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What should be the research goals of nation? How should research institutions adapt to the post-Cold War world? Would the creation of a quasi-independent agency further the nation's R&D goals? In this age of budget cutting, how should scientists and engineers justify R&D funding? What is the relationship between basic and "targeted" research? Is R&D tied to the economic health of the nation? Viewer comments
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Dr. Richard Nicholson, executive director of AAAS and a participant in this forum, provides his general assessment of the current of American R&D.
Greg Schuckman of Washington, D.C., asks:
With civilain science and engineering research having to compete with other domestic discrtionairy programs such as housing, veterans affairs, environmental cleanup, etc., isn't it vital for scientists and engineers to communicate the societal benefits of the federal investment in R&D?
Dr. Richard Nicholson of AAAS responds:
Sure. First, there is the obvious self-interest: If they don't, public support for what they do will surely decline.
However, at the risk of sounding corny, I believe there is a much deeper reason why scientists need to do as you suggest. Namely, I honestly believe that we will be shortchanging our children's future-in serious and unpredictable ways-if we do not continue to invest significantly in R&D.
And therefore, in my view, scientists and engineers actually have a civic duty to communicate the essential importance of making investments in R&D. This needs to be done through on-going conversations with our fellow citizens, including elected officials.
Mr. Michael McGeary of McGeary and Smith responds:
Yes. As noted, federal science and technology programs are, and should be, scattered throughout the departments and agencies, which means that they compete directly within congressional appropriations subcommittees with other programs, including other important investment programs such as education, health services, and nutrition programs. Scientists and engineers, however, are focused on work in their laboratories, and many shy away from tooting their own horn or becoming involved in politics. Because the system is changing, and many traditional programs and practices are being questioned, it is incumbent on researchers to become much more active in educating the public and the public's representatives.
Dr. Wesley Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University responds:
I agree that it is vital for scientists and engineers to make their case. It is naive, however, to believe that once that case is made, that it will not be seen as self-interested by other competing interests. Thus, it is at least partly a question of how that case is made. While anecdotal evidence is always appealing (and sometimes quite effective), the research community needs more objective data to make the case, and the data that are currently collected by the federal government and others cannot do the job.
Much better data on the R&D activities and performance of both the private and public sectors need to be gathered. For example, systematic, uniform data on private R&D expenditures broken down by four-digit SIC code industry, no less the composition of the R&D activities (e.g., basic versus applied research and development or process versus product) represented by those expenditures do not exist.