Dr. Neal Lane

National Science Foundation

Internationality of Research Symposium

Max-Planck Gesellschaft
Munich, Germany

May 22, 1996

Erasing the Boundaries and Retaining the Identities

Dahnke Schon.

Thank you!

I am delighted to be here these past few days and truly honored to have the opportunity to participate in this distinguished symposium. I wish to express my most sincere thanks to Hans Zacher and any others who invited me--knowingly or unknowingly. My time here has been most informative and enjoyable. I have been rather quiet, recalling an old saying - remember God gave us two ears but only one month. I feel a sense of guilt that Dr. Anne Petersen, who many of you know and who is Deputy Director of NSF, is back in Washington, dealing with all sorts of crises--most capably, I might add! But, I will be able to take back to NSF a great deal more wisdom and, still, some perplexing questions, simulated by the excellent presentations and discussions here at Ringberg. A special thank you to the translators who did an outstanding job, often in difficult circumstances. Sometimes we forget to use the microphone!

I also want to say that I feel a special warmth for Europe. My first post-doc sponsored by NSF, was at Queens' University of Belfast. And an early sabbatical was spent at Oxford University, where I had the privilege of getting to know Rudolph Pererlo. I had planned another sabbatical in Germany. But, I suffered some would say a mental lapse, of sorts, and took a position in University Administration, thus missing a wonderful year in Germany. In any case, internationality of research and education has special meaning for me, personally, and in my opinion will continue to grow in importance for all parts of the world. But, with the benefits that flow from increased internationality, also come responsibilities. And, in order to have truly successful partnerships that cross national boundaries, I believe we must start with a shared understanding of both the benefits and the responsibilities. The benefits, I think, are obvious. The responsibilities are more complex, but I will argue they include, in addition to such goals as excellence, openness and fairness, also the promotion of science in the service of humankind. Let me be a bit more specific. The subject of this symposium, The Internationality of Research, is a reality at one level and still a distant goal at yet another level. Science has always prospered as an international exercise among individual scientists. In the eternal quest for new knowledge, researchers have been able to transcend languages, borders, and cultures for centuries. That process has been increasingly facilitated in contemporary society by advanced transportation and information technologies, everything from jet travel to simultaneous translation to the Internet, which NSF is proud to have had a role in establishing. We scientists and research engineers have always collaborated and shared. To do so is at the very heart of who we are, and what we do. It is one of the core values of research. (Dr. Markl was clear on this in his talk earlier this morning.) And, let me emphasize at this point that at NSF we increasingly view research and education as integrated activities.)

My remarks here today will focus more on what the yet to be achieved goal of internationality in research means in global terms. I have titled my talk Erasing The Boundaries And Retaining the Identities. Although we three panelists represent different regions of the world, all flourishing at present, it is my belief that we must first understand our task of the "internationality of research" in terms of the entire world so that the rich diversity of our regions might continue to flourish.

Ever since humans left the confines of this planet to venture into space more than three and one-half decades ago, the limited circle of our globe and the even tighter circle of our dependency on each other have emerged in a clearer light. Those first photographs of Earth taken from space spoke not only of our shape and size in the vast universe, but of our singularity and our unity. Although we all have national allegiances, and regional alliances, we are, in addition, all citizens of the planet. And on this planet, the advancement of civilization has, in many respects, been driven by the scientific and technological research of each succeeding generation.

We so frequently hear and use the phrase "science and society" that perhaps it has become a cliche! I think we would agree that this phrase has meant that science has "a relationship to" or "a role in society." Within this context, individual scientists have increasingly collaborated across borders. In addition, we have experimented successfully with some large-scale internationally cooperative efforts. CERN is one of the oldest, and most successful but others such as Ocean Drilling, the ITER fusion project, and the space station have established a foothold.

Nevertheless, I believe that we have not as yet accepted the concept of "science and society" as interdependent--science as a force absolutely fundamental to our national and international well-being and, in fact, survival. We are only slowly coming to the recognition that science must be seriously concerned with the many great unsolved problems of humankind. I have frequently pointed out that in America we are able to do outstanding science at the same time that many societal disparities and problems are increasing. I have suggested that knowing how to teach and do world class research in science and engineering is perhaps not enough. Rather, the goal must be to understand the physical, moral, and social problems that hold our civilization in the grip of numerous contradictions.

I am reminded of Einstein's admonition--long before World War II and in the deepest days of our Great Depression. In a speech he delivered at the California Institute of Technology, he said, "Concern for man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors, concern for the great unsolved problems of the organization of labor and the distribution of goods--in order that the creations of our mind shall be a blessing and not a curse to mankind. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations."

Einstein takes us back to our fundamental values as guidance, our concern for humanity and its fate. In those terms, there is a 21st century global agenda for research about which, I believe, we must all be concerned. On our ever more crowded and vulnerable planetary home, we must be able to provide safe and sufficient water, an adequate food supply with sustainable future production, a long-term global energy solution that respects finite resources and assures dependable access, greater socioeconomic equity among domestic populations and among nations, a diminishment of societal violence and terrorism, and education--especially of women and girls--in developing countries. All of this must be attained while preserving the natural environment, regional and global, for future generations.

You might be wondering why I have chosen to emphasize sweeping global problems rather than focusing on the many successful and developing scientific exchanges and research agreements that have been forged among the various nations in the Americas. Indeed, let me give you just a few examples.

Each of those activities and agreements is an important stepping stone. However, my concern is that we often do not view them in the larger context of a global research agenda. We are, in some sense, understanding the individual trees but without recognizing the geography and meaning of the forest. I believe this is happening throughout the world in terms of the internationality of research. It seems to me that only through a more comprehensive awareness and articulation of the totality of issues and their interdependence can we move progressively toward global resolution of the major unsolved problems.

This is not to suggest that we in America have launched into a whole new portfolio of programs. On the contrary, our first task is like your first task--getting people to think in these terms.

And as we begin to understand issues in this large perspective, I believe we will increasingly move into more interdisciplinary international research alliances that include a human dimension of the science. The major problems facing the whole global society are, for the most part, human problems. They emerge out of complex patterns of overlapping consequences. We do not have choices between protecting the environment, providing food and energy, addressing overpopulation, and the like. They are all needs on a common tableau and operate in fluctuating balances over time.

Our task in the research community is to thoroughly investigate in our individual and collective scientific endeavors, but routinely with an eye and an ear poised toward other disciplines and their queries. And simultaneously, all of us must help define and address the umbrella issues and problems that determine our survival and success on the planet.

We represent a wonderfully diverse conglomerate of nations, and a group of several unique continents. Ultimately, however, we are a single human community that must reside on a planet of modest size and fragile structure.

And so, let me conclude by returning to my title, Erasing the Boundaries But Retaining the Identities. By erasing the boundaries I mean recognizing the perspective to define those unsolved problems larger than scientific disciplines, that are common to all peoples that international scientific cooperation can and should address. And, by retaining the identities I acknowledge a recognition that most things get done by local, and regional collaborations which take advantage of the unique cultural qualities of the participants. By means of this delicate balancing we can, hopefully, define a global agenda for scientific research with clear overarching direction in which all of us have a role and responsibility.

In closing, I wish to thank you again for a most rewarding few days. And I wish to offer my warm best wishes to Hans Zacher on the occasion of his retirement as President of the Max-Planck Gesellschaft.