Volume 28, Number 1 January 1999




On Sept. 24, the long-awaited study by Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) on a new federal science policy was completed. The report is entitled "Toward a New National Science Policy" and is to serve as "a guide in long-term development of America's science policy".

Ehlers described the document as an "interim report", since much work is left to be done. He acknowledged that the report "does not explore any particular issue in great depth. It is instead a broad-brush view of the entire science and engineering enterprise....The work of addressing specific science policy issues will have to come later....It is my hope that we will do so in the next Congress." The full 74 page report can be found at this site

The Chair of the Science Committee, James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) said that "the clear message of the report is that, while not exactly broke, America's science policy is nonetheless in need of some pretty significant maintenance....In my view what makes this report different from other science policy reports published by various groups over the years, some of them very good, is the Committee on Science's intention to act on its recommendations in future oversight hearing and in legislation. Indeed, this report should not be seen as the end, but rather the beginning of a long process that will involve Congress, the Executive branch, the States, universities and industry all working together". OSTP Director Neal Lane said, "In general, I find the Committee's report to be harmonious with the President's established science policy goals", while NSF Director Rita Colwell commented, "I am particularly pleased that the report emphasizes the critical role of federal support for fundamental research, and especially for merit based investments in university research". Rep. George Brown (D-CA) was more critical, charging that the report "still satisfies mainly the needs of the status quo"

The summary of the report, which is 3,000 words long, was given in the AIP's FYI #138. Selected excerpts from the summary follow:

"New ideas form the foundation of the research enterprise. It is in our interests for the Nation's scientists to continue pursuing fundamental, ground-breaking research. Our experience with 50 years of government investment in basic research has demonstrated the economic benefits of this investment.

"Notwithstanding the short-term projections of budget surpluses, the resources of the federal government are limited. This reality requires setting priorities for spending on science and engineering.

"The primary channel by which the government stimulates knowledge-driven basic research is through research grants made to individual scientists and engineers. Direct funding of the individual researcher must continue to be a major component of the federal government's research investment. However, if limited funding and intense competition for grants causes researchers to seek funding only for "safe" research, the R&D enterprise as a whole will suffer.

"The national laboratories are a unique national resource within the research enterprise, but there are concerns that they are neither effective nor efficient in pursuing their missions. A new type of management structure for the federal labs may provide one solution and deserves exploration.

"Partnerships in the research enterprise can be a valuable means of getting the most out of the federal government's investment. Cooperative Research and Development Agreements are an effective form of partnership that leverages federal research funding and allows rapid commercialization of federal research. Partnerships between university researchers and industries also have become more prevalent as a way for universities to leverage federal money and industries to capture research results without building up in-house expertise.

"While most international collaborations occur between individuals or laboratories, the U.S. participates in a number of large-scale collaborations where the costs of large-scale science projects can be shared among the participants. Our experience with international collaborations has not been uniformly successful, as our participation in Mir and the International Space Station demonstrates.

"Large-scale international projects often take place over many years, requiring stable funding over long periods. The annual appropriations cycle in Congress can lead to instability in the funding stream for these projects, affecting our ability to participate. It is also important that international science projects not appear to be simply foreign aid in the guise of research.

"The State Department must broaden its scientific staff expertise to help formulate scientific agreements that are in America's interest. The evidence suggests that the State Department is not fulfilling this role.

"To exploit the advances made in government laboratories and universities, companies must keep abreast of technology developments. The RAND Corporations RaDiUs database and the National Library of Medicine's PubMed database serve useful purposes in disseminating information.

"Intellectual property protections are critical to stimulating the private sector to develop scientific and engineering discoveries for the market. The Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, which granted the licensing rights of new technologies to the researchers who discover them, has served both the university and commercial sectors reasonably well.

"While the federal government may, in certain circumstances, fund applied research, there is a risk that using federal funds to bridge the mid-level research gap could lead to unwarranted market interventions and less funding for basic research. It is important, therefore, for companies to realize the contribution investments in mid-level research can make to their competitiveness.

"For science to play any real role in legal and policy decisions, the scientists performing the research need to be seen as honest brokers. One simple but important step in facilitating an atmosphere of trust between the scientific and the legal and regulatory communities is for scientists and engineers to engage in open disclosure regarding their professional background, affiliations and their means of support.

