Science policy

Australia plans to shift from measuring quality alone to impact of research

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Australian government plans to shift from measuring the quality of publicly funded studies alone to gauging their social, economic and environmental impact, too.

Spending on academic research rose 6.9% in 2011

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University spending on R&D rose by 6.9 percent in 2011, driven mostly by funds from federal stimulus. With budget cuts in offing, figures may represent a peak.

study analyzes science work force through a different lens

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Is the U.S. producing too few workers in science and other technical fields? A new study says that argument misses the point: The country needs more graduates with STEM competencies.

The Time for Science

It's a fact. The economy just plain stinks.

And as we as a nation contend with foreclosures, high unemployment and an increasing cost of living, it's hard to predict when we will see true economic recovery. Many long-term solutions -- from Democrats and Republicans alike -- have been proposed, but the key to maintaining our economic edge lies not with politics, but with science.

Science is our way out.

Consider this. The chemical industry alone creates 2 percent of U.S. GDP and exports over $145 billion of products per year, according to the American Chemistry Council. Not convinced? Think about the major challenges that face our society today. Answering the country's energy needs, climate change problems, and the increasing costs of health care will require new advances in science -- which, in turn, will create jobs.

The idea isn't new. Politicians and academics have been calling for a renewed national commitment to science for years. In 2008, Princeton University’s president, Shirley M. Tilghman, hosted a roundtable with business and political leaders to address "why now may be the most important time in the last three or four decades that we make a very serious investment in the kind of innovation and creativity that have always fueled this country and this economy." And, earlier this year, President Obama's State of the Union address highlighted the importance of research and development in science and technology. "This is our generation's Sputnik moment," he said. "We'll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology -- an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people."

Clearly, science demands our attention now. And as educators we have a special obligation to our future leaders. Now is the time, despite limited resources and uncertain economic conditions, to make science a priority -- at every level, from preschool through graduate school, and every type of institution. It may seem counterintuitive in the midst of today's economic turmoil, but now is the time to make significant investments in science education, with long-term sustainability as the ultimate goal. In other words, to be competitive in a global marketplace, where American children are lagging behind in science and math skills, we need to find ways not only to educate scientists, but also to ensure that teachers are well-equipped. To that end, further science funding cuts are not acceptable. In fact, now is the time when we should be investing more in science.

Instead, we're waiting for details of a new debt deal that could dramatically decrease financial support for science beginning in 2013. While it is still uncertain exactly how, and which, science agencies will be impacted, it is clear that $900 billion in federal discretionary funds, which includes support for science agencies, will be cut. What's worse, if the super committee fails to reach an agreement by the November 23 deadline, across-the-board cuts would be made. According to a recent article in Nature, that would mean an 11-percent reduction in funding for federal science agencies, and single-digit grant-acceptance rates from places like the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. It's easy -- and frightening -- to imagine the impact of such devastating cuts on opportunities for students and faculty at colleges across the nation.

It is important for colleges and universities to promote better public policy on science – and also to push ahead with improving their own programs. At the College of the Holy Cross, a small, Jesuit, liberal arts institution in Massachusetts, where I have taught for 27 years, we're preparing for changes in federal funding for science, but we're not willing to let them profoundly affect what we do. We believe that liberal arts colleges, in particular, have a special role to play in the future of science. For decades, scientists have benefited from the liberal arts curriculum, which exposes them to multiple disciplines -- essential for a future where complex issues will continue to cross the narrow confines of a major or specialized field. We recently completed a $64 million dollar, state-of-the-art Integrated Science Complex. We're expanding summer research opportunities for undergraduate students through support from our alumni, and we're hiring tenure-track faculty.

Some have criticized the value of a liberal arts education, particularly in a bad economy where jobs are scarce. But the skills students gain from a liberal arts education transcend fluctuations in the market. Others have dismissed the importance of science and research -- often the same people who carry cell phones, use computers and benefit from advances in healthcare.

What’s more, the country has several leading Republican presidential candidates — from Texas Governor Rick Perry to Minnesota Congresswomen Michele Bachmann, among others — who cast doubts on things like evolution and man-made climate change. And their opinions are upheld by an increasing number of Americans. For example, a Gallup poll released last week showed that 11 percent fewer (50 percent) Americans think humans are partially responsible for global warming now than in 2007-8.

At a time when the influence of science and technology, and the potential for life-changing breakthroughs, has never been greater, American society seems to be moving in the opposite direction.

