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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


"Capitalizing on the Connections:
Social Science in a New Era of Knowledge"

Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
COSSA Annual Meeting
Washington, DC

November 8, 1999

I am very pleased to be here this morning. COSSA and NSF have been friends and partners for a long time. We share common principles and values about science and society. COSSA has also been one of the most steadfast supporters on behalf of a strong federal science and engineering budget. You have been expert at organizing the research community as a voice for the value of research and education for the nation.

We at the Foundation are most grateful and want to publicly acknowledge our gratitude. Howard Silver, in particular, has been a veteran organizer of so many of those efforts, and we are all in his debt.

Because we seem to have entered the presidential political season earlier than usual, we'll be bombarded with political definitions for a protracted period. In an effort to introduce clarity into that discussion, I would offer Ambrose Bierce's distinction between a conservative and a liberal. In his Devil's Dictionary, he wrote, "A conservative is a statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the liberal who wishes to replace them with others."

Although the definitions from Bierce provide mostly levity for our discussion, both suggest that we will always need the work of social and behavioral scientists--maybe now more than ever before. As an engineer, I know that on any project or challenge, the greatest hurdles are often "social" in nature, not technical.

Your work is critical to understanding how we function as a social universe. You develop the body of knowledge that explains how we - create - conflict - care for, and compromise with, each other. Your work--directs our economies. It helps us understand our past--and--it charts appropriate decisions for our survival and success as a planet and a population.

The knowledge of social scientists not only helps us understand but also how to anticipate and plan.

We are quickly moving away from the historical era of knowledge generated primarily through a funnel of strictly defined disciplines. We are moving deeper into an era where knowledge is increasingly created through connections, collaboration, and overlapping endeavors.

That's why your impact is growing throughout science and engineering. Social scientists are a critical component in all of those interconnections. We are and always will be a social universe. You will make us more adept and successful in our decisions.

Because of this, we are being asked for a new kind of leadership. In order to generate the most useful and comprehensive databases for the era of IT-driven scholarship, the social sciences need a state-of-the-art infrastructure. The underfunding of databases, high-speed computers, and networking technologies have diminished the more powerful impact that the social sciences can have.

COSSA and NSF set to the task of addressing this issue together. We finally hammered out a program, "Enhancing Infrastructure for the Social and Behavioral Sciences,"--an initiative of which we can all be proud. As most of you know, NSF has just awarded six grants in the first round of this program. This joint effort between us will greatly enhance the social and behavioral science infrastructure capability.

Although this program is targeted to social science participants, it should not be viewed in isolation. It is part of NSF's strategic plan to build overarching capabilities that span disciplines and integrate knowledge perspectives.

None of us here today ever doubted the connection between research and development and the nation's economic success or long-term societal benefit. It is most gratifying that other sectors, public and private, are increasingly recognizing those connections. They have sparked an illumination across the public policy arena, industry, and small business. This recognition, I'm sure, is partly responsible for the growing trend toward partnerships and collaborations.

With total modesty, I can say that NSF's historical contributions to our current societal advancement and well-being are significant.

The Foundation, and the entire Federal R&D enterprise, has had long and strong connections to our colleges and universities. We have been partners in function and spirit for decades.

Today, federal agencies, academic institutions, and the private sector routinely seek each other out for multi-partner collaborations for reasons just mentioned.

We have learned the effectiveness of integrating our diverse strengths. But the working relationship between federal R&D institutions and the academic research community is an older bond.

It has operated effectively since well before others came into the fold.

In the Federal R&D structure, NSF has a special focus. We do not have a mission-oriented-research-objective such as energy, oceans, biomedicine, agriculture, or space.

Instead, we have the mission to support and fund the underpinnings for all research disciplines, and the connections between and among research disciplines. Although the social and behavioral sciences at NSF do not date back to our beginning, 50 years ago, we are much enhanced with their inclusion in our task. We look forward to a coming 50 years of even greater success.

At NSF, we have a distinct set of responsibilities. It is our job to keep all fields of science and engineering focused on the furthest frontier, to recognize and nurture emerging fields, to support the work of those with the most insightful reach, and to prepare coming generations of scientific talent.

In marking our 50th anniversary in the year 2000, we are celebrating vision and foresight. NSF has a strong record across all fields of science and engineering for choosing to fund insightful proposals and visionary investigators.

In five decades of funding discoveries across all disciplines, one can observe a consistent beam of new light in established fields and pathbreaking steps opening to emerging fields.

Let me mention just a few brief examples.

Our ongoing support for instrumentation advanced the development of MRI and other imaging systems.

NSF-funded research in atmospheric chemistry identified ozone depletion over the Antarctic, or the "ozone hole," as we now know it. And in 1986, NSF researchers established chlorofluorocarbons as the probable cause for the ozone deterioration.

NSF funded-research on solid modeling led to the widespread use of Computer-Aided Design and Computer-Aided Manufacturing. The keys to success in this instance were advances in the underlying mathematics and in being able to link the academic and industry leaders in the field.

