Dr. Neal Lane



July 14, 1997

As delivered

Good morning! I hope everybody's had their coffee -- I know Fred Bernthal and I needed ours to be on that 6:30 a.m. flight out of D.C. this morning!

It really is a pleasure to be here with colleagues from universities and laboratories from around the nation and around the world. Fermi Lab is a special place, with an extraordinary history of accomplishment in the sprit of Fermi and the continued vision and leadership from the firm of Wilson-Lederman and Peoples. I feel quite privileged to be included in your program this morning. I'm only sorry that I cannot be here for the substantive part of the program.

Today, I want to talk a bit about changes taking place in science and in government. While my remarks will mainly have to do with U.S. science and government, my experience with counterparts in other parts of the world tells me things are not so different in other countries.

While the time allotted for my talk this morning is 45 minutes, as the saying goes, no souls are saved after 20 minutes -- especially among us physicists! So, after 20 minutes I'd like to open this up to your questions as well as some discussion. You have insights that I am anxious to hear about. Besides -- even though I am from the government, and "here to help you", I don't know much about saving souls.

The topic of change and its relationship to our souls reminds me of a time in my cherished academic life when a colleague defended the budget for the physics department to the university provost. As this colleague gave it to the provost, the provost sighed and said, "Why is it that you physicists always require so much expensive equipment? Now, the math department requires nothing of me but money for paper, pencils and erasers." The university provost thought a while longer and added, "And the philosophy department is better still. It doesn't even ask for erasers."

For an instant, perhaps, my colleague might have wished he had been a stereotypical philosopher in that situation--assured to exist in a kind of luxury in that oftentimes intangible and unmeasurable environment. However, tangibility and accountability are now even more the order of the day in academe as well as government, and GPRA -- otherwise known as the Government Performance Results Act, or the Results Act, for short -- is upon us!

I need to take a few minutes to tell you about the Results Act, which the U.S. Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law in 1993. It is designed to improve the operation of all government programs by establishing a system of program performance goals and a method to measure the results. And, starting with FY 1999, all federal budgets will be performance based.

As mandated by the Congress, the National Science Foundation along with all other Federal agencies, is developing a five-year strategic plan that will be submitted to the Congress in September of this year. At this time we are soliciting views and suggestions on a draft of that plan which is available on the NSF World Wide Web Site at http://www.nsf.gov under the heading special notices. We are also holding two public meetings this month to hear comments. I strongly encourage you to comment via a link from the draft plan on the Web site or by e-mail to gpraplan@nsf.gov. The comment period closes August 1.

Please keep several things in mind as you look at the draft plan. First, it is a draft. Second, some of the jargon and structure reflects requirements in the Act. Third, performance will have to be measured in some credible way. So one needs to be careful with bold statements about predicted outcomes of the NSF programs and impact on society. It may trouble you to hear me refer to the impact on society. Let me say a word about that. I doubt that anyone of us disagrees with a statement that excellent research in science and engineering does benefit society in countless ways, making it one of the best investments taxpayers can make for the future of their country. Moreover, many researchers choose their fields and projects with societal benefits in mind, even if the research itself is quite fundamental and intellectually challenging. But, measuring those benefits, let alone predicting them rightfully gives us pause. And, increasingly, that is what we are going to be asked to do, in a balanced budget environment.

With that in mind, I'd like to move on to talk about some of NSF's key investments in the emerging areas of science and engineering for the coming year. Our FY98 budget request -- which Congress is now considering -- strongly reaffirms our commitment to academic research, and to linking the research process with teaching and learning.

Our bottom line increases by 3 percent, to just under $3.4 billion. This is an increase of nearly $100 million -- or $97 million to be precise -- over our current funding level and represents a very good budget request in the present circumstances. And most of our research budget focuses on core support of excellent research in all disciplines of science and engineering.

With regard to physics, NSF's request for the Physics Division for FY 1998 is $148.22 million, up from $138.72 million in FY 1997, which represents a 6.8 percent increase. Research project support constitutes roughly $104 million of this figure, with the remaining $44 million funding being put towards facilities both national and international in scope. I should also note that these numbers do not include construction for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, LIGO, which is nearly fully paid for as an NSF-wide priority. In other words, most of the funds for LIGO did not come from the Physics budget.