As we look to the future of the sciences at Holy Cross, we are confident that we will see returns on our investments for years to come: We'll attract the best student scientists, we'll recruit talented and highly respected faculty, and we'll graduate well-rounded students who have experience in the lab, understand the value of collaboration and are poised to be leaders in their field. With a liberal arts-based science education, our graduates will emerge as active and informed citizens, fully prepared to solve tomorrow's important scientific problems. Will yours?

And more importantly, will America be ready for them?

Richard S. Herrick
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Richard Herrick is a professor of chemistry at the College of the Holy Cross.

Revised Rules on Financial Conflicts

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U.S. issues final regulations to increase requirements on researchers and universities to report and eliminate conflicts of interest; standards eased slightly from 2010 proposal.

Under the Microscope

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WASHINGTON -- In times of fiscal crisis, scientific research is a ready target for budget cutters. Members of Congress grandly and publicly trash programs they see as wasteful, like government-funded research into the sex life of screwworms and the nervous systems of fruit flies, while advocates point out that such research sometimes turns out to be incredibly useful.

Updating the Common Rule

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WASHINGTON -- Scientists and scholars have had no shortage of complaints about the impact that federal rules governing human research subjects have on their work.

Score One for Science

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It's early in the budget process, but House spending measure would boost spending for National Science Foundation and other research programs.

Why We Need the SMART Program

For the first 20 years of my adult life I served on research universities’ faculties, worked with medical students, and wrote peer-reviewed papers. As a medical doctor, a scientist, and a professor, I had enormous pride in the strength of America’s scientific establishment. The United States trains the world’s best scientists, runs the best research universities, and attracts the brightest minds from all over the world. Year after year, we take the lion’s share of Nobel Prizes.

I proposed the SMART Grant Program to make sure that we retain our global leadership in the sciences. The program will provide grants up to $4,000 on top of Pell Grants (a total of $8,050 in assistance per year) to help bright, hard-working, full time students of modest means pursue degrees in math, science, and strategic foreign languages. Between now and 2010, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that almost 600,000 students will benefit from the program. These students, I am sure, will go on to teach at our leading research universities, run our top medical research labs, and administer our national science establishment. For them, the program will help a lot: at most land grant universities, in-state students receiving the maximum Pell Grant and a SMART Grant will pay no tuition for their last two years of college. Much of the money to finance SMART Grants comes from revisions to student loan formulas that ask private banks to accept reduced profits.

The SMART Grant program will also help America’s research universities retain their global preeminence. Today, India and China together graduate more than twice as many engineers as the United States. Both nations will continue to increase their ranks of scientists and engineers rapidly in the coming years. Meanwhile, many American employers have a difficult time finding qualified scientists and engineers. Since 85 percent of growth in U.S. income comes from technological change, we need to do everything we can to encourage our best and brightest to enter key scientific fields.

I designed the program with the needs of students and research universities in mind. College presidents, families, and students told me that financial pressures turned many bright students away from pursuing math, science, engineering, and languages. Friends of mine like James Wingate, the president of LeMoyne-OwenCollege, and Gordon Gee, chancellor of Vanderbilt University, knew about the program from its origins and joined me in praising SMART Grants after the Senate passed the legislation.

I know that some college officials have expressed doubts about the way the program shifts away from the traditional practice of awarding federal aid to undergraduates based primarily on economic need rather than merit. But while I believe that the federal government should provide generous financial assistance to students with a wide range of abilities, I see no reason to apologize for creating a program targeted towards the very type of bright, motivated students nearly all colleges seek to recruit. I’m shocked that some of SMART Grants’ critics appear to believe that low-income students can’t earn good grades. While they use the same financial eligibility criteria, the SMART and Pell Grant programs will remain distinct; one won’t impact the other. The program also limits itself to full time students because they pay the most tuition and have the greatest financial need. Although fiscal considerations will play a role in future action, I am open to proposals that would expand SMART Grants to cover needy part-time students who meet similar academic criteria.

I helped create SMART Grants to help bright students from all backgrounds to learn the skills most vital to our country. The future of our nation’s global leadership depends on America’s ability to produce more graduates with degrees in science and engineering. Once they understand it, I believe that America’s great colleges and universities will welcome the SMART Grant program with open arms.

Bill Frist
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Sen. Bill Frist, a former assistant professor of surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical School, is majority leader of the United States Senate.

A Swift Kick for Us Humanists

War. Pestilence. Famine. All in the paper again today. And tomorrow. And the day after that. Are we, the people, serious about peace or justice? What I want to know: Who excused the humanities from this mess? I keep trying to draw my professors, the ones I had in college and any others I know, into the fray. We have the tools for the job.

