APS News

Science Policy and Science Community

By William R. Brinkley, President FASEB (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology)

This is truly a great time to be a scientist. New tools and technologies are enabling us to perform more research and do it more rapidly then ever before. Startling and revolutionary discoveries are occurring at an unprecedented rate. Electronic communications allow us to work directly with colleagues around the world as through they were just down the hall. Public support is high, yet this is also a time of many serious challenges. Our system of graduate education and research training is experiencing strains, and many people are beginning to question the continued viability of a system that has produced such exceptional scientific and technical talent. There are ethical issues arising out of new discoveries and funding issues that grow more vexing as the cost of doing research increases.

As scientists, we must focus our critical attention on our own research enterprise as well as on the subjects of our various disciplines. Therefore, we were especially fortunate when the leadership in Congress chose a man of science, physicist Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), to chair a major review of U.S. science policy. We now have the report from this study (see "The Back Page", APS News, November 1998). As President of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), I have asked our public affairs committee to take a careful look at this report and its recommendations.

Our initial review of the report, Unlocking Our Future: Toward a New National Science Policy, has revealed several points of strong agreement, two of which are especially important to the long-term future of American science. We agree wholeheartedly with the suggestion that scientists become involved early in the political decision making process. We also support the recommendation that the federal government fund basic research in a broad spectrum of scientific disciplines. The contributions of these fields are essential to the accomplishments of the U.S. science enterprise and any growth in future funding must reflect their importance.

Regarding political involvement, FASEB has been and will continue to be actively engaged. We believe that our past and future successes are consistent with - and not antagonistic to - growth in other fields. The increases in funding biomedical research do not come at the expense of the other fields of science. There is no single pool of science funds, from which one field's success is gained at the expense of others. FASEB's successful program of articulate, focused, and persistent advocacy can be a model for other groups. In addition, we stand ready to support those actions that are consistent with our programs and within our areas of expertise. Our efforts have been based on the view that strong and vocal support for research funding is our right as citizens and our responsibility as experts on the scientific opportunity.

We must not allow nay-sayers to define our agenda for us. The assumption that the federal budget cannot support growth in research funding has been proven false. Economic conditions change and budget caps can be raised, revised or surmounted. Success in science has always been characterized by a refusal to accept the limitations that others have set. Things once believed impossible are now so much a part of our everyday lives that we often forget how remarkable and revolutionary they are. We hold the same view in public policy and will continue to aggressively pursue the programs and policies that are in the best interests of the research community.

I can assure you that the community of biological scientists stands firmly behind the goal of funding in a broad spectrum of disciplines. For we truly believe that tremendous potential for progress in biological and medical research will only be achieved if there is a steady flow of new insights from the other fields of science. These discoveries have propelled much of our progress in the past and will undoubtedly guide our success in the future. FASEB is on record in support of broad, multidisciplinary funding. Last year, our annual funding conference recommendations included a 10% increase for NSF, including all of its directorates and programs.

For several years, we have invited the leaders of the American Physical Society (APS), the American Chemical Society (ACS), and the American Mathematical Society to join us in developing our recommendations for federal science funding. Last year, we testified jointly on the NSF appropriation with the Presidents of APS and ACS and look forward to continuing this cooperation in the coming year. We have also been active supporters of the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), an umbrella organization working to raise the profile of the NSF and increase funding for research in science, engineering, and mathematics.

FASEB's testimony in support of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was based upon our assessment of the tremendous opportunity for advancement in the health sciences. These recommendations, however, explicitly acknowledge the importance of physics, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, and other fields in medical research and call for funding increases to ensure that research in these fields is able to flourish. Our FY1999 funding conference report called upon NIH to establish more collaborative programs with physicists, mathematicians, and engineers.

Indeed, it is time to raise the funding levels of all areas of science in the name of improved health, quality of life and standard of living. Advances in mathematics, physics, chemistry and engineering are vital to progress in medical science. Therefore, FASEB fully endorses congressman Ehlers' proposal that the federal government increase funds for basic research in a broader spectrum of scientific disciplines. We look forward to the opportunity to work with the leaders of these disciplines to help make this happen.

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin