Trends in Science and Technology Policy: The Here
and Now Versus the Ideal
Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Acting Deputy Director
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Conference on New Vistas in Transatlantic
Science and Technology Cooperation
National Academy of Sciences
June 8, 1998
Good morning. I am very pleased to participate in
today's discussion of transatlantic science and technology
cooperation. The last century is replete with transatlantic
collaborations of every nature from national security
alliances to matters as diverse as public policy and
political elections, scientific exchanges, and arts
and cultural events.
This plenary session on trends in science and technology
policy is part of all of our nations' long tradition
of bridging the broad Atlantic with good communication
and good ideas. This conference to inaugurate cooperation
under the new US-EU Science and Technology Agreement
extends that tradition into the 21st Century.
My assigned topic for this talk is "Trends in Science
and Technology Policy-the U.S. Perspective". While
I speak to this, my comments will be focused primarily
on what those trends should ideally be rather than
what they necessarily are now. The title of my remarks
is Trends in Science and Technology Policy:
The Here and Now Versus the Ideal.
Many of us here today are civil servants in the broadest
and most generous sense of that term. We serve as
officials of public institutions which often tend
toward bureaucratic-sclerosis over time. Our first
task, it seems to me, should be to commit ourselves
to proving INCORRECT the blessedly unknown scholar
who said, "Bureaucracy defends the status quo long
past the time when the quo has lost its status."
It is a humorous but not untrue commentary on the
danger of institutions holding onto the past instead
of lifting their sights to the future. Our task is
to recognize and retain what is valuable from the
past while envisioning a future based on inevitable
I should add that although the definition of bureaucracy
refers primarily to the public sector, bureaucrats
have been known to exist in the private sector too.
The difference is often their briefer period of survival.
We are fortunate indeed to have the able participation
and advice of some of industry's best talent with
us for this conference.
Let me begin with a comment by paleontologist and
evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould from his
recent essay in Science magazine (Science,
February 6, 1998). He said, "...science cannot be
separated from political change, if only because the
primary motor of social reorganization throughout
human history, from the advent of agriculture to the
acme of modern industry, has been fueled by...scientific
Although scientist and non-scientist alike can marvel
at the power of our knowledge in science and technology,
it is the intersection of this knowledge with the
goals and needs of society that is our larger responsibility.
From the first time that humans left the confines
of this planet to venture into space close to four
decades ago, the limited circle of our globe and the
even tighter circle of our dependency on each other
have become increasingly apparent. Those first photographs
of Earth taken from space spoke not only of our shape
and size in the universe but of our unity. We are
all citizens of the small blue planet. And on this
planet, the advancement of civilization has, in many
respects, been driven by the scientific and engineering
research of each succeeding generation.
We can all agree that science is a force absolutely
fundamental to our well-being and, in fact, survival.
Indeed, science and society are interdependent. There
is an inextricable relationship between the diverse
science, engineering, and technology activities in
all our nations and the public policy efforts that
enable populations, economies, and nations to reap
maximum benefit from advances in knowledge and understanding.
Although we know this connection by both instinct
and by example, we are only slowly coming to the recognition
that science and technology, and its concomitant policy,
must be seriously concerned with the many and great
unsolved problems of humankind. This latter premise
moves our planning and projections to another, quite
I do not in any way lightly dismiss the consistent
increase in science, engineering, and technological
knowledge that moves across national borders. Neither
do I discount the widening net of international collaborations,
not only among our nations, but with all nations.
These are positive and contributory trends.
But none of us can escape the contradiction in contemporary
society that we are able to do increasingly outstanding
science at the same time that many societal disparities
and problems are also increasing. Those of us in the
science and technology policy community are in a unique
position to address these issues. The deliberations
of this very meeting can establish, for the record,
a distinction between the current trends in science
and technology policy and the ideal trends for the
Although many in the science and engineering community
may not think of these matters as their individual
responsibility, one of history's most eminent scientists
spoke of this very issue decades ago. In 1931--before
World War II and in the deepest days of economic depression,
Einstein admonished the science community in an address
at the California Institute of Technology.