The play, the painting, the music are not the end state. It’s Shakespeare, Cezanne, Mozart standing along the road and reaching out to us on our marathon with a cup of Gatorade. Isn’t The Tempest a lesson for the ages in resiliency after we screw up? That life goes on, albeit with a cost? Matisse asks that we look anew once we walk out of the gallery. Hard to imagine that J.S. Bach wanted us to head home from church and debate key signatures.

Before me, calling the question, are a headline about stem cells and an e-mail from Iraq. Same one you read about two teams of scientists embarking on stem-cell research. Not for the ride but to try for cures to dreadful diseases. The e-mail is from my friend Rich Morales, an Army lieutenant colonel fighting in his second Gulf war. A former White House Fellow, Rich wrote, “I lost a good friend on Memorial Day. That day always meant something to me symbolically, now it’s even more personal. Additionally, my good friend who I worked with in the White House lost a brother here a few weeks ago." Note: Rich writes, too, "I love my country" and doesn't take sides in the politics.

How can we tackle stem cells and leave Rich and his troops sitting in danger? We need to figure out how to stop fighting wars. The U.S. spends billions on research for medicine, science and engineering. Perhaps the rest of us are not looking hard enough for peace. I don’t mean that the humanities have all the answers. The people at the table with the big questions might just need some help.

Why do the hard scientists, as humanists grumble, have all the huge grant money? The party line: “Blame the politicians for the lousy funding.” My hypothesis: “It’s the questions. The humanities asks lousy questions.” Look at the carnage of the 20th Century. Is the human condition, our field, doing any better these days? Not yet. Enough to suggest that the world’s problems would welcome a few new ideas. Why don’t the humanities take responsibility for peace and for justice? Someone has to.

I’m an English major. What are the questions we’re asking now? Well, check out the “Forthcoming Meetings and Conferences of General Interest” (italics mine), from the mother ship, the Modern Language Association. Have another click at topics of fresh grants at the National Humanities Center. "Upcoming Events" at The New York Institute for the Humanities has only a seminar that happened six weeks ago. This is all such a fraction of what the world today needs from the humanities.

This humanities situation grabbed me by the throat one afternoon a few years ago, 13,780 feet up on Mauna Kea (Live Webcam. Take a look.) for a board meeting of the 3.6-meter Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope. I asked an astronomer what he was working on. “The equation state of the universe.” Best I can translate: “Where is the universe going and when will it get there?” The magnificent audacity of scientists delights me. They’ll model the whole thing – the universe or a genome. Only the start of the question. Look at where these scientists begin. Christian Veillet, director of the telescope project, also leads a Bach choir and was first to tell me of the Motets.

Here’s the rub. I’ve spent my career so far in business and government. Without the humanities, without The Odyssey or King Lear or Richard II or The Tempest, I would understand even less than I do. My MBA opens doors. Debit left, credit right never hurts. As for the tools for solving problems, my humanities win every time. Again and again, I fail at convincing my professors and their colleagues that they have to take on The Big Questions. I can’t explain sitting on the sidelines to any troops serving in Iraq. Astrophysicists want to model the universe? Be my guest. We’ll model peace. And then justice. What does peace look like?

Humans are good at dissecting Really Big Problems. If a car starts in Washington, D.C., we can map the supply chain and macroeconomic links to a death in Darfur. Time to chart the periodic table of emotional elements here. Why we start our car, anyway. We’re missing something.

A few days after Mauna Kea, I met with some English professors who lamented their department’s aging computers. Their English students had to rely on the generosity of the oceanographers and their computer lab. Fair? Well, we realized, the oceanographers were writing grants to end global warming. The line item for computers was a detail.

The hard scientists are earning their keep. My heroes of the century past are Jonas Salk and Norman Borlaug. Borlaug’s work still feeds millions by putting more grains of wheat on shorter stalks. The rest of us aren’t creating human conditions that can accept these advances at enough scale.

What, with our metaphors, would transform a humanist into a Salk or a Borlaug? Why do we shirk such an impact? For the scientists, it seems, the analysis is a building block toward the shape of the universe or a cure or clean water. I despair. At a humanities conference, I put this to a newly tenured Ivy League art historian. “Well, your question presumes that utility of knowledge is a value,” he said. Almost enough to make me regret Salk’s efforts.

I’m sitting here, too, with books that don’t help my cause. The Discoveries, Great Breakthroughs in 20th Century Science, Including the Original Papers. By Alan Lightman (Pantheon Books, 2005). The other, The New Humanists: Science at the Edge by John Brockman (A Barnes and Noble Book, 2003). Science at the edge? No luck so far on digests of humanities’ accomplishments.

