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The 2005 Arthur M. Bueche Award was presented to Dr. Leo Young, Director for Research (retired), Office of the Secretary of Defense, United States Department of Defense, “for leadership in sponsoring collaborative research programs among academic, industrial, and government engineers and scientists.” These remarks were delivered on October 9, 2005, at the Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Engineering.
Some Issues Affecting Science and Technology Policy
I want to express my sincere thanks to the Academy for honoring me with the Arthur M. Bueche award for contributions to Science and Technology (S&T) Policy. I met Dr. Bueche more than 25 years ago when he gave a talk at an annual IEEE Technology Policy Conference here in Washington. I had no inkling then that one day you would bestow on me an award in his name. I could not have received this award without the help and cooperation of many dedicated co-workers nor without the opportunities provided by my employers. In the interests of full disclosure, the five with whom I have been associated in the last 52 years are Westinghouse Electric Corporation, Stanford Research Institute, the Naval Research Laboratory, the Department of Defense (DoD), and, since retirement from full-time employment, as consultant to Filtronic.
Thus, my career in Research and Development has spanned all three sectors—Government, Academia, and Industry. Much of my work has been in basic research, where usually the Government is the largest bill payer, Academia is the major performer, and Industry is the chief beneficiary. I would like to give you three examples of S&T policy issues that I have encountered in my career in basic research.
1. People sometimes ask: “If industry is the chief beneficiary of basic research, why should the Federal Government pay most of the cost?” The answer lies in the nature of basic research—its output is knowledge and understanding retained mainly in the mind of the investigator, who is free to leave Company A that might have paid for the work and join Company B that competes with Company A—which never intended to support its competitor. Naturally, Company A prefers to let the Government pay for its basic research. The Federal Government in turn is motivated to pursue its basic research goals wherever it can find the most competent scientists and engineers regardless of affiliation.
2. My second example is on secrecy versus openness in Science and Technology: This issue has been addressed at length by committees I have served on at both the National Academies and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. You have probably admired the childlike statue of Einstein in front of this Academy building; you may even have noticed the three quotations from Einstein’s writings that are inscribed on the back of the stone wall behind the statue. One of them reads as follows:
“The right to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true.”
This is in direct contrast to the Code of Ethics of the National Society of Professional Engineers, which states in part:
“Engineers shall not reveal facts, data, or information without the prior consent of the client or employer …”
Yet, both the Einstein and the NSPE statements make sense when seen in context, and I don’t think there is a major problem when it comes to broad outlines of policy. However, the devil is in the details. Proprietary interests exist in industry in competitive product or process developments. Similarly, in spite of Einstein’s admonition, academic scientists competing for publication priorities or Nobel prizes have been known to be less than forthcoming than engineers in spite of Einstein’s admonition. Just read what two Nobel laureates, one biologist and one physicist, had to say in their books: James Watson in “The Double Helix,” and Charles Townes in “How the Laser Happened.”
3. To return to the issue of funding for basic research: It may escalate to a major policy issue buried in a relatively minor budget detail that can have unintended consequences. The DoD budgeted $1.5 billion for basic research for fiscal 2005. However, for fiscal 2006, DoD submitted to Congress a budget request for basic research of $1.3 billion, that’s $200 million less (13 percent less, not counting inflation). Since DoD concentrates much more heavily on engineering than do other S&T sponsoring agencies, cutting the DoD basic research program will cut disproportionately into university research in engineering. That was surely not the intention of the budget cutters. It is a policy issue that concerns this Academy and that Congress needs to address.
A final word: policy gurus and research directors must endeavor to see the S&T picture as a whole, to look for the unexpected or unintended consequences of policy changes, to ensure open communications in fundamental research, to promote multidisciplinary research, and to encourage contact and cooperation among Government, Academia, and Industry, which often boils down to something as simple as showing respect for, and understanding of, another person’s point of view.
Thank you for your attention.
The NAE Council established the Arthur M. Bueche Award in 1983 to honor statesmanship in science and technology. Arthur M. Bueche was senior vice president for corporate technology at General Electric and a member of the NAE Council who spoke out for the advancement of technology. For more information, contact the NAE Awards Office at 202/334-1237.