"Peer review constitutes the beginning, not the end, of the scientific process, as disagreement over peer-reviewed conclusions and data stimulate debates that are an integral part of the process of science. Eventually, scientists generate enough new data to bring light to previously uncertain findings.

"Aside from being based on a sound scientific foundation, regulatory decisions must also make practical sense. The importance of risk assessment has too often been overlooked in making policy. We must accept that we cannot reduce every risk in our lives to zero and must learn to deploy limited resources to the greatest effect.

"The judicial branch of government increasingly requires access to sound scientific advice. Scientific discourse in a trial is usually highly contentious, but federal judges have recently been given the authority to act as gatekeepers to exclude unreliable science from the courtroom. More and more judges will seek out qualified scientists to assist them in addressing complex scientific questions. How these experts are selected promises to be an important step in the judicial process.

"No factor is more important in maintaining a sound R&D enterprise than education. Yet student performance on the recent TIMSS highlights the shortcomings of current K-12 science and math education in the U.S. New modes of teaching math and science are required.

"Perhaps as important, it is necessary that a sufficient quantity of teachers well-versed in math and science be available. Another disincentive to entry into the teaching profession for those with a technical degree is the relatively low salaries K-12 teaching jobs offer compared to alternative opportunities.

"The revolution in information technology has brought with it exciting opportunities for innovative advances in education and learning. As promising as these new technologies are, however, their haphazard application has the potential to adversely affect learning.

"Increased support for Masters programs would allow students to pursue an interest in science without making the long commitment to obtaining a Ph.D. and thus attract greater numbers of students to careers in science and technology. The length of time involved and the commensurate forfeiture of income and benefits in graduate training in the sciences and engineering is a clear disincentive to students deciding between graduate training in the sciences and other options.

"Educating the general public about the benefits and grandeur of science is also needed to promote an informed citizenry and maintain support for science. Both journalists and scientists have responsibilities in communicating the achievements of science. However, the evidence suggests that the gap between scientists and journalists is wide and may be getting wider. As important as bridging the gap between scientists and the media is, there is no substitute for scientists speaking directly to people about their work. All too often, scientists or engineers who decide to spend time talking to the media or the public pay a high price professionally, as such activities take precious time away from their work, and may thus imperil their ability to compete for grants or tenure."



In the traditional wild rush to pass appropriations bills, the gains made by science research early in the process were maintained. The proposed Research Fund for America would have substantially increased science funding, but the money was to come from the anticipated tobacco settlement, which died. Nonetheless, science was popular this year in Congress, and did well in the appropriations process. The Senate also passed S. 2217, authorizing a doubling in funding for federal civilian research. Over a third of all senators were cosponsors of this legislation.

NSF: The total budget for the foundation was increased by 7.1%, somewhat less than the administration request. The funding for Research and Related Activities was up by 8.8%, while Education and Human Resources was up 4.7%. There was no funding for the Polar Cap Observatory. Heavy-handed Senate language directing spending was stricken from the final bill.

ENERGY: The High Energy Physics Program of the DOE was increased by 2.4%, more than requested, while the Nuclear Physics budget was up 4.4%. The budget for Basic Energy Sciences increases 21.1% and included funding for the Spallation Neutron Source. The Fusion budget declined slightly from last year.

DEFENSE: The total basic research budget increased 6.8% over last year. In the previous year, Congress had frozen this budget.

NASA: The total appropriation is higher than the requested amount. Space Science is up 6.8%, and Earth Sciences is up 3.4%, both more than requested. Life and Microgravity Sciences were increased 23%. The space station received exactly what the administration requested.

NIST: The lab budget rose 1.2%, somewhat less than requested. The Advanced Technology Program received 5.7% more than last year. The Manufacturing Extension Partnership and NIST Construction were both funded at the requested amount.


Decisions will be made soon about the FY 2000 budgets. A letter was sent by 33 scientific and technical organizations, including the APS, MRS, AAPT, AAS and others, to the White House in early November. It read:

"We recognize and applaud your efforts to boost federal investments in research and development in your FY 1999 budget proposal. We urge you to take advantage of the bipartisan support for research and development shown in the FY 1999 appropriations bills, as well as by S. 2217, and accord R&D a continuing high priority within your administration.

