Urgently needed: greatly expanded roles for both science and scientists in the 21st century.
Welcome to the 75th Annual Meeting of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences. Our lecturer this year is Dr. Bruce Alberts, President of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington D.C. He is known for his work both in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and in particular for his extensive study of the protein complexes that allow chromosomes to be replicated. Dr. Alberts graduated from Harvard College and earned a doctorate degree from Harvard University in 1965. He joined the faculty of Princeton University in 1966, and after ten years moved to the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California in San Francisco, where he became chair. He is one of the original authors the Molecular Biology of the Cell, through four editions, which we affectionately call the Alberts book at my institution. His most recent text, Essential Cell Biology, published in 2003, is intended to present this subject matter to a wider audience. Dr. Alberts has long been
committed to improving science education, dedicating much of his time to educational projects such as City Science, a program that seeks to improve science teaching in San Francisco elementary schools. For the period 2000-2005 Dr. Alberts is the co-chair of the Inter-Academy Council, a new advisory institution in Amsterdam governed by the presidents of the science academies of 15 different nations. I'm honored to introduce to you Dr. Alberts, and the title of his presentation is "Urgently needed: greatly expanded roles for both science and scientists in the 21st century." Welcome, Dr. Alberts.
Dr. Bruce Alberts:
First, let me congratulate the Mississippi Academy for surviving for 75 years, while wishing you an even greater future. My lecture will present a challenge to the Mississippi Academy and to all scientists, because I'm going to try to convince you that--in this ever-more complicated and dangerous world--science needs a much higher profile if we're going to be successful in creating the type of world we would like for our grandchildren.
The image we want to create for science can be represented by a pictorial analogy: our Einstein statue, covered by children. This wonderful statue is located in the front yard of the Academy in Washington, very near the Lincoln and Vietnam memorials. The school groups that come a week-long tour of Washington often pose for their last group picture here, sitting on Einsteins very large lap. We need to convince our children that, like this statue, science is something accessible, so that they welcome science into their lives. But we are not doing anything like this in most places. I spent two weeks in India in early January. That nation still benefits from the wisdom of its first prime minister, Jawaharalal Nehru, who deeply respected science and understood its benefits for India. Nehru wanted a "scientific temper" for his nation. Today we badly need the same scientific temper for the United States and the world. I will try to explain what I mean by that in this talk.
Let me start by saying a few words about the National Academy of Sciences. It's an old organization, even older than the Mississippi Academy. It was chartered by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. The academy was being established as an honorary organization of 50 of the best US scientists. At that time, private organizations like ours required a charter from the government. The critical part of our charter that has determined the entire character of the Academy stated that, in order to exist, "The Academy shall whenever called upon by any department of the government, investigate, examine, and report upon any subject of science or art" (art at that time meant technology), but that "the Academy shall receive no compensation whatsoever for any services to the government of the United States." Because of this unfunded mandate, we are very much a service organization: some 6000 volunteers are working at any one time on various committees providing their advice to the government.
We call ourselves today the National Academies--why? Because from the same charter two other honorary organizations were subsequently incorporated--the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine. These three honorary organizations now have some 5000 members. And the active, "operating arm" of these academies, established during World War I, is called the National Research Council. It was founded so that we could bring onto our study committee lawyers, teachers, business people--whatever we needed, not only scientists or Academy members. Today there are three presidents--I'm only one of them--who sit next to each other in that building behind the Einstein statue and run the National Academies. This has the great benefit of bringing together all of the talent needed to answer the hard questions we're asked, because it's not enough--as we saw this morning in the talk on earthquakes--to have just scientists, you've got to have engineering for many issues, and of course the medical profession.
The critical thing is that when we're asked by the government to do something, they pay us for the cost of the study; that is, they pay us for the staff work and for flying the members of the committee to Washington who don't get any stipend. Through hundreds of different individual contracts, we obtain the resources we need to produce an average of more than one report every working day--each one in response to a different request from some part of government. It is critical that, even when the government is paying for the full cost of a study, they can't control its outcome. Our charter and legal framework allows the government to come to committee meetings to give us information they think is important for answering their questions, but when they do that, the meeting must be open to the public. The committee meets in private in preparing its report, which is not negotiated with the government in any way. The government gets the final result at the same time that it is released to the public and the press on our website. We insist on telling what we believe to be the truth. I don't remember any report that has made the government completely happy. Usually, they're pleased with part of what we say, but there's always something they wish we had not said. It is our independence and integrity that's central, because otherwise we wouldn't really be useful in our goal of "bringing the truth to Washington."
