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David Bruggeman (email: dbrugg AT has worked in various science and technology policy positions in Washington, D.C., where he is currently the Public Policy Analyst for the Association for Computing Machinery. He holds a masters degree in Science, Technology and Public Policy from the George Washington University and in his spare time is trying to finish his Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies from Virginia Tech.

Science and Technology Policy Researchers and Practice: Do They Inform Each Other?
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General July 31, 2008

Budget Doubling Can Be Hazardous to Your Health
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | R&D Funding July 26, 2008

Accountability and Federally Funded Research - Not Mutually Exculsive
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General July 10, 2008

Science and Technology Receive Money in Supplemental
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General June 29, 2008

Science and Technology Policy Report Roundup
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General | Technology Policy June 24, 2008

Senator Obama's Science and Technology Policies
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics May 23, 2008

Senator McCain's Science and Technology Policies
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics May 22, 2008

Senator Clinton's Science and Technology Policies
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics May 21, 2008

Comparing Candidate Policies on Science and Technology
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics | Science Policy: General May 15, 2008

ScienceDebate2008 - Lessons Learned?
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics April 26, 2008

Science Advisor Confirms His Existence
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics April 25, 2008

Memo to ScienceDebate Supporters - Don't Fudge Facts
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics April 18, 2008

Climate Change Interview with John Holdren
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Climate Change April 17, 2008

Mission Creep in the War on Science
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics April 16, 2008

April Fool's Day as Teachable Moment?
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Technology Policy | The Honest Broker April 01, 2008

State Science and Technology Policy Advice
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General March 10, 2008

Blogging - Even Daniel Greenberg Does It
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General March 06, 2008

Information Request - NSF and a Lack of Data Protection
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General March 02, 2008

R&D Funding - An Investment that Looks Like an Entitlement
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | R&D Funding | Science + Politics February 20, 2008

New Measures for Innovation
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Scientific Assessments January 23, 2008

Science Budget Trouble Is Becoming a Habit
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | R&D Funding January 18, 2008

2008 Edition of Science and Engineering Indicators Out Now
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General January 17, 2008

STS Acting with Science, Technology and Policy
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General December 07, 2007

More Intellectual Disrobing, Please
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics | Science Policy: General November 13, 2007

The Problems with Calling for a Science President
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics October 30, 2007

A Technology Assessment Revival?
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General August 17, 2007

To go from RAGS to legislation
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | R&D Funding | Science Policy: General July 04, 2007

Baby Steps Toward a Science of Science Policy
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | R&D Funding | Science Policy: General April 13, 2007

The House Science and Technology Committee - More than Just a Name Change
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General | government April 13, 2007

Implementing Science of Science Policy: Different Approaches
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General February 04, 2007

Oversight Exemptions for NOAA?
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General June 15, 2006

Skeptics Society Conference Preview
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Environment May 04, 2006

Conference of Interest – Science, Technology and Innovation
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Hodge Podge January 23, 2006

Policy Sciences and the Field of S&T Policy
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General January 11, 2006

Summary of Policy Sciences Discussion
   in Author: Bruggeman, D. | Hodge Podge January 11, 2006

July 31, 2008

Science and Technology Policy Researchers and Practice: Do They Inform Each Other?

I wanted to note for our readers the essay titled "History of Science and American Science Policy" from the current (June 2008) issue of Isis, the journal of the History of Science Society. Full citation:

Wang, Zuoyue and Naomi Oreskes. 2008. "History of Science and American Science Policy," Isis, 99:2 (June), 365-373.

The essay is part of the journal's Focus section, which in this issue asks "What is the Value of History of Science?" The other essays explore how the History of Science has or could influence other areas of scientific activity. While I found value in each of the essays, there are two things I wanted to post related to this particular example.

One thing that struck me as I read about the work of historians of science in the policy sphere in the late 1950s and 1980s is their absence in the 22 years since the 1986 study sponsored by the House. Add to that relative absence of other scholars dealing with science and technology policy in the practice of same, and I'm persuaded there's a whole lot of knowledge transfer not going on that could.