He said, "Concern for man himself and his fate must
always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors,
concern for the great unsolved problems of the organization
of labor and the distribution of goods--in order that
the creations of our mind shall be a blessing and
not a curse to mankind. Never forget this in the midst
of your diagrams and equations."
Here we are, sixty-seven years later finally building
consensus for his wisdom. Einstein takes us back to
our fundamental values as guidance -- our concern
for humanity and its fate. It is I believe in those
terms that we must work toward the more ideal trends
in science and technology policy in the 21st century.
Since the end of the Cold War in 1989, the era of
East-West rivalry has been eclipsed by an emerging
era of North-South realities and relationships. President
Clinton's recent trip to Africa exemplifies this recognition.
India and Pakistan's recent nuclear testing is also
part of that new reality. This emerging era comes
with new challenges, interdependent consequences,
shared international responsibilities, and mutual
opportunities. Much of the opportunity will be powered
by the world science and engineering community.
There is a global imperative to close the widening
gap between haves and have-nots--not through hand-outs
or hand-downs but through building knowledge and capacity
in poorer nations to enable them to create their own
wealth...although America is thought of as a rich
industrial nation we are facing a similarly widening
division within our own borders. Many of your nations
are experiencing similar phenomena. The gap between
rich and poor, and skilled and unskilled in our nations
or elsewhere in the world cannot bode well for our
In 1960, the world population was 3 billion. We all
know that by the turn of the century we will double
that number to 6 billion. This will have occurred
in less than four decades. Most of the world's population
growth and much of its economic expansion will occur
in the Southern Hemisphere. Here too will exist the
potential for the deepest problems of hunger, poverty,
and disease, as well as for energy supply, vast environmental
devastation and their incumbent emergencies.
Although the 130 plus developing countries already
account for 4/5 of the world's people, they only account
for 1/6 of its economic output. This pervasive condition
of poverty devastates individuals as well as nations,
and has far reaching implications for all the world's
citizens and nations. Poverty degrades the dignity
of us all as human beings no matter where it occurs,
North, South, East or West.
It is clear that Einstein would have us be mindful
to think not only of saving our planet for future
generations, but of saving the planet's current generation.
Our reverence for humanity's habitat must include
a reverence and compassion for humanity itself. Our
only hope of saving either rests in a commitment to
save both. Sustainable development cannot mean sustaining
poverty in those places where it exists.
The major problems facing the whole global society
are human problems. And they will require more than
technical solutions. These problems emerge out of
complex patterns of overlapping consequences.
For example, over the last several decades, the investment
that industrial nations have made in improved nutrition,
medical technologies, and public health have all coalesced
to boost life expectancy in Europe and the United
States from less than 47 years in 1890 to 75.5 years
in 1993. Japan has done even better. More recently,
this trend is also emerging in developing countries.
(Science. Vol. 273 . July 5, 1996) This
is surely an advance to celebrate for all humanity.
However, as this life-expectancy trend increases,
nations will struggle to support these elderly populations
with a decreasing proportion of their populations
at wage-earning age. Thus our triumph of better health
and longer life will also pose an economic dilemma.
Our job will be to create opportunity from this and
other impending dilemmas.
We cannot deny that there are overlapping consequences
of poverty, planetary devastation, illiteracy, aging
populations, communicable diseases, mass migrations
of immigrants, agricultural output, energy supply,
and others. Grappling with these issues collectively
might seem like a completely unmanageable task, at
best. But we do not have the luxury of making choices.
We do have new technological tools for innovative
approaches. We can, indeed, make the same leaps of
majestic proportion that created every other milestone
of human progress.
We know that energy, environment, and economics form
the triple challenge of the coming century; they are
inextricably wedded. We know that despite national
and cultural differences, every nation --big or small,
rich or impoverished, agricultural or industrial or
post-industrial (as some speculate), democratic or
dictatorial -- each is woven into the interlaced fabric,
some would say a post-industrial digital fabric, of
the world's economy and ecology.
We may be gathered today to contemplate future collaborations
among our several nations, and through the European
Union, but our vision must necessarily encompass a
far broader concern. These discussions are transatlantic
by association. But our genuine universe of thought
must be trans-global if we are to move from the "here
and now in science and technology trends toward the
I wish you every success in defining areas not only
for transatlantic cooperation but for global vision
as well. Thank you.