To explain how we work to promote the use of science for wise decision-making, I'll present four quick examples of what we call our "science for policy" reports. In 1996 or so, there was a lot of worry in the press about the health effects of refrigerator motors, power lines, hair dryers, and other electromagnetic fields in the home. Many people seemed to be fearful, so we were asked to study whether these fields are really dangerous. After looking at 500 reports going back 17 years, we concluded that there's no evidence that they are dangerous. An opposite type of conclusion was reached shortly after President George W. Bush came into office. You may remember the stir created when the president announced that his Administration would not accept the lowered maximum for arsenic in drinking water that Clinton had put forward in an executive order near the end of his term. Former New Jersey Governor Christine Whitman, who was then the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, may have been embarrassed by this decision. But for whatever reason she did a very good thing, when she quietly asked the Academy to do a study that would tell the government how dangerous arsenic actually is for human consumption. Our study, completed in about 6 months, found that arsenic is even more dangerous than had been thought earlier; as a result, the Bush Administration accepted the Clinton standards as soon as the report was released.
My third example concerns climate change. Just before President Bush went to Europe for the first time, in June 2001, the White House wrote us a letter asking fourteen questions about the science of climate change. We gave them a short report in a month stating that a strong scientific consensus exists that human-induced increases in greenhouse gases are likely to cause serious global warming, and in a nice speech the President accepted that conclusion as he left for his trip.
My final example is an unusual report for two reasons. One is that it was prepared in an emergency right after 9-11. Our aim was to tell the government how our nation's strength in science and technology might best be harnessed to increase homeland security. The work was done so urgently that there was no time to get money from the government, so we took a million dollars of the income from our endowment raised from private sources and spent it to do this study. Secondly, this was a massive effort that involved a huge number of people; we used 160 volunteers, with a different subpanel for each chapter. The result was a large report, released in June 2002, called Making the Nation Safer: The Role of Science and Technology in Countering Terrorism. This has become a "bible" for the Department of Homeland Security, guiding the Undersecretary for Science and Technology there.
So why does this all work? First of all, our government, and I think we're very lucky in this respect, prides itself on making decisions on the best science. Both sides of an argument usually claim to have science supporting them. They just use different science. That's not true everywhere in the world. Science doesn't have as much respect in many other nations as it seems to have in our political system. Second, the National Academies have a rigorous report review process, which makes sure that our study committees base all of their conclusions on evidence and don't get into the political aspects of a decision--the kind of judgments that the government should make. Instead we focus on the science: we carefully state how dangerous arsenic is at different levels in drinking water and what the evidence is for these conclusions, but we don't say what limit to set the arsenic level at--that requires a cost-benefit analysis that the government is best suited to carry out. Third, of course, it's very important that the US press pays attention to what we say, because that puts pressure on the US government to respond. Here's a first page from a very famous day, this is actually The Washington Post on 9-11, when the two headlines were both ours. EPA Administrator Whitman accepted our report and urged tighter rules for arsenic in drinking water that day, and our stem cell report came out at the same time, urging support for stem cell research.
My next slide lists three important broad goals for the Academies, dealing with central issues for scientists. (1) To improve science education for all Americans, in a way that maintains the curiosity and thirst for knowledge of our young people throughout their schooling and their adult lives. (2) To enable all children to acquire the problem-solving, thinking, and communication skills of scientists--so that they can be productive and competitive in the new world economy. (3) To help the US remain the world leader in the generation of new scientific knowledge and technology through a vigorous scientific and engineering enterprise. This last one I'll talk about in more detail later; it's becoming increasingly difficult because the world is changing rapidly.
To address the above goals, we produce "policy for science" reports, where we provide advice on how the scientific enterprise itself can be improved. This is a much smaller fraction of what we do. My path to becoming the president of the National Academy of Sciences began in 1987, when I was a Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at UCSF in San Francisco, very happy running a laboratory. The Academy called me to say that it had set up a committee to study whether there should be a special project in the United States to map and sequence the human genome. This committee had several Nobel Prize winners on it, including Jim Watson, with distinguished scientists on both sides who had already taken public positions. The scientific community on the whole was against the idea, because it threatened to bring big science to biology, which many though would ruin the enterprise.