That it doesn't happen (or isn't obvious) in science and technology policy research makes me wonder if the academic field is doing much more than perpetuating itself. Since only a small percentage of their students need go into academic careers to sustain their numbers, they don't have to work that hard.

If I'm wrong about this, what should I be reading and where should I be looking? I'm not talking about government reports like those produced by the Congressional Research Service or the deified Office of Technology Assessment; nor do I mean reports written by think tanks, the National Academies or other non-academic, non-governmental bodies. They are written in a process and with a goal distinct from that of most academic research. I am looking for scholarship from science and technology policy researchers that has been effectively transferred to practitioners? In my work conducting policy analysis related to computer science, I'm rarely asked or encouraged to go to the academic literature unless it's in computer science. There are many scholars who conduct evaluation work of science and technology programs for various agencies, but that work rarely places specific programs into larger contexts or provides critical analyses beyond the specific program in question.

Now, I don't place this issue squarely at the feet of academic researchers. I've seen little indication from practitioners that they are seeking information that academic research can provide, or even know much about the bodies of knowledge that they can use for their work. I doubt there's a sole cause behind this, as the pressure to perform or produce, the difference between policy-relevant and academic knowledge, the lack of awareness of what's going on in academic research, and the time-scale differences between the two sectors all have some influence on why these two groups don't talk that much. But it seems to me a screaming inefficiency that there isn't some greater effort to transfer knowledge, or communicate ongoing research and ongoing questions between the two groups.

As an aside, in the essay by Zuoyue and Oreskes, I see yet again this revelation to at least one of the authors that policymaking is oh so different from what they do and/or what they expected. As somebody who attempts to work in both policy research and policy practice, my expectations may be too high. But it just strikes me as really naive that congressional hearings or similar activities are such an eye-opening experience to highly educated people ostensibly interested in policy. That they haven't bothered to at least take a peak at what they might be getting into before testifying or researching congressional decision-making really reinforces all those isolationist stereotypes associated with the ivory tower. It's politics, for crying out loud. You expected it to resemble a judicial trial or a research workshop? Maybe I shouldn't be so surprised that knowledge isn't flowing between science and technology policy researchers and practitioners.

Posted on July 31, 2008 06:30 PM View this article | Comments (2)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General

July 26, 2008

Budget Doubling Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

For some, this will be old news, as data like this has been available for a few years. For others, read and take heed as the physical sciences stagger toward a doubling of their federal research budgets.

In what might be described as the only success of the science and technology advocacy communities in the post-Cold War period, the budget of the National Institutes of Health was doubled during the last part of the Clinton Administration and ending during the first years of the current Bush Administration. What was greeting with huzzahs and kudos a few years ago has left a sour aftertaste in the mouth of many, in part because a doubling path was not sustainable, and nobody planned for it.

Some of the sobering details, taken from the latest Senate Appropriations Subcommittee report concerning the NIH. You can find the full report online. (Hat Tip, American Institute of Physics)

"Since the end of the 5-year doubling effort, in fiscal year 2003, funding for the National Institutes of Health [NIH] has declined, in real terms, by 12.3 percent. The average researcher now has a less than 1 in 5 chance of getting an NIH grant application approved, and the average age at which researchers receive their first RO1 grant has risen to 42."


Graduate students entering the field during times of flush federal funding will be disappointed. I'd rather have not enough Ph.D.s than a plethora of bitter ones infiltrating the ranks of post-docs and depressing wages across the board. I am concerned that the increasing ages of first R01 may lead to a situation where the best and brightest get out, leaving those in faculty positions who are less than capable of inspiring the next generations.

Unless you can guarantee a doubling will *not* be followed by essentially flat funding (which given inflation, is really a net decline), expectations will be unrealistically raised, and then dashed.

The physical sciences and engineering are really in trouble, if the fields that have seen the greatest increases in enrollment (and in participation from underrepresented groups) cannot convert significant percentages of its undergraduates into graduate students. Now, I'm one of the minority that thinks the focus on Ph.D. production is too narrow, but I don't control the rhetoric in play.