In addition to providing strong support for the core programs of each of the disciplines, we are also focusing some of our budget on a few broad themes or areas that the research community considers to have particular promise.

One of the broad themes that describe priority areas for NSF in FY 1998 is what we refer to as Knowledge & Distributed Intelligence or KDI.

KDI is a broad-based, multi-disciplinary effort that aims to keep academic science and engineering at the leading edge of information technologies and to insure that the necessary research is supported to advance those technologies. It is perhaps the most encompassing venture NSF has ever pursued. It cuts across all fields of science and engineering research and touches education at all levels. And, clearly it is relevant to the trends and technologies that are driving growth and opportunity in our economy and society -- from networks to sensors to virtual reality systems.

KDI will support research to help make the next (quantum) leap forward in terms of both scientific progress and consequent economic and societal benefit. New approaches to computing, intelligent Web browsers, technologies for learning, and smart, efficient and reliable methods of handling huge amounts of data of all types are just a few of the advances and benefits that have deep roots in academic research across a wide range of fields and disciplines. It is impossible to predict the next level of tools and capabilities. But, we can be confident that the researchers will find them, and they will be spectacular!

For FY98, we are seeking an increase of nearly $60 million for our portfolio of KDI activities, which currently total nearly $360 million. This will cover NSF's role in the Next Generation Internet, as well as a set of multidisciplinary activities such as learning and intelligent systems and knowledge-based networking. The research focus in these areas will include how to merge computation, data and representation for highly complex problems such as real time storm predictions and environmental modeling. More broadly speaking, we'll be trying to determine ways to manage and make productive use of the flood of information released by emerging technologies.

An overarching theme for KDI and NSF's programming generally is our commitment to linking research with education. NSF is launching an experimental, $20 million activity to broaden graduate training. It's known as IGERT, the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training Program. The integration of research and education was one of the key themes to emerge from our strategic plan, and it has become a central feature of programs throughout the Foundation. In our FY98 request, you'll see that programs like Research Experiences for Undergraduates, CAREER, and GOALI (Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry) are all slated for major increases. All of these aim to make research and discovery an essential part of the learning process for both graduate students and undergraduates.

Fermi Lab is well-known for a number of important initiatives it has established to bring the excitement of research to young people. I commend this Laboratory for doing so. This is a great challenge for science and engineering in general, but change comes only through understanding and commitment, both of which are clearly in evidence here.

Instrumentation remains a high priority for NSF. In FY 1998 we are continuing our $50 million program of competitive grants to support Major Research Instrumentation, as well as providing on the order of $180 million for instruments and equipment through grants and other support mechanisms. And, in addition to LIGO, which I mentioned earlier, we have several major construction projects in the FY 98 request. And others, such as the Large Hedron Collider (LHC), are on the near horizon.

So, where are we right now in the budget process? Congressional appropriations activities are in full swing at this point and NSF's budget continues to make its way through the vast labyrinth of committees and considerations. The House of Representatives will mark up most, if not all of its appropriations bills during mid-to-late July, and the Senate is beginning to do the same (good HR committee mark ). Before the end of September if all goes well, the Foundation, along with the rest of the Federal Government, will have a budget for FY 1998 starting October 1. This of course is the most ideal of scenarios. The fact is there will be all sorts of machinations that will determine how science and engineering research and education ultimately fare -- in both the short and long term.

One of the important framework elements of the discussion regarding the federal budget has been the Budget Agreement developed in May by the President and the Congress. This Agreement laid out the blueprints for a plan to balance the budget by the year 2002. Ultimately, this Agreement should help put the nation on solid fiscal footing as we head into the new century. For all of us who care about research and education however, this long-sought agreement does not mean everything is OK and our work is done. Quite the contrary. Our voices all our voices will need to be heard more clearly than ever.

The focus of the Budget Agreement was on discretionary programs rather than entitlements to achieve the majority of the savings necessary to balance the budget. And to some extent this further shrinks the pool of money available for federal R&D, and it certainly increases the competition for ever-scarcer resources, especially among nondefense programs. Discretionary spending as some of you may know, includes most of what we think of as "government": parks, prisons, highways, food safety, and many other functions, including NSF, NASA, Dept. of Interior, EPA, NOAA and other nondefense R&D activities.

