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A Time of Change

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A Time of Change

We face change on many fronts, and change characteristically engenders both opportunity and uncertainty. The end of the Cold War has transformed international relationships and security needs. Highly competitive economies have emerged in Europe and Asia, putting new stresses on our private sector and on employment. The ongoing information revolution both enables and demands new ways of doing business. During the 1980's, our Federal budget deficit grew rapidly, constraining crucial investments for the future. Our population diversity has increased, yielding new opportunities to build on a traditional American strength. Health and environmental responsibility present increasingly complex challenges, and the literacy standards for a productive and fulfilling role in twenty-first century society are expanding beyond the traditional "three R's" into science and technology.

As our institutions anticipate, manage, and respond to change, we must continue to focus on the enduring core elements of our national interest: the health, prosperity, security, environmental responsibility, and quality of life of all of our citizens. At the same time, we must respond to the changing character of the challenges presented by each of these core elements. For example, as the nature of today's external security threat has shifted profoundly, we have come to recognize economic and technological strength as integral to national security. Likewise improved science and mathematics education for all citizens is now recognized as a strategic imperative for our individual and collective futures.

We must reexamine and reshape our science policy both to sustain America's preeminence in science and to facilitate the role of science in the broader national interest. Each core element of the national interest requires strong commitment to scientific research and education:

  • Health requires the understanding, prevention and treatment of disease and the assurance of an adequate, safe, and nutritious food supply. These activities have become more and more dependent on the discoveries of fundamental biology research, often at the molecular level. Knowledge of the molecular basis of genetic diseases, for example, will permit design of effective new treatments such as gene therapy. The importance of broad strength in science is evidenced by the increasing role in biology and medicine of tools developed in the physical sciences, such as magnetic resonance imagers whose beginnings were in nuclear physics, or lasers that originated in fundamental atomic and molecular physics research, or the accelerators and instrumentation developed in the quest to understand subatomic particles. Research is also essential in social and behavioral science for developing effective public health strategies for preventing disease.

  • Prosperity requires technological innovation. Basic scientific and engineering research is essential for training innovative scientists and engineers, for many technology improvements, and for achieving the revolutionary advances that create new industries. Biotechnology and optical communications are two examples, and others will follow. For example, fundamental science and engineering will yield capabilities, unimaginable only a few years ago, to design and build new materials whether electronic or biomolecular. Applications will span areas as diverse as civil infrastructure improvements and environmental restoration.

  • Our national security has long been based on technological superiority bred of scientific and engineering innovation and a strategic commitment to both breadth and excellence in basic research. This will be even more important with a reduced military establishment facing new and varied security challenges such as verification methods for nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. For example, remote acquisition and rapid analysis of huge data streams and a new generation of imaging technologies will be essential. These capabilities will require advances in fundamental science and engineering, and will have important dual uses in military and civilian applications.

  • Environmental responsibility requires much better understanding of the complex interrelationships among components of the biosphere and among human activities and the world around us. We must carry out the necessary fundamental research and develop appropriate technologies to detect and correct environmental problems, to manage natural resources, and to sustain the environment. The levels of population, economic, and industrial growth suggested by current trends and patterns of development point to an urgent need to improve industrial processes and products and to provide food, energy, and natural resources with greatly reduced environmental impact. Understanding biological and physical processes is vital to maintaining biodiversity and healthy ecosystems.

  • Improved quality of life of our citizens involves all of these elements, and more. Culture, inspiration, and full participation in the democratic process are important for our citizens' lives and for setting directions for America. Scientific and technical literacy are crucial for understanding and appreciating the modern world. Sometimes, the rewards come directly from the leaps of science and engineering that inspire us as one people and spark the imagination of our children. Only months ago, we experienced this with the bold repair job on the orbiting Hubble telescope and the remarkable clarity of the resulting images. Such moments are themselves an important public benefit of science, helping to satisfy humanity's age-old drive to define itself through a better understanding of the world we inhabit. At a more down-to-earth level, scientific and technical literacy will provide the gateway to an increasing number of high quality jobs.

    Thus, science, both endless frontier and endless resource, is a critical investment in the national interest. Science and technology are tightly coupled, for they both drive and benefit one another. To address the nation's science investment strategy, we must reexamine every element of the enterprise: the research portfolio; the infrastructure needed for world-class research by world-class researchers; and the education of our people in science and mathematics. Each element must be strong, requiring that optimization be done within limited resources. It is essential that we adhere to a long-range and diversified investment strategy: nurture broadly-based fundamental research for the decades ahead, conduct research aimed at today's strategic areas, and undertake vigorous development activities that spring from our accumulated science and engineering "resource base."

    While we cannot foretell the outcome of fundamental research, we know from past experience that, in its totality, it consistently leads to dramatically valuable results for humanity. We have every reason to expect that the science investment will continue to yield a very high rate of return.

    "Science reveals new worlds to explore, and by implication new opportunities to seize and new futures to create."

    Vice President Albert Gore, Jr.

    Forum on Science in the National Interest, February 1994

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Fundamental Science Report

Opening Letter

Science Policy Statement

A Time of Change

Setting Our National Goals

Reaching Our Goals

A Shared Commitment

Steering by the Satellites

A Key to Cancer

A New Chemistry for Carbon

Origins of the Information Superhighway

Monitoring the Earth

A Virtuous Infection

Seeing Inside the Body

Simulating Reality

Plastics that Glow

The Human Dimension

Bringing the Universe into Focus

The Press Release for this Document

Congressional Testimony on this Document


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