July 13, 1999
JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, other special emphasis discussion about what the 2000 presidential election should be about. As you regular viewers know, we are asking a variety o f individuals and groups what issues the candidates should debate and discuss. Elizabeth Farnsworth has that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Tonight we talk to four former White House science
advisors. Though presidents often turned to scientists for advice over
the years, there was no official White House science adviser until 1957,
when President Eisenhower appointed one in the aftermath of the successful
Soviet launch of the Sputnik satellite. With me are John Gibbons, a
physicist and President Clinton's assistant for science and technology
from 1993 until last year; William Graham, whose Ph.D. is in electrical
engineering and who served President Reagan as science adviser from
1986 to 1989; George Keyworth, a nuclear physicist who served President
Reagan from 1981 to 1986; and Edward David, whose PhD is in electrical
engineering; he was President Nixon's science adviser in the early 1970's.
Thanks for being with us.
GEORGE KEYWORTH: Well, I guess best of all I'd like to hear them talk bout the -- about science and the government's role and relative priorities, and I'd like to see it in the context of where the talent's going to come from and the dependence that we have today upon high technology for our country's economic growth.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Uh-huh. And Bill Graham, what would you like to hear debated?
WILLIAM GRAHAM: Well, I think Jay's list is a good start on the issue. For example, in the pharmaceutical industry, we should look at the division between government restrictions and limitations on what people might be asked to pay for pharmaceuticals, for drugs, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, letting the pharmaceutical companies have the ability to expand their research base and create new medicines that have brought really wonderful changes in the health picture in the last few decades.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Explain that. Explain the issue. In other words, people need to pay enough to cover that kind of research.
WILLIAM GRAHAM: That's right. That research doesn't come free. It's very applied research by the time it gets to the drug companies. Even a decade ago, only, at most, one in ten drugs ever made it from the research laboratory to the pharmacist's counter. It took about ten years and at least $200 million to get each drug there. We can ask the drugs companies to take less for the drugs, but, at the same time, that means they're going to have less money to invest in the development of pharmaceuticals for the future. Drugs look like they're expensive today, but compared to a day in the hospital, they're very inexpensive.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mm-hmm. John Gibbons, what would you add to this list?
JACK GIBBONS: Well, Elizabeth, I -- it's interesting. I think all of this -- all of us on the air tonight bear a common view of the key importance of research and development of science and technology in creating new options, which in turn drive the economy. It's the engine of economic growth. The fundamental science drives the economy perhaps five, ten, twenty years from now, because there's that long a lag between fundamental research and the marketplace. But together science and technology are the engines of economic growth. And to make that, you have to have partnerships of the public through government and the private sector through various kinds of institutions and corporations. These create jobs, they create wealth, they help protect the environment and our health. And so I think a concern for both of the candidates should be how do they propose in the time of budget constraints-- even though we have surplus-- budget constraints to have a sustained support of these things that in turn provide our future for us?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mm-hmm. Ed David, do you have anything to add?
ED DAVID: Yes. I think the principal -- there are two principal subjects. One is the state of education in the country, especially with the desire to have enough educated people that we can carry forward our institutions and organizations and do the research and development that's necessary. I think that's the primary thing. Any of us who have been involved with industry or with government, for that matter, government laboratories, knows how difficult it is to hire well-trained, excellent people and to keep them in the organization. That is a major problem. And I think it all goes back to the state of the universities, their finances, and how the education and training is carried out. That's number one. The second thing, which encompasses many of the things that have been said already, is the word "competitiveness." I think the U.S. in its science and technology and engineering has got to be competitive across the world with everybody. I was just in Japan recently and I want to tell you, they're up and coming again and they're doing a lot of things which are going to have an impact on our competitiveness, and we've got to continue to compete.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Keyworth, let's pick up on that: Competing and the whole question of basic research. What should the candidates do specifically in this area of promoting or calling for the promotion of basic research that would help in this competitiveness area?
GEORGE KEYWORTH: I think it's a good, healthy time to take a hard look at exactly what our priorities are. I think, for example, we'll find that the government's role in support of basic research in universities has been extremely fruitful throughout the years, and that it is now a time where it needs more visibility, more encouragement, more thoughtful examination of what Ed referred to as the health of universities. On the other hand, I think that in general, I think, the role of government in trying to use money, taxpayer money, to support new technologies has failed, except where the government is a real customer itself. So I think there really is an opportunity for the candidates to think through science policy, to focus on education, to focus on universities and to, in a sense, defocus some of the efforts that have accumulated over the last 20 years to - to introduce a technology or industrial policy.
JACK GIBBONS: Could I add one thing?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Yes, yes, go ahead.
JACK GIBBONS: Can I interject?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Yes.
JACK GIBBONS: I think the record over the long term shows that when the public and the private sector work together on things, we have our strongest industries, starting with agriculture and going right through aviation and health, space, computers. And I think Jay is off base in saying that's been largely a failure. Our strongest industries today derive from earlier partnerships between the public and private sector. I think it's going to be even more so in the future, and I think the efforts that have been going on are paying off now and are going to be paying off in the future.