Thirty years ago, non-defense discretionary spending activities accounted for nearly a quarter of all Federal spending. Today they constitute barely 1/6th of the total. Even more disconcerting is that this 1/6th of the pie will shrink to roughly 1/7th of the pie over the next five years, as entitlements grow by more than 20%. The implications of this trend for science and engineering should be of concern to all of us. It helps us understand how all the good will and good works about science and research do not show up very strongly in the budget numbers at the end of the appropriation cycle.

While the Budget Agreement does not translate immediately into reality, I do view its implications for federal R&D as one of a series of particularly significant "warning shots across the bow" -- a "warning shot" which I hope is heard around the country and throughout the entire science and engineering community. I also view it as a cautionary signal which provides us some time (but not much) and opportunity to continue to communicate to the Congress how vital this country's investment in science and engineering is to the nation's welfare. Whatever you may think, members of congress do pay attention to what their constituents say. If there is no sense of public alarm about a long steady decline in federal support for research, then that is most likely what we will see happen!

You may have heard the story about how Albert Einstein's theories and investigations were an almost impenetrable mystery to his second wife, Elsa who was not an intellectual. "Couldn't you tell me a little about your work?" she complained one day. "People talk a lot about it, and I appear so stupid when I say I know nothing." Einstein thought for a minute or two, and frowning deeply as he searched for a way to begin his explanation, his face cleared and he proclaimed, "If people ask, tell them you know all about it, but can't tell them, as it is a great secret!" (Source: The Little Brown Book of Anecdotes, pg. 188.)

While we might appreciate Einstein's humor, the reality is, the general public believes that we scientists do want our work to be a great secret! Unfortunately, we have not done a very good job of sharing the excitement of new scientific knowledge or the adventurous nature of scientific discovery with the world at large. We are in fact, often compelled by the reclusiveness of a laboratory and a small circle of like-minded colleagues. Yet it is the rest of society that supports the opportunity for us to pursue that satisfying work. I believe it must be our responsibility, in the role of "civic scientists" to provide them the opportunity to learn about that which is so satisfying to us as scientists, and so important to society's well-being.

Again, I want to congratulate Fermi Lab for their outreach beyond the research community and for it activities to communicate more broadly and explicitly the value of the important work that is being done here. The practical exercise on the part of the Fermi Lab users to publish what is referred to as a "plain English version" of the results of your research is an important step forward. It is a significant effort to connect with the community and to provide the practical implications of your work and its relationship to society. It is also to my mind, an important gesture of acknowledgment and appreciation to those who have supported us all along because they continue to believe in what the science and engineering community is doing.

Likewise, the Fermi Lab's work with K-12 students is exemplary. And your commitment to reach outside of normal boundaries has afforded opportunities to kids of all backgrounds and from all communities to experience the excitement of physics. Later today I hope to take a tour of the Lederman Science Center which provides marvelous experiences for children to learn early on the exhilaration of discovery and exploration. I'm looking forward to that.

All these kids you are reaching today won't become scientists. But, they will become part of an informed public. An important excerpt from a recently released report by the National Bioethics Commission to President Clinton on the subject of cloning human beings quite aptly describes why it is so important to reach beyond our immediate boundaries to the public at large. The report states, "...science is both a public and social enterprise and its application can have profound impact,....Americans in this era, relative to earlier generations, have a wide interest in and substantial knowledge of science. Nevertheless, in the weeks following the report of Dolly, the public, the media, and even some scientists demonstrated a surprising lack of understanding of the science involved in cloning. The [NBAC] Commission believes that public debate about issues such as human cloning requires an even more educated populace. Science policy has become public policy, which can be decided wisely only by an informed nation."

If science were a private and isolated enterprise, perhaps we scientists could afford to remain unconcerned about this disconnect. However, the Bioethics Commission was correct in its pronouncement that "science is both a public and social enterprise..." Science profoundly affects all of our lives. If the science community and the public cannot communicate with each other, the likelihood that a public that feels dismissed or ignored will want to continue to support the financing of new research frontiers seems at best, uncertain.

