1. Introduction

  2. A Record of Discovery in Science and Technology

  3. Opportunities for the Ages

  4. The Role of Policy

  5. Conclusions

". . . each new branch of science can open wondrous new opportunities while posing societal challenges that will require vigilance and insightful management."

Floyd Bloom 16

The future of science and technology will require more wise policy decisions about how to use the Nation's resources to the greatest benefit. Policy is a management tool for nurturing, distributing, and harvesting the creativity of S&T. In choices made daily by decisionmakers in the public and private sectors, Federal policy clasps the invisible hand of the market. The result is an evolving research economy in science and engineering that continues to spur intellectual endeavor, increase participation by those talented and trained, and capture innovations for the public good.

Origins. The progress of science and technology appears so inevitable that the role of policy choices is not often highlighted. Knowledge may appear to unfold in a "natural" course, but sponsorship, and increasingly stewardship, have played a key role in the 20th century.

With the passage of time, early visions of science for society have come to embody a set of national values and objectives that provide a framework for policy development.17 Two key policy documents are virtually synonymous with these values: Vannevar Bush's "Report to the President on a Program for Postwar Scientific Research" (subsequently known as Science—the Endless Frontier, July 1945), and Science and Public Policy (the "Steelman Report," August 1947). Each report emphasized the bipartisan nature of Federal funding for science and established a core principle that remains among the strengths of the U.S. research system: a strong commitment to partnerships, especially those rooted in the exchange of Federal support of research in universities for the production of knowledge, innovation, and trained personnel for the Nation's workforce.

The Bush Report was not a science policy blueprint. However, it contained the seeds of ideas that have come to be known as "policy-for-science" -- issues focused on funding levels, sources, incentives, and priorities for research, and the development and utilization of human resources for science and engineering. In contrast, the Steelman Report encompassed "science-for-policy" issues concerned with the uses of scientific knowledge and capabilities for governance and in the service of the larger society.

The first summary volume of Science and Public Policy employed 10-year projections to support recommendations about the resources required to assist the U.S. science and engineering enterprise in addressing national objectives. Significantly, one projection called for a doubling of national R&D expenditures during the succeeding 10 years.18 This was before the launch of Sputnik and the National Defense Education Act of 1958, which accelerated a rising national consciousness about S&T careers and science education and ratcheted up the Federal R&D budget.

Revisiting the Origins. As the 20th century came to a close, the United States faced the novel challenge of redefining its goals and priorities in the post-Cold War era. While the importance of science and engineering to the Nation was unquestioned, a clear and uncomplicated rationale rivaling "national security" was lacking. When the "balanced budget" became an overriding priority by 1995, competition for scarce resources grew fierce among claimants to the "discretionary" budget. Long-term investments such as R&D were decidedly vulnerable.

By the mid-1990s, two major Federal policy reports sought to reexamine science policy in a changing economic, political and social context. Both emphasized science in service to society while reaffirming a commitment to university-based research and improved science and mathematics education.

The 1994 Clinton-Gore blueprint, Science in the National Interest, reiterated the core values that have enabled the Nation to achieve so much through fundamental science --the strength of investigator-initiated research and merit review by expert peers. The report suggested a framework for national science policy organized around five goals deemed essential for the U.S. scientific and engineering enterprise: leadership across the frontiers of scientific knowledge; connections between fundamental research and national goals; partnerships that promote investments in fundamental science and engineering and effective use of physical, human and financial resources; the finest scientists and engineers for the twenty-first century; and scientific and technological literacy of all Americans.19

A congressional perspective came in the form of a special study in 1998 by the House Committee on Science led by Congressman Vernon Ehlers. Unlocking Our Future: Toward a New National Science Policy noted that the scientific enterprise needed to "ensure that the well of scientific discovery does not run dry . . . ," that "discoveries from this well must be drawn continually and applied to the development of new products or processes . . . ," adding that "education . . . [produces] the diverse array of people who draw from and replenish the well of discovery . . ." and amplifies "the lines of communication between scientists and engineers and the American people."20

Both reports employed a participatory process, increasing the credibility of subsequent decisionmaking and asserting a continuity of organizing principles tempered by new economic realities: university-based research in a global context; partnerships across disciplines, organizations, and sectors; and public accountability. Each report also acknowledged the indispensability of Federal research investments in a 21st century S&T enterprise shaped by information technology and attuned to societal needs. Predicting that a broad bipartisan consensus would likely continue, the reports warned of funding constraints and the need to establish priorities for Federal support and demonstrate contributions to attaining societal goals.

