Chapter 1:

Science and Technology in Times of Transition: the 1940s and 1990s


Chapter Background  top

The National Science Board's (NSB) Science and Engineering Indicators—1998 report contained several cross-cutting themes; namely,

Many of the trends discussed in detail in the remaining chapters of Science and Engineering Indicators—2000 suggest the persistence of these themes, supporting the Board's conclusion about their importance in characterizing the policy context of the U.S. science and engineering enterprise in this time of transition to the 21st century.

Publication of Science and Engineering Indicators—2000 coincides with the 50th anniversary of the creation of the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1950. As the NSB and NSF prepare to make a transition into their second half-century, the Board believes it would be useful to reflect on the conditions that characterized U.S. science and engineering 50 years ago. NSF was created near the end of another significant time of transition from a period in which the country's science and engineering resources were mobilized for World War II to a period in which a system designed to facilitate partnerships in support of a broader set of national objectives had been put in place. Although the specific issues and concerns evident in documents from the late 1940s differ from those that are familiar today, several current science policy themes have antecedents dating from the period. A better understanding of the origins of these enduring themes can help in planning for the future.

Each of the remaining chapters of Science and Engineering Indicators—2000 touches upon notable themes and issues from the 1940s that are germane to the specific topics it considers. However, their emphasis is on the current situation, as has been the case for all earlier editions in the Science and Engineering Indicators series. The purpose of this chapter is to set the stage for the brief historical notes presented in these chapters by comparing and contrasting the resources available within the U.S. science and engineering enterprise, its organization, and significant science policy issues in the 1940s and in the 1990s. In effect, it presents two "snapshots," taken 50 years apart, and in that respect differs from the later chapters in this report, as well as chapters that have appeared in earlier reports in this series.

Chapter Organization  top

The next section of this chapter, "Highlights of the First Time of Transition: 1945--51," provides an overview of some of the principal congressional and administration decisions and actions that shaped U.S. science policy between the end of World War II and the establishment of the first Presidential Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) in April 1951.

"Early Visions/Key Policy Documents" considers the contexts of, and the visions contained in, two key policy documents from that first time of transition: Science—The Endless Frontier (Bush 1945a), delivered to President Harry S Truman in July 1945, and Science and Public Policy (Steelman 1947), delivered to Truman in August 1947.

Almost from the outset, the Board and Foundation have assigned a high priority to gathering and disseminating quantitative and qualitative information relevant to science policy. "Monitoring the Condition of the Science and Engineering Enterprise" discusses the expansion of activities in this area, culminating with the Board's decision to issue its first Science Indicators report in 1973 (NSB 1973).

All recent U.S. presidents, beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt, have recognized the importance of science and engineering to the Nation. President Truman was the first to do so in a public address that he gave in September 1948 at the 100th anniversary meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (Truman 1948). A section entitled "Presidential Statements" compares and contrasts the themes in that speech with those in the address of President William J. Clinton at the 150th anniversary meeting of the AAAS in February 1998 as a means of examining continuities and changes in U.S. science policy during the past half-century (Clinton 1998).

"Current Visions/Key Policy Documents" offers a snapshot of the current period of transition by highlighting two key policy documents from the 1990s: Science in the National Interest (Clinton and Gore 1994) and Unlocking Our Future (U.S. House of Representatives Science Committee 1998). A section entitled "Advances in Science and Engineering" follows, with illustrative examples of advances that have occurred in large measure from the policies set in place in the 1940s and maintained in broad outline during the ensuing half-century.

Similarities and distinctions between the earlier time of transition and the current situation are examined in more detail in "Enduring Themes: Continuity and Change," where the emphases associated with significant themes identified by the key documents from the 1940s are compared and contrasted with those in the key documents of the 1990s. Specific trends and issues are highlighted in the succeeding chapters of Science and Engineering Indicators—2000.

"Current Emerging Themes," the final section of the chapter, identifies themes that the Board believes will be important in the first decade of the new century, several of which it intends to address in detail in a series of forthcoming occasional papers.

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