The communication should not be a one-way process in which the scientists talk and teach and the public listens and learns. On the contrary, the research community has as much or more to learn from the public as it has to teach that public. How then does that happen? There is a social, political, and philosophical context in which all activity takes place in a society. Without an understanding and appreciation of that context, the science community can misunderstand the public's sentiments and needs. This process of dialogue where the public learns something of the science involved is the same process that teaches scientists about the public view of the larger context for their scientific work. This critical process of dialogue cannot be learned overnight when a new development emerges or when a crisis occurs. It must be part of our public habit, firmly in place and functioning with trust on both sides.

In speaking to numerous groups of scientists and engineers over the last year, I have pointed out that NSF (National Science Foundation) surveys show a strong public interest in science and appreciation of its value. Nevertheless, in those same surveys the public indicates little confidence in its ability to understand that same science. (maybe they know more than previous generations, but the needs and demands are greater today) I believe that this disconnect of the public being interested in science and at the same time feeling inadequate about understanding it perhaps says more about us, the science community, than it does about the public.

Over the last half century, scientists in America, and I believe in other countries as well, have been accustomed to working in the relative isolation of our universities and laboratories, immersed in the autonomy of our own work. At the same time, the world outside has been increasingly defined in scientific and technological terms.

And so, the public does not have good grounding for the imminent debate about cloning, or for that matter on other issues of science and society. And I would argue that the science and engineering community does not have good grounding in dialogue with the public about either the science or its societal implications and concerns. As a civilization, we cannot afford for this situation to continue.

I am not convinced that scientific and technological literacy or the ability to make judgments about science and technology depends on the accumulation of specific detailed knowledge, e.g., to speak a "heresy," the point is not to know the difference between a quark and a lepton. Even Ph.D. scientists and engineers can not have thorough grounding in every field. What is needed is the ability to probe, to question, to grasp concepts, and most important, I believe, to develop some confidence in the consensus that forms in the research community about a discovery or advance.

What then am I trying to convey about the term scientific and technological literacy? I believe that such literacy for the electorate is not an ever-increasing body of factual detail but rather an ever-expanding universe of understanding. The accumulation of mere facts is like being able to recite the alphabet but not knowing that words come from that same collection of characters. The ability to grasp concepts, principles, and processes is a path to holistic comprehension.

We scientists often find it hard to abandon even briefly the detail of our disciplined work. However, in order to bridge the gap between science and society, and between the scientist and the public, we as scientists will have to help in that effort by moving to a different level of discourse. We can begin to depict our knowledge more in terms of the process by which we learn and discover. That process is the demanding, testing, skeptical regimen of the scientific method. We can portray our work in the way that physicist and novelist C.P. Snow suggested when he said, "Science is the refusal to believe on the basis of hope."

Our challenge as the community of scientists is to learn that the detail and obscure terminology of our fields is not the path to public understanding of our work. And as a group, we will need to incorporate analogy and even metaphor as tools for helping others to understand. It is, I believe, in this way that we can increase public confidence in absorbing and knowing science. I should add that I particularly include myself in these lessons and instructions. I can tell you from experience that it is much easier to suggest this to others than to successfully carry it off yourself.

In the last year we have had to consider the possibilities and implications of cloning technology, of microbial life-forms in the now famous Mars-rock, the possibility of planets beyond our solar system, and the discovery of unique life forms in varied and extreme environments. What we can discern from this diverse new knowledge is humankind's ability to accelerate the discovery clock beyond our wildest predictions.

Scientists are powerful players in contemporary society but what we are discovering is that the exercise of that power to do research and create new abilities from new knowledge carries with it responsibilities far beyond our laboratories. We must help the public understand the nature and the value of science. And whatever our national languages, we must speak in ways the general public can understand. And we must listen and learn from the society at large in order to be better researchers, better teachers, and better communicators. This is our challenge.

Thank you for including me today. And thank you for your continued devotion to scientific research and education. I know "you can't help yourselves". But, what you do is important. Your colleagues in Washington will continue to do whatever we can to keep the enterprise healthy. But we will need your help.

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