Finally, like Bush and Steelman, both reports assigned a high priority to human resources as an integral element of science policy. Cultivating an increasingly diverse student body to renew the workforce of a global economy requires quality science education at the K-12 level. Our education system could serve more students far better than it does, especially those in urban and rural areas born into disadvantage. High standards, expectations, and accountability alone cannot rescue schools lacking the resources to support mathematics and science learning to prepare students for the 21st century workforce. This demands well-trained, -equipped, and -rewarded teachers. 21

Visionary Federal documents issued a half-century apart attest to a consistency of values. The mingling of curiosity and opportunity, largely undirected and fostered in a climate of open exchange, has produced an unparalleled national record of performance and progress in knowledge and innovation.

This legacy has also yielded an irony -- times may change, but policy issues remain much the same. Questions persist about the appropriate Federal role in funding the enterprise: How much is enough? What constitutes a strategic balance among problems, disciplines, and levels of funding? As private R&D funding accounts for two-thirds of total national R&D, are investments being skewed toward the short-term, industrial end of the research continuum?

Over 50 years ago, the Bush and the Steelman reports identified fundamental policy values: ample human resources for science and engineering, a vigorous science and engineering infrastructure for research, a robust government-university partnership to advance knowledge in conjunction with education and training, and a symbiosis between fundamental research and national goals. These values endure.

A Changing Federal Role? What, then, should be the Federal role in a global context -- one in which multinational corporations influence significant parts of the Nation's research agenda? How should challenges facing society inform methodologies for priority setting in research? What mechanisms effectively build broad public and scientific support for, and involvement in, the priority setting process? Who is monitoring the incremental growth of the knowledge base and opportunities emerging at the interstices of disciplines? And what education and training are appropriate for producing versatile workers who face a growing diversity of employment prospects and careers? Whatever the responses -- policies, programs, and initiatives -- the Federal portfolio must be diverse, flexible, and opportunistic, drawing on the creative strengths of many fields and employing a range of organizational strategies.

While individual serendipity -- an aspect of organized science for over 300 years -- and collaborations among scientists and engineers (virtually if not physically) grow, the S&T enterprise must adapt to the exigencies imposed by scale, resources, and organizational complexity. Planning and coordination among partners within a framework that is explicitly global must promote collaboration without diminishing the system's competitive energy. An overarching goal is developing strategies to enhance global scientific communication, international exchanges of students and technical personnel, and databases to sustain research and discovery in the international arena.22

A sequence of sage decisions made over an expansive period of science and technology has brought us to this point. That is the resounding message of the Federal science policy reports of the last half-century. The current generation of stewards must apply the same ingenuity to endow our social structures with the wisdom of experience and the tools of analysis. This legacy guides the National Science Board in promoting and anticipating the needs of S&T as an institution.23

Science and Engineering Indicators—2000, like the volumes that have preceded it, can be an anchor for policymakers awash in information and contradictory claims. Just as we accumulate systematic knowledge about the enterprise, Indicators should illuminate signposts to its future. By definition, indicators are retrospective and heuristic, not explanatory. In combination, they may reveal patterns or suggest relationships that call for more intensive analysis. We offer some examples below.

Investments and Returns. While the system of national support of S&T has flourished, Federal funding across disciplines has shifted. "The life sciences now account for more than 50 percent of the U.S. Federal investment in basic research . . . . Today's strong Federal support for the life sciences is warranted because biomedical research is on the cusp of a revolution in preventative medicine and treatment. Nevertheless, today's overall research budget is increasingly out of balance."24

When is the Federal R&D portfolio -- interagency initiatives as well as agency mission-based programs -- diversified too little or too much? How can we tell when basic research seems constricted relative to applied investments? How do management, regulation, and accountability foster inquiry without unduly fettering it?