"The administration's budget ignores these warning signs and proposes to freeze NIH funding at the fiscal year 2008 level of $29,229,524,000. Under this plan, the success rate for research project grants would fall to 18 percent, the lowest level on record."

There is plenty to castigate the current administration about on science and technology, as well as research and development. However, neither a Gore Administration nor a Kerry Administration would have necessarily avoided this basic course. At best they would have kept funding up with inflation. After all, the agency's budget was just doubled. A reasonable expectation would have been that the agency would need some adjustment time to demonstrate that they were able to manage the additional resources effectively, and that even more new resources were necessary. Anything else comes off sounding like the NIH (and its advocates) are really just Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors.

The Committee rejects the administration's approach and instead recommends an overall NIH funding increase of $1,025,000,000, for a total of $30,254,524,000. That amount would allow NIH funding to keep up with the biomedical inflation rate (3.5 percent) for the first time in 6 years. It would also increase the estimated number of new, competing research project grants to 10,471- the most ever at NIH

Even when the Republicans were in the majority, Congress has been a pretty solid failure in its ability to see that science and technology funding requests survive to the final budget. This lack of will is likely part of the reason Congress enjoys a smaller approval rating than the President.

My personal preference would be for a funding strategy that better reflects investments than gorging. But I am afraid that would take a revision of federal budget laws and processes. And if there is anything that leads the government in dysfunction, it is the federal budget process.

Oddly enough, the stutter steps that the physical sciences doubling is taking may be a better struggle than what NIH and its communities are going through. Better that programs struggle now rather than they have full coffers that disappear after a few years. With any luck, smart program officers and division directors can try and prepare their communities to make effective long-term investments for the dry times that will follow this doubling. From a human resources perspective, professional science masters degrees are something I strongly encourage. Read more about them here.

Posted on July 26, 2008 08:48 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | R&D Funding

July 10, 2008

Accountability and Federally Funded Research - Not Mutually Exculsive

Among the many different old, ill-formed, and just plain inaccurate tenets found in science and technology policy rhetoric is the notion that accountability for federal research funds only means one thing: an overly simplistic metric of dollars per discovery (much, much easier said than done). The most recent example of this can be found in the August 2008 issue of Seed magazine. In an interview found on pages 22 and 24 of that issue (titled "Foundation Building," not yet available online), Dr. Colwell notes, in response to a question about difficulties in building support for curiosity-driven basic research, answered:

Well, I didn't really get the question, "How many discoveries are you going to make this year if we give you the money?" but there was an implication too often that they wanted to have some sort of accountability. That is, if you spent x number of dollars, you would get y number of discoveries. Fortunately good sense and intelligence prevailed.

Accountability is a good thing, particularly accountability where taxpayer money is involved. But the way Colwell defines accountability forces her to speak of it as though it is a bad thing. Not a great example of good sense. And not an isolated incident.

So, agreeing that a measure of dollars per discovery is an ineffective measure of the impact of research spending (and probably a difficult metric to capture), how should we consider accountability for federal research money?

My first observation is that this discussion is usually framed in terms of what accountability should not be. Another relevant point is that what the scientific communities would consider as being accountable for their money or using it effectively will not completely overlap with what the federal government will consider accountable or effective.

All that said, the NSF, like all federal agencies, is obligated to submit Performance Reports with each Budget Request. So the FY 2007 Report was submitted with the FY 2009 Request. You can access it through the NSF website.

Reviewing the FY 2007 Performance Report Highlights, many of the research and education goals are handled through external expert review, per recommendations from a 2001 National Academies report, Implementing the Government Performance and Results Act for Research: A Status Report (full disclosure: I helped staff the report). The recommendations in that report encouraged that scientific research be evaluating on criteria of quality, relevance and leadership. Now there are assumptions behind those criteria that have not been really debated or questioned outside of the scientific community. But this is a measure of accountability, so for Colwell to suggest that there isn't is odd, and to not mention the means by which NSF tries to assess its effectiveness is to miss an opportunity to boost the perception of those scientists and engineers beating their tin Ehrlemeyer flasks for federal research dollars.