The Academy wanted me to serve as chair in part because I hadn't ever said anything about the proposed project and didn't have any position. As chair, I had to act as a referee, to get this group of diverse characters to reach a consensus. And of course we did reach a consensus; in 1988, we published a road map for a specific project that was immediately adopted by the government. This was very unusual, inasmuch as our reports often take years to have effect. And of course our predictions--and I don't know how it happened, it was sort of magical--our predictions of how long it would take, and how much it would cost were almost exactly right.
Another type of policy for science study focuses on maintaining high standards in the scientific enterprises. The booklet On Being A Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research, is the second edition of an important guide used in graduate school to help make sure that science works. Another report, Bio 2010, looked at the future of biological and biomedical research, and recommended change in the college undergraduate curriculum to make sure that the next generation of researchers has the quantitative skills that they will need to be successful. Some places like Princeton have already developed a major new curriculum around these ideas. This committee was chaired by Lubert Stryer, who for decades wrote the best-selling biochemistry textbook used at medical schools and colleges.
An issue even bigger than any of these is what our aims are in educating undergraduates in our introductory college science classes. Are we trying to produce only professors, which is one way of looking of looking at it, or do we want to encourage as many students to be science majors as we can, with the aim of their entering many different careers with those skills? The Academy has been pushing the latter view, that we need scientists in many different professions. Pre-college teaching is an obvious one. But I learned only after I moved to Washington that our Congress only functions because of the many Congressional aides who work for 100 hours a week, and that having a staff member with scientific training on every committee makes a huge difference for connecting Congress to scientific issues. And I propose to you that there are lots of other places in our society where we badly need scientifically trained people. It's crucial that the academic community recognize and respond to this enormous need.
We've produced several different booklets to help. The first was Careers in Science and Engineering: A Student Planning Guide for Grad School and Beyond, which promotes a very broad range of careers for those with an education in science. After we produced this booklet, I got invited to several Saturday graduate student retreats, where students would walk up to me after my talk and say that this booklet is fine, but I want to be a teacher or whatever, but I can't tell my professor because as soon as I do, he or she won't pay any attention to me. From such interactions came a second companion booklet for professors, called Advisor, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: On Being A Mentor To Students in Science and Engineering. We know a professor is not going to go to the Web to read this mentoring guide, so we suggest to students that they go to the Web and order the booklet for a few dollars. If they leave it on the chair of their professor in the middle of the night, maybe he or she will get the hint and read it.
I'd now like to talk about how the National Academies work to spread science and scientific values throughout society through a focus on science and mathematics education for children. This is actually what I came to the Academy to do. When I was offered the job, I took it mainly because I wanted to be the "education president." But it is clear that education is such a long-term issue that we will need many education presidents in succession. In my first two years at the Academy, 1993-1995, I must have spent nearly half my time on the production of National Scientific Education Standards. This was the hardest report we've ever written. For one, we had to get the scientists to agree on what could be left out; in the end, the biologists had to choose the physics and the physicists to choose the biology, because every scientist seemed to feel that way too much of his field is essential for every student to know by the end of high school. When I got to the Academy they had already been at work on the Standards for two years, but they were in pretty disastrous shape. For example, one thing that caught my eye was that it was proposed that every student by the time they graduate should know nine types of soil. Since I didn't know more than two types of soil and I was president of the Academy, I though this might be overreaching. There was a lot of that kind of thing in all fields.
And it was also hard to get the scientists to understand the value of pedagogy, the whole issue of what inquiry means for science teaching, and how important it is to produce tests that drive good teaching. By the end, we had developed a great learning community between teachers, science educators, and scientists that persists to this day. We distributed 40,000 free copies of a full draft report a year before the final report was published. Because we had 18,000 reviewers of this draft, it took a whole year to produce the 250-page final version. To me, the major points are that science should become a core subject in every year of school, starting in kindergarten; that science is for everybody, not just those who view themselves as pre-professionals; and most importantly, that science must be taught through inquiry based learning, not as word definitions and memorization of what scientists have learned abut the world. The booklet for parents, entitled Every Child a Scientist--expresses the sense of this moment--implying that everyone needs to acquire the skills of a scientist to investigate and respond rationally to their world.