What has worked in the past could shackle the future. Concern for imbalance among fields and research problems is a challenge to policymakers, as is priority setting, especially when funding lags the pace of discovery and application. R&D, after all, is one national investment among many. Until recently, the so-called productivity paradox, captured by the maxim "computers are everywhere except the productivity statistics," dogged investments. Today, the value of information technology is no longer in doubt.25 Experts argue that, in an $8.8 trillion knowledge-based economy, more than 2.8 percent of the Nation's GDP should be devoted to R&D. In addition, given the extraordinary contributions of fundamental research to long-term economic growth, an investment greater than the 22 percent of the total Federal R&D budget that currently goes to "basic research" seems more than justified.26 Unsettling to many is the declining Federal share of national R&D as industry fuels technology -- the promising technologies profiled above and an array of other interdisciplinary specialties.27

Clearly, we are more adept at measuring dollar inputs than outcomes such as peer-reviewed publications, citations, patents, and honorific awards. Capturing the full public return on investments in science and engineering research remains elusive. Yet Indicators—2000 helps make sense of a complex enterprise.28 Trends in knowledge production and the Federal stewardship role illustrate two classes of indicator.

Trends in the Globalization of Research. Multiple authorship of the S&T literature, citation patterns by field and country, and patents awarded provide a thumbnail sketch of the global knowledge system. Since 1986, multiple and international coauthorships are on the rise.29 In 1997, the proportion of the world S&T literature published in major international journals accounted for by three countries -- the U.S., Japan, and the U.K. -- represented one-half the total. But the U.S. proportion of the world S&T literature cited from 1990 to 1997 is down in all fields, though we lead the world's research production in health and psychology. Declines in the U.S. share are marked in mathematics, biology, and engineering.30

In sum, the world is catching up. But one wonders whether a falling U.S. share of citations in a field should be regarded as a problem: the U.S. share of world GDP has declined significantly, much to our Nation's advantage. There are more participants in the world publication market and the leaders' share is eroding, while collaboration with researchers around the globe is becoming a routine option.

The proportion of citations on U.S. patents to the U.S. S&T literature decreased from 1987-98 in physics, chemistry, and engineering/technology. Only in biomedicine did citations to U.S. literature increase significantly in patent applications.31 An institutional perspective on patenting signals a growth trend. But academic patents still represent only 5 percent, or more than 3000 annually, of all new U.S.-origin patent awards. This is a five-fold increase from 1985, when 111 U.S. academic institutions were awarded patents. In 1998, the number grew to a total of 173 different universities, and the top 100 patenting universities accounted for over 88 percent of all the patents awarded to academic performers.32 Research universities have become not only incubators of innovation, but also partners in developing and commercializing products that generate income and hold value for other sectors of the Nation's economy.

Payoffs of Federal Stewardship. The Nobel Prize is the most widely-recognized honor conferred for scientific achievement.33 For the period 1950-95, U.S. citizen and foreign scientists located in American institutions dominate the roster of Nobel laureates. Indicators—2000 includes an appendix table that lists all Nobel laureates awarded the Prize 1950-99. Data from other agencies are not available, but information on whether the recipients received NSF funding during their career, pre- and post-Nobel, suggests the role played by Federal support in the careers of extraordinary 20th century scientists.34

The findings are striking. The Federal Government has a remarkable record of supporting U.S. Nobel laureates before bestowal of the Prize. Roughly one of three laureates in Physics and Chemistry, and two of five in Economics, successfully competed for NSF research grants. In the aggregate careers of all laureates since 1950, over 40 percent have benefited from NSF support.

So while the Nobel Prize is often discounted as a measure of where science -- paradigm-breaking science at that -- has been, as opposed to where it is going, the Federal distribution of scarce resources to researchers has repaid the investment in their work many times over.

Taken together, these data reflect a national commitment to science and engineering research. This grand public experiment engendered fields of knowledge not easily visualized a half-century ago. Such government stewardship indicates an oft-overlooked U.S. achievement in science -- underwriting risk-taking research programs and investigators long before their promise was recognized by the S&T community and hailed by the world.

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