APS News

July 1998 (Volume 7, Number 7)

A Year of Opportunities: APS Retiring Presidential Address


In my formal statement as a candidate for the APS vice-presidency some four years ago, I included the following goals, should I be elected: (1) work with our sister scientific societies to make a more coherent and persuasive case for continued investment in science and technology to both the Administration and Congress; (2) work with other physical societies worldwide to strengthen our interactions and mutually benefit from shared discussion of problems and solutions that may evolve from them; and (3) work to provide better communication with the members of our own society. To these I should have added working to prepare for an APS Centennial celebration worthy of the achievements of physics and, especially, of American physics over the past century, as well as our aspirations for the coming century.

Cooperation with Sister Societies. From my years as science advisor to President Bush, I knew firsthand that both the White House and the Congress considered the scientific and technological communities to be by far the least effective in making their cases for federal investment in their fields. In part, this lack of effectiveness reflected a peculiar characteristic of the science and technology community: when there is trouble on the horizon, we pull the wagons into a circle, but unlike other communities, we shoot in! I spent a remakrable amount of my time in Washington defending physics programs and projects from other physicists.

How then do we become a more effective constituency? The American Historical Factal Association for the Advancement of Science's June 1996 projections of the anticipated federal spending on non-defense research and development for FY1995 through FY2000 showed, in real terms, a decline of some 30%. This made abundantly clear the need for coherent action. In early 1997, we in the APS got together with the American Chemical Society, the American Mathematical Society, and the American Astronomical Society to discuss how we could most effectively work together in making a persuasive case for science and technology. These four societies formed the nucleus of all the activity throughout the tear.

We recognized that one of the most striking changes taking place in science and technology in recent years has been the rapidly increasing interdependence within and between the sciences and technologies. Breakthroughs in a given field frequently have their greatest impact in other fields that are quite remote and where they have been totally unexpected. In parallel, some of the nation's leading economists have published studies that showed more than one-half of the growth in the U.S. Gross Domestic Product since World War II can be traced directly to implementation of new science-based technologies. Technology is the engine of economic growth and competitiveness. The clear message is that if we are to look forward to a strong economic future tomorrow, we must invest in science and technology today.

Our discussions resulted in a joint statement calling for an increase in federal R&D investment in the range of 7% for FY1998. "The Seven Percent Solution," as it became known, received a great deal of media and Congressional attention, resulting later in the year in the introduction of a bipartisan Senate bill (S.1305) calling for a doubling in the budget amount authorized for basic science and medical research over the next decade. When the smoke of the Congressional budget process cleared away and the final FY1998 R&D appropriations became available, the NSF, DOE's Basic Energy Sciences, and NIH received the requested 7% or more increase while, overall, an increase of roughly 4% had been appropriated. By late 1997, 100 societies had become involved in support of a "unified statement" calling for a "doubling of the nation's research budget during a 10-year period."

In early February, President Clinton's FY1999 budget request to Congress included 11% increases for the NSF and DOE, 9% for NIH, 8% for basic research overall, 6% for university research overall, and 7% overall for peer reviewed R&D programs. This is gratifying, although there is a long way to go before these increases are actually appropriated by the Congress. There is no agreement, as yet, on how the projected surplus in the FY1999 federal budget will be distributed, and there are many competing claims on the discretionary component of that budget. For the first time in history, however, the professional socieites have played a coherent and effective role in presenting the case for continued federal investment in science and technology.

Cooperation with Foreign Physical Societies. Early in 1997 we scheduled a planning meeting on international collaboration, to be held in October in Washington, DC. Topics discussed included electronic publishing, science policy and funding, physics education and public education, and physics and capacity building. All participants left the meeting feeling that the free and open discussions had been extremely valuable.

In the case of electronic publishing, we are in the middle of a very rapid and important transition, not only for what it portends in terms of publishing research results, but also for the fact that some 85% of the Society's total budget comes from its publishing activities. It is far from obvious how this will change as we become ever more electronic, although under the leadership of our new editor-in-chief, Marty Blume, we have made dramatic progress toward electronic publishing in the past year. It was encouraging to find from the discussion that all of the major national physical societies involved in significant publication activities faced roughly the same problems.

With regard to science policy and funding, the end of the Cold War removed much of the rationale for continuing investment in science and technology, and physicists, in particular, hadbeen monumentally ineffective in making the case for continuing federal investment in their field. The question that was emphasized throughout our discussions was how best to make changes in public policy, and to encourage better investment in physics. As noted above, our experience in the U.S. is that collaboration among the professional societies has the potential for major impact.

In the area of education, the recent release of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study underscores the scandalous situation in American pre-college education. While our students were roughly competitive with those of other nations at the end of grade 4, by the end of grade 8 they had fallen well below the average and by the end of grade 12, in physics they were at the absolute bottom of the list of 21 nations studied. All of the nations involved in our meeting faced the same problem of having too few students interested in physics as an undergraduate major, but we in the U.S. are in a class by ourselves when it comes to inferior quality of the education we are providing to our children and grandchildren.