We've also been heavily involved, even more so lately, in the creationist-evolution debate. The Academy traditionally has published short booklets on science and creationism, but after I arrived it became clear that we needed to produce tools for the teachers who are under attack at all times. The first book we published is called Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science, and it makes clear that religion and science are two different ways of knowing about the world, both valid, that don't contradict each other. But you must not mix them in science class. Recently the creationist dogma has reappeared as something called Intelligent Design, which pretends not to be religious but in fact invokes supernatural explanations for biological evolution. This is an energetic movement that has already been successful in affecting how science is taught in some states. Our teachers are under siege, and many of them don't teach evolution at all because they're afraid to be attacked by parents and others.
A new supplement to Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science, called Evolution in Hawaii, presents a wonderful scientific story. The Hawaiian islands rose above the sea at different times, and we can trace how different species of fruit flies evolved by skipping form one island to the other.
Despite such threats to science teaching, there is some very good news. Inquiry based science education precisely fits the needs for workforce skills that have been widely expressed by US business and industry. The Academy has been trying to work with industry leaders to make them more aware of this fact. These leaders advocate for more science education and more math education in general, but they often don't differentiate between more memorization of facts versus imparting more scientific abilities and more understanding of how science works. Here's a quote from a famous business leader, Bob Galvin, who was CEO of Motorola when it was at its prime. While most descriptions of necessary skills for children do not list "learning to learn," this should be the capstone skill upon which all others depend. Memorized facts, which are the basis for most testing done in schools today, are of little use in the age in which information is doubling every two or three years. We have expert systems in computers and the Internet that can provide the facts we need when we need them. Our workforce needs to utilize facts to assist in developing solutions to problems."
The kind of science education advocated in the National Science Education Standards takes kids through guided inquiries, with teachers serving as coaches, teaching them how to think for themselves so that they learn how to learn.
The bad news is "inertia," a term that applies to so many aspects of our society. Social systems show more inertia than physical systems, because if I push on something in the physical world, even if it's very heavy it's likely to move a little. Through special programs we have put a lot of energy into school systems to get them to start doing inquiry science, for example. But continuing this form of teaching takes more energy than teaching for memorization of science facts, passing out ditto sheets with fill-in-the-blanks as a test. And far too often after one stops an intervention, the system declines to the free energy minimum again, and the science teaching returns to where it was before. This is not an easy problem to solve. So we have to explore many strategies for changing the system in a lasting way.
After years of pushing on other aspects, I have concluded that the real rate-limiting step for improving science teaching at all levels occurs in our first-year science courses at the university. The college Biology 1 course, for example, will define what biology teaching should be like for both future parents and future teachers. Often it is based on a fat book that attempts to cover all of biology in one year, which becomes more and more impossible every year. And of course our colleges have the prestige that allows them to set the standard that teachers and parents then expect at lower levels. So we need really to work on our introductory courses, make them inquiry based, with a focus on the teaching of science and its relation to society, for all students. I actually feel guilty because when I was at Princeton for ten years teaching, I didn't ever think carefully about what I was trying to accomplish with undergraduates. I thought I was mainly trying to figure out who could become professors. There was nothing wrong with discouraging the other students from going on to take upper-level classes, because it was only those with obvious promise whom we wanted to teach. We also didn't want large classes. This type of attitude by science faculty will leave most adults ignorant of science, which is very destructive for the future of our society.
And of course there are those boring lab exercises that we still put students through. I hated lab in college. I was a pre-med, which is the only reason I put up with it. The labs were like cooking, they had nothing to do with science. And today, that's still true for many labs that I think are a complete waste of resources.
To attempt to stimulate changes, the Academy published a report, Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology, with a vision for a new kind of science teaching in the undergraduate years. The National Science Foundation put out a similar report about the same time. But not much has changed. The places that are doing a great job are the small liberal arts colleges. I'm an Overseer at Harvard; getting our major universities to change is much much harder. So what the Academies decided to do is try a new experiment. Last summer was the first example--we'll run it again this summer--of a workshop run at the University of Wisconsin for teams of Biology 1 teachers from research universities. The aim is to get them to rethink their Biology 1 teaching. If this actually starts to work, we'll try to get the resources needed to run similar workshops in other science subjects as well.