"Your FY 2000 budget request represents an unprecedented opportunity to capitalize on the growing bipartisan movement toward increased investment in federal research and development. We urge you to take the lead on this critical issue and include in your FY2000 budget R&D support that meets or exceeds the Federal Research Investment Act (S 2217) target for doubling federal research and development over the next twelve years.

"Despite its importance for our nation's prosperity and security, federal R&D investments today are less than half of what they were thirty years ago when measured against the gross domestic product. Moreover, during the last three decades, civilian R&D spending has fallen from 6.5 cents of every federal dollar to 1.9 cents.

"The research investments we made a quarter of a century ago led to the technologies of today, upon which we depend so heavily: for our jobs, our national security, our standard of living, our health and our quality of life. As we approach the 21st century, technological development, fueled by investments in research, will be increasingly critical for maintaining our global competitiveness and addressing the urgent national issues of environment, health care and education. The research investments we make today will determine how our children will live tomorrow".

The letter was sent in early November. While there are projected surpluses this year, there are major pressures coming from both sides of the aisle. The President has vowed that Social Security is to be rescued, and that the surplus cannot be touched until a plan is reached; the Congressional Republicans are pushing for a major tax cut. Both of these will cost money. The President's formal FY2000 budget request will be sent to Congress shortly after the beginning of the year.



In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the American Physical Society, the March and April meetings are being combined into a huge meeting to be held in Atlanta on March 20-26th. It will be the largest physics meeting ever held. Following are the sessions sponsored by the Forum on Physics and Society:

Sunday (3/21), 2-5 PM: Special centennial session on "science policy for the new millennium"

Monday, 1:15-5 PM: "Science, Junk Science and Pseudoscience"

Tuesday, 1:15-5 PM: "Physicists as Concerned Citizens"

Wednesday, 11-2 PM: "Arms Control and National Security"

Wednesday, 2-5 PM: "Centennial session--History of Physics in the National Defense"

Thursday, 8-11 AM: The Forum Awards Session

Thursday, 11-2 PM: Energy and the Environment

The FPS Executive Committee meets Sunday morning and early afternoon. Monday morning is reserved for a talk by either the President or the Vice-President.



In November, Dr. Rush Holt, assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, was elected to Congress as a Democrat in New Jersey's 12th Congressional District. He upset the incumbent, Republican Michael Pappas, who was best known for singing "Twinkle, twinkle , Kenneth Starr, now we know how brave you are" on the floor of the House. He is the second physicist in Congress; the first is Dr. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI).

Holt's campaign was followed closely in the scientific community (he received contributions from 14 Nobel Prize winners). When asked why a scientist would leave a good job at a major laboratory to go into politics, Holt replied "Politics wasn't that big a step for me. This is the first office that I've run for, but I've worked on Capitol Hill in the early 80's in the office of Congressman Bob Edgar as a science, defense and education adviser, and I worked at the State Dept. during the Bush administration doing arms control".

Holt said that it important that there be scientists in Congress because "a science background is important for understanding the limitations of some policies. Scientists are in a position to define what is possible. There are examples where policy makers promote programs that just are .... fallacious, that essentially are prohibited by the laws of science. Legislative calls for a space-based Star Wars system had some aspects of this." He strongly supports substantially increased research into alternative energy sources, and promoting ideas (such as tax credits) that increase research and development.

Given that the other physicist in Congress (Ehlers) has had such a huge influence in science policy (see the above news item), one can expect that the two-member "bipartisan physics caucus" will have a great deal of influence on both sides of the aisle. Now, if we can just double the number of physicists in Congress in every election for the next decade........



Earlier this year, Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD), chair of the Technology Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, introduced legislation (HR3007) called the "Advancement of Women is Science, Engineering and Technology Development Act", which establishes a commission to study the factors that have contributed to the relative lack of women in science, engineering and technology, and to issue findings and recommendations to improve practices related to recruiting, retaining and advancing women scientists and engineers. Earlier this fall, the APS Council endorsed this legislation. During the wild budget weeks of early October, the bill was shepherded through the House and Senate, and was signed by the President in mid October. Hearings will begin early next year.