I do consider, on these searches, that if I can I see a problem, I must be wrong. Someone has to be working on this. I Googled "model for peace." A hit at the UNESCO Web site. Promising, but not exactly the "model" I expected: A fashion model who is an advocate for peace. At least Patricia Velasquez is thinking out of the box.

Could we could dream up a NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts for the humanities?

The NEH could have a center that, metaphorically, does what NIAC does: “seeks proposals for revolutionary aeronautics and space concepts that could dramatically impact how NASA develops and conducts its missions. It provides a highly visible, recognizable, and high-level entry point for outside thinkers and researchers. NIAC encourages proposers to think decades into the future in pursuit of concepts that will ‘leapfrog’ the evolution of current aerospace systems. While NIAC seeks advance concept proposals that stretch the imagination, these concepts should be based on sound scientific principles and attainable within a 10 to 40-year time frame.”

Humanists could write the equivalent of Science in Action, How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society, by Bruno Latour (Harvard University Press, 1987). I can’t be alone in thinking that we are insulting to J.S. Bach or Shakespeare or Orwell that that we’re just supposed to sit there as an end. Another alarm is the fine reporting in Radical Evolution, The Promise and Peril of Enhancing Our Minds, Our Bodies – and What it Means to Be Human, by Joel Garreau (Doubleday, 2005). (Disclosure, Joel is a friend.) Mankind is at work enhancing our bodies and our technical minds. No similar efforts enhancing kindness or generosity or ability to walk away from a fight.

Over the years, the humanities establishment has not missed a chance to surrender necessity and national security to all other fields. Congress just added a supplement to the Pell Grant to encourage study in, where? Science and math and engineering and only languages deemed essential to national security. Why did we yield the SMART grant, acronym and funding, to other disciplines? With the U.S. government “waterboarding” humans they call “detainees,” poor command of English is eroding national security.

I checked in Oslo, though those folks only pay for results, Nobel at least offer s a bit of inspiration, how to think like a Nobel Laureate. Try the one about running a prison camp. The challenge for the humanities is to prevent situations that require prison camps. Yes, I know about the Kluge Prize in human sciences. Another that stops at thought: “The main criterion for a recipient of the Kluge Prize is deep intellectual accomplishment in the human sciences.”

I tried our own National Endowment for the Humanities. Anything motivating, inspiring? Hortatory or even instructive? Not that I found on the Web page. Entertaining but not much use if we are going for the big questions is Tom Wolfe and his NEH Jefferson Lecture. I adore Wolfe, but no help here. More whirled peas than world peace. No section on the questions we must answer to improve the human condition.

I know funding for these models for peace and justice will not roll off presses at Bureau of Printing and Engraving without some sweat and blisters. And some battles.

In the U.S., the federal government spends $15 billion a year, as far as I could total, for research at universities. Our $50 million for peace is not going to fall into anyone’s lap just for imaginative thinking. One thing to be intrigued. Quite another to develop the $100 million grant for justice. I can’t assume those with the grants are looking to share.

We humanists deal often in adages when we are stuck. Here’s one: “If you want something done right.….” I cranked “Carnegie Endowment for International Peace” into Google, hit the Contact Us button and let fly. (Adage: Faint heart wins little.) On Memorial Day, by coincidence.

-----Original Message-----
From: Wick Sloane []
Sent: Monday, May 29, 2006 6:27 PM
To: Info
Subject: Visiting Scholar/Grant Application
Congratulations on the fine work of the Endowment. Would you direct me to the information I need to consider making a proposal for funding to design a model for world, or international, peace?

Thank you very much.

J.R.W. Sloane
One Avon Place
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02140

Reply came the next morning before even the coffee could have warmed up at Carnegie.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: Visiting Scholar/Grant Application
Date: Tue, 30 May 2006 09:01:37 -0400
From: Info
To: Wick Sloane
I'm sorry but the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is not a grant-making organization.
Thank you for your interest.

Where might I turn? I wrote back. No reply.

Note to Jessica Tuchman Matthews, Carnegie President: Whacking the person on a.m. e-mail duty would be a poor response. Instead, let’s have a power breakfast up the street at Kramerbooks. Isn’t the 20th century evidence enough that we need a better handle on the components and causes of peace? Invite Patricia Velasquez.

If you don’t mind a metaphor, shall we let John Milton, asking for help in beginning Paradise Lost, set the bar for a project well beyond our everyday reach?

I thence Invoke thy aid to my adventurous song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th' Aonian mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.

Or in modeling peace? 

Wick Sloane
Author's email:

Wick Sloane is chief operating officer at Generon Consulting in Massachusetts and former chief financial officer of the University of Hawaii system.


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