Science conference focuses on policy


The United States needs "a coherent science and technology policy" which recognizes that basic science, applied science and technology "are profoundly interdependent," President Clinton's science advisor told an MIT assembly of 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."

At a noon news conference, Dr. Gibbons said the Republican Congress and the Administration seem to agree on federal funding for basic research. However, pre-competitive joint applied science programs of government, industry and universities, such as the Technology Reinvestment Projects and the 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 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, he said.

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.

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 had 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, scientific leaders from six major industries and firms (DuPont, Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical, Ford Motor Co., AT&T Bell Laboratories, Biogen, and IBM), and 11 leaders of MIT, Cornell, Harvard, and Yale Universities.

The all-day forum 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 US science and technology policy," President Vest said in a brief statement Monday evening, explaining why he had invited the participants. "The end of the Cold War, the changing nature of US 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.

"We have been planning the meeting since early fall when the Clinton administration's science policy statement was released. Leaders of the Clinton Administration such as Dr. Gibbons, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and Dr. M.R.C. Greenwood, associate director of OSTP for Science, have been very helpful and cooperative. The primary organizers have been Dean of Science Robert J. Birgeneau and physics department head Ernest J. Moniz," said Dr. Vest, who was to make concluding remarks at the end of the conference late Tuesday afternoon.

The program began at 10 a.m. with MIT Chairman Paul E. Gray, who briefly discussed the developments in national science policy over the past 50 years. Dean Birgeneau discussed the background of the program, and Provost Mark S. Wrighton introduced Dr. Gibbons and chaired the discussion following the responses from Dr. Joseph A. Miller, senior vice president of DuPont's central R&D science and engineering laboratories, and Cornell President Rhodes.

Following a noon news conference with Drs. Gibbons, Miller, Rhodes and Wrighton, the conference turned to "Basic Research and Industry: Perspectives on the Life, Physical and Information Sciences," with Jeremy R. Knowles, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences at Harvard, chairing a panel featuring Dr. Leon E. Rosenberg, president, Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical Research Institute; Professor Philip A. Sharp, Nobel laureate and head of the MIT Department of Biology; Dr. John P. McTague, Ford vice president for technical affairs; Professor George M. Whitesides, Mallinckrodt Professor of Chemistry at Harvard University; Dr. William F. Brinkman, vice president for physical sciences research, AT&T Bell Laboratories, and Dr. Anita K. Jones, director of defense research and engineering of the Department of Defense

"Education for Our Future Industrial Needs" was the topic of the late afternoon program, chaired by Dr. Greenwood. The speakers were Dr. Sheila Tobias, consultant, Research Corporation of Tucson, AZ; James L. Vincent, chairman and chief executive officer, Biogen, Inc., of Cambridge; Dr. John A. Armstrong, retired IBM vice president for science and technology and Professor Bromley,

MIT Professor Ernest J. Moniz, head of the physics department, moderated the final discussion followed by Dr. Vest's closing remarks.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 8, 1995.


Topics: Special events and guest speakers

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