NAS President’s Address

April 27th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Bruce Alberts, President of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS), gave a speech on April 19, 2004 that covered a wide range of science policy issues. He reminds us of the overarching goals of the NAS:

“First, to work tirelessly to strengthen the U.S. scientific enterprise in the national interest, and second, to spread science and its values vigorously throughout our nation and the world.”

He observes that, “most of the reports that the National Academies produce each year for our government address “science for policy.” Each of these presents a consensus view of the science and technology that underlie a particular set of decisions confronting policy-makers.”

One standard of success he highlights is that NAS reports do not always serve one particular interest: “Our aim has always been to bring the truth concerning science and technology to Washington. This truth must be free of any partisan considerations. Evidence that we are succeeding comes from a sense that we often seem to make both sides of a debate somewhat uncomfortable with our reports: each side will generally like some of our conclusions, but not all of what we say.” And he provides an example of this by joining those of all political persuasions who claim to be “serving the nation through an insistence on sound science.”

He concludes by identifying three challenges for the scientific community:

“As I see it, there are a number of clear challenges for those of us in the United States who would like to see science – and a science culture – spread much more widely around the world.

First, we must come to respect and support a wider range of sciences than is traditional for our typical university science departments.

Second, we must work to bring many more of our scientists and our students into close contact with the potential ways in which their expertise can make a difference for the 85 percent of the world’s people who live in developing nations.

Third, we must work to enact the vision in the InterAcademy Council report Inventing a Better Future. This will require that we focus much more intensively than we have in the past on helping our colleagues in developing nations build and maintain institutions of excellence in science and technology.”

The NAS is extraordinarily influential in United States science policy. As such, I am absolutely amazed by the paucity of studies by policy scholars looking at the role of the NAS in science and technology policy. Two that I am aware of are

Boffey, Philip. The Brain Bank of America. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975.

Hilgartner, Stephen. Science on Stage: Expert Advice as Public Drama. Stanford: 2000.

Are you aware of any others?

Alberts’ speech is worth reading. It raises a number of points worth thinking about and responding to.

One Response to “NAS President’s Address”

  1. Alex's Place Says:

    Science Policy

    - Prometheus: NAS President’s Address

    My boss just sent me this link to the Prometheus Science policy blog at UC Bolder (see link on right), and I came across an interesting post on a speech given by the president of the U.S. National Academy of Sci…