We have also published a detailed report on the high school Advanced Placement Courses in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Calculus. For the first three, we concluded that, because the AP courses were modeled after the average college course, they weren't good courses. For one, they covered too much and were a mile wide and an inch deep--not teaching for understanding. In response, the College Board is working on revising these three courses and their exams. Hopefully this will inspire universities to rethink their own teaching.
A new mission for the National Academies, besides the specific projects that I've talked about, is what we call "making a science out of education." The goal is to use knowledge of what increases student learning--based on scientifically obtained evidence--to create a continuously improving education system at all levels. The one example I'll show you distilled knowledge from the field of psychology about how people learn, dissecting out what that should mean for schooling. The result, a book called How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, School, has been a big success, and it is now used as a text for teacher preparation courses. Recently, we published three supplements for teachers, entitled How Students Learn Science, How Students Learn Mathematics and How Students Learn History, with examples of actual curricula that match the "How People Learn" recommendations.
But there are still big gaps in our knowledge. To fill them, we will need a more effective system of education research, one that focuses on real classroom settings. A report we published a couple of years ago called Scientific Research in Education tries to set standards for good research in education. Believe it or not, this is a hot political topic in Washington, with some people claiming that the only valid education research is research is research that is done through randomized trials. Our report argues otherwise; it says that we need multiple kinds of research; we can't yet carry out randomized trials on some issues that are very important.
I want to end my discussion of education by talking about one of the most recent experiments for the National Academies. In general, doing science policy, which I've been doing now for eleven and a half years, is just like doing a science; you do experiments, and you try to see if you can find a way forward that increases what we know. You push here and push there and a lot of things don't work, but you try to learn from them. After many experiments in improving science education; one thing I concluded is that we have to focus on the first few years of college, as I said earlier. Another major conclusion, or at least my hypothesis now, is that our system could be moved strongly in the right direction if we give a much more prominent voice to our best science and mathematics teachers; they need to have more control over the system by bringing their wisdom of the classroom directly to policy makers. For this reason, we have established a Teacher Advisory Council for the past three years at the Academies, composed of twelve of the best science and math teachers in the United States. These teachers have been very carefully selected--some from the elementary, some from the middle school, and some from the high school level--and all are active in classrooms. The committee is run by a former star teacher, Barbara Schulz from Seattle. This terrific group is having a major effect on all of our work in education by giving the teacher's perspectives a major role.
The teachers tell us that a national Teacher Advisory Council is not enough; most education policy is state-based, and therefore every state also needs one. We have thus far been successful in helping to form one such state-based Teacher Advisory Council that was recently established in California. California has a crazy policy-making system for education, with three different centers of power that result in nearly complete chaos. Can this Teacher Advisory Council in California connect to state policy makers, working with the leaders of business and industry in California who can greater amplify their voice? We don't know the answer, so this is all an experiment. I understand there is a similar organization about to be formed in the state of Washington. In both cases, the state Teacher Advisory Council is not connected to us, it is instead connected to a state organization; in California it's the California Council on Science and Technology, which is the closest analog to the National Academies that exists there. I think it's very important that these teacher groups be connected to a state powerbase: those of us in Washington are often viewed as carpet-baggers when we try to affect a state's policy.
I want to now change my topic from science education to science itself. The world is rapidly changing, as other nations are increasingly developing an outstanding capacity in science and technology. Our dominant position in the world of science is an artificial one--it's based on the complete destruction of everyone else during World War II, and a mass movement of the best scientists to the United States from abroad. So we're living in a situation that can't last.
As a clear signal that major changes are under way, US industry, which formerly outsourced only manufacturing, is now also outsourcing its research and development laboratories--to India and China, most notably. And of course increasing numbers of the best international students in the US will be returning to positions in their home nations. That's good for their nations, but our system of science and technology has come to depend on them. The future distribution of scientists and engineers in the world is very sobering. The number of scientists and engineers in Asia dwarfs what's happening in North America, and likewise Europe outnumbers us, so there are going to be many more scientists and engineers in other parts of the world.