To the extent practical, democratic government functions better for its citizens the more transparent it is. Scientific communities fight this for fear of micromanagement. To celebrate and advertise the assessment measures for scientific research can help strengthen the perception of those politicians and policymakers outside the House Science and Technology Committee that are at best indifferent to the fate of the scientific and technological enterprise in the U.S.

I don't expect such a recognition of assessment to purge the linear model from the halls of Congress, nor do I expect it to open the eyes of people to the point that science funding is no longer an afterthought in the appropriations process (the deficit model is an even bigger cognitive block than the linear model). I do expect a better ability of people to see what is happening with scientific research dollars, and perhaps detect changes to the workforce (grant trends - including personnel support - are probably the easiest metrics to capture about research) in a way that can move policy arguments past the collections of anecdotes that often pass for data.

Posted on July 10, 2008 05:17 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General

June 29, 2008

Science and Technology Receive Money in Supplemental

A casualty of the budget 'compromise' for fiscal year 2008 (October 1, 2007-September 30, 2008), funding for science and technology agencies like the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Department of Energy's Office of Science, may get a reprieve in the supplemental funding legislation that just passed the House of Representatives.

Supplemental funding bills, at least for the last few years, have focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This time, $161.8 billion of the bill will focus on those wars, and there will be $24.7 billion of discretionary spending, covering things like flood relief for the Midwest, and continued levee repair in that area and the Gulf Coast.

Part of the bill will cover science and technology funding, not completely making up for the cuts to the FY 2008 requested totals these agencies suffered in this year's failure to pass the federal budget on time. Per ASTRA, a science advocacy organization focused on the physical sciences, the totals in this bill for science are approximately $400 million (first item as of this writing). AAAS places the total figure at $338 million (probably due to differences in what the groups count in their research and development funding totals).

However, what was once abnormal, irregular budgetary practice has become the norm. I would not expect the FY 2009 budget to be passed by the beginning of that fiscal year, and the budget may not be approved until after the election.

Frustrated? Disappointed? Contact your Senators and Representatives and complain. Then do it again in a few weeks.

Posted on June 29, 2008 03:39 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General

June 24, 2008

Science and Technology Policy Report Roundup

A perfectly non-scientific sampling of reports on science and technology policy in the United States, some from organizations that may not be familiar to everyone.

The RAND Corporation - A long-standing science and technology research company, RAND started with national security issues and has branched out into many different areas. Until the early part of this decade, they ran the Science and Technology Policy Institute, and its predecessor, the Critical Technologies Institute, for the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

U.S. Competitiveness in Science and Technology - This monograph is a nice contrast to the occasionally overheated rhetoric about the impending collapse of the U.S. science and engineering enterprise. It notes the continued strengths of American research and development, noting that our leadership should not be taken for granted. Another interesting note (at least to me) was the notion that globalization can work both ways. from the research summary at the link above:

Counterintuitively, globalization and the rise of science and technology capability in other nations may prove to be economically beneficial to the United States overall. A future with more technologies invented abroad can benefit the United States, since domestic use of new technology, whether invented in the United States or elsewhere, can result in greater efficiency, economic growth, and higher living standards.

Adapting and adopting new technology - whether developed in the United States or elsewhere - is a useful skill in maintaining a competitive edge. That's an idea worth exploring and repeating.

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences - Not to be confused with that other AAAS, this Academy is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is nearly 70 years older, and draws from all fields when selecting its members.

The ARISE Report - ARISE stands for Advancing Research in Science and Engineering. The report is from the Academy's Initiative on Science, Engineering and Technology which is concerned about science literacy and the interactions of science, technology and society. The report's recommendation focus on encouraging high-risk research and supporting young researchers. While the second one may seem a no-brainer, I appreciate the attention provided the first concern. As forward thinking as universities can be, they are still very conservative institutions (in the traditional sense, not the contemporary left-right sense). The same can be said of the scientific communities that provide reviewers for government proposals. I think this report could have been stronger in its recommendations to peer reviewers about being more responsive to high-risk or transformative research, as well as being more supportive of early career researchers.

