CAMBRIDGE, MA., Feb. 7--The United States needs "a coherent science and technology policy" that recognizes that basic science, applied science and technology "are profoundly interdependent," President Clinton's science advisor told an MIT assembly of 200 government, industry and university science leaders Tuesday.
Dr. John H. Gibbons, special assistant to the president for science and technology, was the keynote speaker in the colloquium on "Science in the National Interest: A Shared Commitment." Attending the conference at the Wiesner Building of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were representatives of 58 corporations, 48 universities and many of the national laboratories.
Gibbons said "It is seldom possible to anticipate which areas of fundamental science will bring forward surprising and important breakthroughs - we cannot afford to limit our future by narrowing our range of inquiry."
At a noon news conference, Dr. Gibbons said the Republican Congress and the Administration seem to agree on federal funding for basic research. However, applied science programs involving government, industry and universities, such as the Technology Reinvestment Projects and Advanced Technology Program, are in for vigorous debate.
"It is these cost-shared, peer-reviewed programs which will be the center of the debate of where the government should stop and industry should start," Dr. Gibbons said. If the nation ignores applied science, he said, "We are in danger of opening up the valley of death" where technological developments "fall down in the cracks and wind up in another country."
DuPont Senior Vice President Dr. Joseph A. Miller, head of the Delaware firm's R&D laboratories, agreed with Gibbons about the need for government to fund a full range of science. "Every business that we are in began with an invention from our laboratories or with a university's invention. We have a difficult time envisioning where the ideas will come from" in the new market place where industry has cut back on basic research.
MIT Provost Mark S. Wrighton stressed that the continuity of funding "and the magnitude of that continuity" of funding was crucial to university long-range planning.
Cornell University President Frank H. T. Rhodes told reporters that the Republican call for a "$1 billion plus" reduction in reimbursements to universities for the costs of research "would erode the capacity of universities to conduct research." He added the proposed work study cuts and Perkins loans cuts in financial aid to students also had very serious consequences for colleges and universities.
MIT President Charles M. Vest said that decisions had been made, appropriately, on economic considerations for industries and government and universities. "What we're forgetting about is the interaction among all these elements," that the three sectors have to act in concert in order to strengthen the nation's R&D system.
The keynote address by Dr. Gibbons came hours after President Bill Clinton submitted his budget to Congress on Monday and six months after the administration's policy paper, "Science in the National Interest," was issued last August.
The conference brought together the Clinton Administration's top three science advisors from the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Defense Department, speakers from six major industries and firms (DuPont, Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical, Ford Motor Co., AT&T Bell Laboratories, Biogen, and IBM), and 11 speakers from MIT, Cornell, Harvard, and Yale Universities.
The all-day forum, "Science in the National Interest: A Shared Commitment," was held in the Bartos Theater in the Wiesner Building. Among the participants were Dr. Gibbons' predecessor, D. Allan Bromley, who was the science advisor to former President George Bush and is now the dean of engineering at Yale University.
"We are in a period of fundamental reconsideration of U. S. science and technology policy," said President Vest of MIT in a brief statement Monday evening, explaining why he had invited the participants. "The end of the Cold War, the changing nature of U. S. economic competitiveness, and the increasing direct involvement of Congress in science policy have led to a lack of stability of goals and philosophy."
"The roles on government, industry and academia are being reexamined in a fundamental way. MIT is a natural venue to bring thoughtful leaders from each of these sectors together to debate approaches and think through new policy directions. I will judge the meeting a success if it assists in consensus building among these three sectors and informs the debate in a substantive way."