How can we expect to be the leading nation in science and engineering forever? We can't, really. Here's a photograph of me at the Great Hall of the People at a meeting of scientists in China. The president of China, Hu Jintao, came to a scientific meeting with 3000 people in the audience, including about 2000 students,. He came and sat for about an hour and listened to other people's speeches. And then he gave his own speech, in which he made the point that science and technology must form the main basis for China's future development. China's leaders are almost all people trained as engineers, so this vision of the future comes naturally to them. But we still have a big job to do in this country to create a correspondingly clear recognition of the source of US world strength by our leadership.
Is there a way to remain the world leader in science and technology throughout this century? The only option we have is to be the continual source of the most innovative new ideas and technologies. As soon as a technology ages, it's going to move abroad. We must therefore focus much more intensely than we do now on stimulating and rewarding innovation and risk taking. What will this require? Of course, it will require recruiting the most talented young people to science and engineering careers. The people in this room will have a great deal to do with that. Secondly, we must provide these people with the best possible undergraduate and graduate training. Third, we must do more to provide merit-based, strong government and foundation funding for risk-taking research and education. And, last but not least, we must structure our scientific institutions to maximize innovation. We must eliminate environments in our universities where the faculty and students mainly interact with the eight or so professors in their department. I see around the United States a lot of change in this respect, with many interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary interactions taking place.
Will any of this happen automatically? I would say no, because in many cases there are forces taking us in the wrong direction. Both national and state academies are going to need to pay attention, we will require a great deal of active management and creative leadership from the scientific community in the years ahead. Some evidence for my claim is that over a period in which the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget has doubled, the number of young independent investigators has dropped precipitously. At present, the average age for an independent investigator getting a grant for the first time from the NIH is now 42 years old--isn't that amazing? In my generation, many of us had our own labs as assistant professors with research support before we were 30. In the last two decades, the NIH data shows a big drop in the number of young people with a chance to start their own careers with their own ideas.
As an urgent challenge to universities and funding agencies, we might develop special mechanisms to select our very best young scientists at an early age and provide them with the resources they need to pursue new lines of research, without requiring "preliminary results." Preliminary results are the death of creativity. To require preliminary results from someone starting a new lab means that they must, of course, do what they were doing before in their post-doctoral research. As a result, we force our scientists to do the same thing as their mentors. It's about the worst thing you could imagine for creating new science. A new report from the National Academies, called Bridges to Independence, was requested by NIH director Elias Zerhouni, who is very disturbed by the same things I've been talking about. This committee was chaired by Tom Cech, the Nobel-prize winning scientist who is now president of the Howard Hughes Biomedical Institute, and their report recommends that Zerhouni try some bold experiments to try to reverse this trend
I would like to end my presentation today by talking about how the National Academies work to spread science, and scientific values, throughout the world. The bottom line is that scientists will need to have a much larger presence in world affairs in the years ahead. The world's population will increase from 6 billion people today to 9 billion people in 2050, hopefully leveling out thereafter. Already, billions of people are living in poverty. Science is needed everywhere to help make this ever more crowded world a more rational and a more prosperous place.
International science is something I knew nothing about when I became president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. My whole view of international science was jaded by international biochemistry congresses in faraway places, where I heard people speak whose papers I could have simply read in the library. I wanted to have nothing to do with it. However, in September 1993, soon after I became president of our Academy, the first-ever meeting of the academies of the world was held in New Delhi. The goal was to inject scientific input into the major U.N. population meeting to be held in Cairo in 1994. Otherwise, we feared that the Cairo meeting would proceed without any scientific input.
The New Delhi meeting was something completely different for me. It wasn't about DNA replication research, it was about how science can do something important for the world and for societies everywhere. It was a different kind of science. For example, how much does educating women contribute to population control? There was scientific data on this issue. In this and other areas, we could tell from scientific evidence what works. That meeting was very successful; and its major statement, presented by the president of the Indian National Academy of Sciences at Cairo, was indeed the only science at that Cairo conference.
On our last day in New Delhi, someone organized a special meeting of all seventy academy representatives to ask whether there shouldn't be more regular meetings of this kind. As a young, somewhat naive, new academy president, I doubted the need for yet another organization. We already had ICSU (the International Council of Scientific Unions). Why did we need anything else? Then Dr. M.G.K. Menon from India, a former president of ICSU, presented some very articulate reasons why we did need this new organization, and everybody--including myself--became enthusiastic about the idea.