All of you know that we have funded many of the Nobel Laureates in economics before they won the Nobel.

These are just a few but very powerful examples of the value of the Federal government's investment and involvement in research and development.

The unique role of NSF is buttressed and enhanced by the diversity of the other Federal R&D agencies, and the network of national laboratories.

Together they represent a universe of discovery and innovation that is the envy of the world. That success has always hinged on the interrelationships and connections between the federal R&D structure and our nation's universities.

The universities are the linchpins in this complex process. They are the consistent and cohesive element. The Federal government should be an enabler.

In our research universities, we have masterfully integrated research with the education and training of our next generation of scientists and engineers.

This combination is unique to the American system and has created a synergy throughout our national research enterprise. The wisdom of this approach has been borne out over time.

Just as science and engineering have consistently changed and enriched the world, the world of science and engineering is also changing and being enriched by a whole new approach in conducting research. Although I might be taken to task by the sociologists in the room, I would call this change the "new sociology of science."

This recent change has been driven by many forces, including the end of the Cold War and the subsequent globalization of the world economy.

But information technologies have probably had the most pervasive influence on what we are able to do in science and engineering over the last two decades.

These technologies have become the new infrastructure of science. They allow us to achieve simultaneously both disciplinary depth in a research problem and functional understanding across a variety of disciplines underlying most of today's intellectual issues.

In other words, they have enabled us to view and tackle the panorama of a problem. They have provided an understanding that is at the same time both unique and universal.

With these new capabilities, we are discovering that at the most intricate and intimate level of all fields there is a connection, a powerful binding to each other. That makes all the more important the new initiative that COSSA and NSF have developed for state-of-the-art infrastructure in the social sciences.

The human presence and activity on our planet has been one of the most powerful influences, not all of them positive. We desperately need the strong in-put from the social sciences to help us provide a compatible future on the planet. Clearly, the key to a successful future will be knowledgeable and compassionate human response and behavior.

The new infrastructure initiative for social science will advance opportunities for social scientists to expand collaborations outside of their own disciplines. We will need all of you.

The age of IT offers great possibilities. It also opens the field for some unwanted societal divisions. We will depend heavily on the social and behavioral sciences and their diversity of knowledge to help us navigate a successful path.

I mentioned earlier that our academic institutions are the crucial component in our very successful national research enterprise. And, the federal R&D agencies have been major enablers in the process.

In spirit and in function that collaboration is stronger today than ever before. However, if we examine the dollars, we observe a different story.

The overall trends in R&D funding have changed dramatically and in a sense are running counter to our partnership and to the nation's economic needs. Let me elaborate with some specifics.

The nation's current total investment for R&D, for both public and private sectors, is just over $240 billion dollars. That figure appears ample, even generous, and in fact, it is the highest it has ever been in our nation's history.

But when we scrutinize that number and break it down into its components, we find some disquieting signs. The federal government has been losing ground to industry as a source of R&D funds.

For example, in 1998, the federal government provided just over 25 percent of that $240 billion dollars. That percentage represents the lowest level since we started collecting data in 1953.

A decade ago, the federal share was 46 percent. Three decades ago, the federal share was 60 percent. One could respond, "not to worry." As long as the total amount remains substantial, what does it matter from which pot the money comes. It turns out that it matters a great deal.

You may be familiar with the now-famous study by Dr. Francis Narin and his colleagues at CHI Research. It was featured in the National Science Board's Report on industry links to publicly funded research.

The study demonstrates the strong link between industry patents granted in the U.S. system and research published in the scientific literature.

The conclusion is clear: the knowledge that drives innovation in industry comes predominantly from publicly-supported research. More importantly, this trend is increasing dramatically.

Juxtapose this with another piece of data. Over the past two decades, employment in science and engineering fields has more than doubled and continues to increase. And, high technology products have doubled as a share of total U.S. trade.

Armed with these data, we can clearly see that all money is not the same. Where it comes from, and where it goes, makes all the difference. We may not be paying attention to some very important signals for the nation's long term prosperity.

I am not suggesting that industry's investment should be lessened. In fact, it's very important. We are an economy based on knowledge.

What I'm pinpointing is that the funding trend is moving in the reverse direction of what is fueling much of our success and prosperity.

The nation and the community are most fortunate to have members of Congress and Congressional staff that are strong supporters of R&D, and NSF in particular. Two of those staff members are next on the agenda. They were very much responsible for the excellent outcome of the NSF appropriation.

But we the research community are responsible for the extended outlook for R&D and the benefits that will accrue to the nation. We must continue to make the case for what is real value in the contributions from R&D. I am reminded of Neal Lane's clarion call to become "civic scientists." More of us must take up that task as our own.

COSSA has been especially significant in leading that charge. We will need your continuing leadership. We are continuously appreciative of the many knowledgeable and articulate Members, staff, scientists, and engineers who can articulate the connections between new knowledge and new national growth. We still have many challenges to meet. I look forward to working with all of you.



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