ED DAVID: Jack, I think what Jay is referring to is the fact that the government has never been very good and has never really tried to actually develop commercial products.
JACK GIBBONS: Neither should it ever.
ED DAVID: And it shouldn't. And that's what he's really referring to.
GEORGE KEYWORTH: There's no question that government and industry and the private sector have to cooperate. What I'm really arguing is that the major attention needs to be focused upon the place where new talent comes from, which is universities. That's where I think there has been a lack of attention, a lack of focus. I agree very much with Ed that it's in physical sciences. I would add to that mathematics very much.
ED DAVID: Hooray, hooray! I love it, I love it! (Laughter)
GEORGE KEYWORTH: I think there's a tremendous opportunity to take a hard look at universities. It's not just a matter of funding. We do science differently today, with computers everywhere and about and the ability of simulation be applied to scientific problems. We're much more multidisciplinary now. Universities need to change, universities need to become more accountable, but I think it's time for the candidate to realize that with an economy that is almost 50 percent now in terms of growth dependent upon the high-technology sector, we need to pay a lot of attention to just where our talent is coming from. And that is basic research. It's not technology policy. It's basic research.
JACK GIBBONS: You know what's interesting? I've heard Harold Varmus, the director of the National Institutes of Health, make the most urgent and fervent plea for support, not of NIH but of the NSF, the National Science Foundation, because he makes the point that you can't tell where the next developments, even in biomedicine, will come from. Things like MRI, which came out of nuclear physics, are commonplace. And crystallography, mathematics, computers, all are as important in medicines, as are the traditional molecular biology. And I think that's the point that all of us would make, Elizabeth, that a broad support and sustained support of science will have its payoff across the board. And the more we can link this with graduate education, the more we get two for one.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So, Edward David, would you urge the candidates to really talk about that, that there's a need for sustained and long-term support that you might not see results from right away? Is this something that they should be explicitly addressing?
ED DAVID: Yes, they should. And I think I'd go back to the mathematics comment that Jay made, which I think is very appropriate. If you look at the mathematicians that are coming out of universities today, they're primarily males. Women somehow seem to be turned off of mathematics at a fairly early age. And that's been pretty well known by educators. I know MIT has made a major effort to bring women into their mathematics graduate program. And I think if we're going to produce the mathematicians that we will need for the 21st century, there have got to be at least twice or three or four times the number of women that we educate as mathematicians. And I think that's a very important point.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So, William Graham, what can candidates call for that would bring that about?
WILLIAM GRAHAM: Well, certainly a review of the support that both the public and the private sectors provide to universities and to graduate schools, and probably some consideration of where our students come from. Should they come from the US, should they come from the entire world, should they come from countries hostile to us or only countries friendly to us? And where should they go after they finish here? Should we ask them to go back home if they come from overseas? Should we encourage them to stay here and help develop the US economy? These are tough questions.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. I'm going to go around each one of you and if you could give the candidate one simple idea to push in this campaign in your field, what would it be? John Gibbons.
JACK GIBBONS: Well, I think we've -- we've focused enough on basic science, and I think that goes without saying. I guess I would add two more things. One is that we have to be careful to walk the narrow line in our work on weapons of mass destruction. On the one hand, we need to work very closely with Russia and other nuclear nations in protecting, safeguarding and securing nuclear weapons and their materials, and that means working with our counterparts and exchanging with each other. You can't do that if you can't let them in your office. And so I think we need to be very careful not to become, as it were, overreacting xenophonically to the problems of espionage. All of us do a bit of espionage. We have to be careful with our secrets, but we also have to be careful not to throw the baby-- that is of arms control-- out with the bath water. And the other point I would add has to do again with preparing for the 21st century. We have a global commons that is under increasing and multiple stress from climate change to population growth. And I think the President that comes at the turn of the century needs to be able to articulate the requirements incumbent on us as we leave the ball to the next generation in terms of preparing ourselves for a much more sustainable future and for global environmental protection than we have so far.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Edward David, Mr. Gibbons got two, but if you just got one idea that you got to whisper in the candidates' ear, what would it be briefly?
ED DAVID: I would say it's technological innovation aimed at commercialization and leadership in commercial products and services throughout the world.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: George Keyworth?
GEORGE KEYWORTH: I'd say simply that I think for the next President science and science policy is going to be as important as it's been any time in the last 50 years. I think it's worth paying attention and I think the most important thing is to look carefully at what government has done well, which is basic research, and look askance at things that government has not done so well, which is technology policy.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And William Graham?
WILLIAM GRAHAM: Well, the US today has created and is the steward of a tremendous base of scientific and technological knowledge. I would ask the candidates to focus on how they're going to carry out that stewardship under their term. How are they going to provide for the transfer of technology from government research activities into the private sector and into our economy? How are they going to see it transferred from our industries to overseas industries? And how from the civil an sector to the military and back the other way? Each of these transfers is a very sensitive and important issue.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, gentlemen, thank you very much for being with us.