The InterAcademy Panel (IAP) on International Issues was basically established at that meeting. The IAP Secretariat is now located at the Third World Academy of Sciences in Trieste, and it recently received a permanent endowment from the Italian government. It recognizes that every nation, no matter how poor, needs its own scientists and engineers to enable it to harness the worlds great store of scientific and technical knowledge to meet the needs of its society. However, these people are unlikely to be effective in either their work or in guiding the decisions made by their nations without strong institutions to support and harness their efforts. Therefore, in every nation, building and supporting effective institutions for science and engineering must become a key goal for development. Strong merit-based universities are of course key. But also important are academies (or academy like organizations) that represent the best in science and engineering in the nation and have a focus on integrating and strengthening these capacities in the national interest. One of their critical missions must be telling truth to power. The fact is that politicians everywhere tend to cater to those with special interests, focusing on short term gains that will get them re-elected or re-appointed to their positions. Only a strong, respected voice for local scientists is likely to provide the countervailing power needed for a nation to make wise long-run decisions on many issues that effect health, agriculture, the economy, and the environment. Thus, the major goal of the InterAcademy Panel is to help the member academies in each nation develop a larger role in their own societies, including becoming a respected independent advisor to their own governments. It does so in part by promoting a sharing of information and resources between them to strengthen world science.
In 2000, the InterAcademy Council (IAC) was formed as a creation of the more than 90 IAP academies. An organization specifically established "mobilize the world's best science for policymakers," it is governed by a Board of 15 academy presidents and headquartered at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences in Amsterdam. I have had the privilege of serving as a co-chair of the IAC since its inception--first with the president of the Indian National Science Academy, and now until 2009 with the president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
The first major report of the IAC, Inventing a Better Future: A Strategy for Building Worldwide Capacities in Science and Technology, was released at a special meeting of the U.N. General Assembly hosted by Secretary General Kofi Annan in February 2004. This report emphasizes the critical importance of building high quality institutions for science and technology in every nation, and it offers practical advice on exactly how to do this--with specific roles identified for both developing nations and for nations like our own who have important catalytic roles to play.
The second IAC report, called Realizing the Promise and Potential of African Agriculture was directly requested by the UN Secretary General. Released at the UN and in Africa in the summer of 2004, it was specifically designed to give a strong voice for Africans in a plan to harness science and technology for increasing food productivity in Africa. (Africa is the only continent where food productivity per person is declining). The committee that produced the report was half African, and a great deal of the advice relied on the experience in other developing countries. In the United States, we are sometimes too far removed from the development experience for our solutions to be useful.
All that I have described represents only the very beginning of a newly energized attempt to spread science and its benefits around the globe, because it is critically important that science, and scientists, achieve a much higher degree of influence throughout both their nations and the world. As we pursue this aim, we must not forget, that as we spread the practical benefits of science, we also spread the scientific spirit, and the scientific values of openness and honesty that are so critical for the future. To reinforce this point, I shall end with two of my favorite quotes. The first is from a book called Science and Human Values by Jacob Bronowski (1956).
"The society of scientists is simple because it has a directing purpose: to explore the truth. Nevertheless, it has to solve the problem of every society, which is to find a compromise between the individual and the group. It must encourage the single scientist to be independent, and the body of scientists to be tolerant. From these basic conditions, which form the prime values, there follows step by step a range of values: dissent, freedom of thought and speech, justice, honor, human dignity and self respect.... Science has humanized our values. Men have asked for freedom, justice and respect precisely as the scientific spirit has spread among them."
And finally, a recent statement from a distinguished South African leader, Mamphela Ramphele, who was an important member of the IAC's Inventing a Better Future committee.
"The insights, methods, and ways of thinking attendant on scientific inquiry hold, I believe, the key to personal and national development in much of the developing world. The characterization of science as "Western" by some social scientists is unfortunate: it serves to delegitimize scientific inquiry and the application of science to everyday problems. It finds resonance among elites in the developing world who see the entrenchment of a science culture as a threat to their power over the poor and marginal."
Bruce Alberts, President
National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC.
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|Publication:||Journal of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2005|
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