  It is only then that the
public's representatives in the Congress will be instructed to
preserve this national capability for finding solutions to many of
society's problems.  ...let us not be arrogant about our
contribution but articulate about that contribution."

Returning to the theme of separateness, Lane continued: "NASA
Administrator Dan Goldin described it quite graphically a few weeks
ago at a National Research Council conference.  He said, `We [the
R&D community] are the enemy, because we understand its [R&D's]
importance but we're so busy protecting what we've got that we're
not taking the time to explain it to America....  The scientific
community had darn well better learn to communicate with America.'"

Lane concluded, "...there will be reduced funding for federal R&D
programs because we have entered a stage of pervasive reductions,
and R&D will not be exempted.  We as a community can either
participate in and help guide this process with informed judgement
and reasoned advice or we can abdicate our responsibilities, bury
our heads in the sand, and let others less knowledgeable of the
system make those decisions.

"Our choice to be participants in the process will be the best
guarantee for preserving the capability of R&D excellence in the
nation while helping lawmakers address the nature and form of
inevitable reductions."

"What we hope to protect and preserve is not just for our parochial
interests but for the national interest now and in the future."

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