There are no easy solutions, but it is clear from our discussions that objective standards, trained teachers, more work on the part of students, and greater parental involvement are all critically important. Information technology can be hekpful, but is certainly not the answer. Nor is more money. Last year we spent on the order of $550 billion on pre-college education, which is more per student than any place else in the world. We certainly cannot claim we've been getting our money's worth.

Convocations of Fellows. In conjunction with the fundraising aspects of the APS Campaign for Physics, a number of meetings specifically for Fellows of the Society have been held. Last year, however, we decided it was of particular importance to keep our Fellows more fully informed as to APS programs and activities. To this end, we planned regional meetings across the nation where such discussion and input could occur. The first was held in September in New York City, in which more than 130 Fellows from the New York and New England regions participated in a cocktail reception followed by an extended discussion on APS activities. The second such meeting was held in Washington last November, and the third was held in March during the APS March Meeting in Los Angeles. A fourth meeting was held in April during the Joint APS/AAPT Spring Meeting in Columbus, Ohio. We have had nothing but positive input concnering these meetings and I am sure they will continue as a regular feature of APS activities.

Capacity building - in the sense that it implies the development of indigenous career opportunies in all nations - and a more rapid industrialization and development process repies critically upon access to modern information technology. Too often we in the development world have attempted what we call "technology transfer" to other parts of the world without recognizing that there are absolutely critical requirements before such transfer can be effective. These include a stable agricultural economy, a stable political structure, and a stable and high quality educational enterprise. As Arthur Clarke once pointed out, for some 98% of the world's inhabitants, high technology remains totally indistinguishable from magic.

In this connection it is clearly the case that exchanges of scholars and students at every level are critical to capacity building. Technology transfer occurs only in the mind of humans. If we are to be effectve in applying physics or any science or technology to capacity building, it is essential that basic science andtechnology are recognized as fundamental components of national foreign policy and development. It hardly needs emphasis that this is important both for the developing and developed countries. As a specific example, we in the U.S. have never succeeded in making science or technology an integral part of the activities of our State Department. Centennial Celebration Planning. The 100th anniversary of the founding of the APS occurs in 1999, and will be celebrated at a major meeting during the week of March 20th in Atlanta, Georgia. Substantial planning has already begun in earnest with the hiring of a centennial director, Franmarie Kennedy, and the engagement of the Edelman Public Relations Firm to assist in improving our access to the media, and in developing clearly focused messages. We are making every effort to involve as many of the citizens of Atlanta and the surrounding regions during the celebration. For example, we are arranging for children to interact one-on-one with the more than 40 Nobel Laureates in physics who have confirmed their participation.

Among the projects essentially completed is a Physics Wall Chart, which we plan to make available to every U.S. secondary school and, if funding permits, to every elementary school. Much of that material, which covers the last century of physics, will also appear in a coffee table book for general audiences. A Centennial Speaker's Bureau has been assembled with more than 200 registrants - persons who have agreed to respond to requests for colloquia and seminars focusing in part on the history of physics over the past century. A complete photographic gallery of Nobel Laureates in physics will be on display, along with a comprehensive collection of photographs of leading physicists of the past century. In addition, many APS divisions are developing displays for the centenntial. Substantial planning has also been deovted to outdoor exhibits of physics experiments in local parks, as well as to theatrical and cultural events.

In conclusion, 1997 was a year of opportunities. We have made an important start in working with our sister societies to develop a more persuasive constituency for U.S. science and technology. Our collaboration with the international community of physicists already promises significant mutual benefits. Both personally and on behalf of my colleagues in the Presidential line, I would be remiss were I not to express again our profound thanks to the Senior Officers and the entire APS staff. They are a dedicated, creative and deeply motivated group, and it has been a great pleasure working with them.

Adapted from a talk given by D. Allan Bromley, Sterling Professor of the Sciences at Yale University, at the Joint APS/AAPT Spring Meeting in Columbus, Ohio. For the complete text of Dr. Bromley's Retiring Presidential Address, contact Amy Halsted, email: halsted@aps.org.

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Barrett H. Ripin

July 1998 (Volume 7, Number 7)

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Articles in this Issue
Educator/Student Day Draws Local High Schoolers
Highlights form Columbus, OH Spring Meeting: "Cosmic Chords," Quark Gluon Plasmas
Check out the Centennial Webpage
"Cosmic Chords" Support of Einstein's Theory
First Observation of Quark-Gluon Plasma?
A Century of Physics
Gala Event of the Century
Isidor Rabi: Scientist and Citizen
Recent Experiments on Exotic Atoms
Zero Gravity
In Brief
Speakers at Centennial Session Pay Tribute to Leo SzilardSpeakers at Centennial Session Pay Tribute to Leo Szilard
Physical Review Editorial Office Expanding
Council Structure to be Reviewed by Newly Established Task Force
Physics and Toys: Fun for Everyone
A Year of Opportunities: APS Retiring Presidential Address
Members To Choose New Leadership for 1999
Springtime Demos Illustrate Basic Physics Concepts
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