Woodrow Wilson Center - Named for the president, the center hosts a number of different projects meant to encourage policy scholarship in a number of areas.

OSTP 2.0 - Critical Upgrade A report from earlier this month that urges that the Office of Science and Technology Policy be better utilized. The recommendations are mostly nothing new: appoint a national leader in science and engineering as the OSTP Director, make the appointment quickly, and make high quality appointments to PCAST and related advisory boards. The new recommendation is to establish a Federal-State Science and Technology Council to share information between the states and the federal government. Two of the report's authors are former OSTP staffers.

Funding the Foundation: Basic Science at the Crossroads - A conference report from the center's Science, Technology, America and the Global Economy project. The report is based on an address by Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson, President of Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute, and a panel discussion of academic and industrial leaders in physical sciences. If you've followed the arguments before, during and after the release of Rising Above the Gathering Storm, the basic arguments here will be familiar to you.

May 23, 2008

Senator Obama's Science and Technology Policies

Check out the candidates' science and technology related policies here.

I conclude this series of analyses of candidates' science and technology policies with Senator Obama. If I can take anything from this exercise is that it defies easy surface analysis. Going on what is typically considered science and technology policy will miss things that are relevant and important for science and technology. Education, for instance, underlies a fair amount of science and technology policy, and the two areas are not well connected in federal policies, or candidates' campaigns.

Senator Obama's science and technology policies are not terribly different from those of Senators Clinton and McCain, at least for the big picture. For me, the differences emerge through how Senator Obama presents these issues, and in how he makes a more explicit appeal for using science and technology to achieve policy goals.

For instance, while Senator Obama hits many of the same points as Senator Clinton does in her Innovation Agenda it's placed in his website'sTechnology section among discussion of his proposals on broadband deployment, internet predators, privacy and network neutrality. It's the collection of seemingly disparate issues linked, at least in part, through technology, that strikes me as different and encouraging.

The Senator's science policies are also described in a separate section. They reflect the same basic priorities found in Senator Clinton's Innovation Agenda, but the doubling Senator Obama wants doesn't have the timeframe or specifics that Senator Clintons' plan does. Again, the difference is in presentation. The goals of both Democratic candidates in conventional science and technology policies (such as research funding, more underrepresented groups, visas for scientists and engineers) are essentially the same, though the smaller details differ. While those differences matter in terms of policy and governance, I am not so confident that those small differences will matter politically.

One notable point about Senator Obama's policies is his willingness to use technology in order to achieve other policy goals. To paraphrase the categorization of Harvey Brooks, Senator Obama is interested in technology for policy at least as much as policy for science and technology. Again, the other candidates do this too, primarily in energy, health care, and environmental policy. To offer policies about using technology to open government and improve infrastructure should serve as a reminder that science and technology have many roles to play in public policy and in political campaigns. I think that advocacy groups would be better served in their efforts to increase federal support for science and technology to better engage with the many different roles science and technology can play in these areas.

Posted on May 23, 2008 09:32 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics

May 22, 2008

Senator McCain's Science and Technology Policies

Check out the candidates' science and technology related policies here.

In this post I want to assess Senator McCain's science and technology related policies.

Arguably Senator McCain has placed the least emphasis of the three candidates on science and technology policies. To be fair, I don't think any of the candidates have placed a great deal of emphasis on science and technology policies - at least in the same way that the constituent advocacy groups would like. For instance, all three senators have advanced cap-and-trade plans for carbon emissions (McCain's plan is the only one that would issue the carbon credits for free). This is likely considered by most as an environmental policy rather than a science and technology policy (I think the notion that the two policy areas are often considered independent of each other is a problem for those interested in seeing science and technology policies gain more political cachet).

While I don't think Senator McCain would ignore science and technology policy (or has - he did serve as Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over most of the science portfolio), hewing to the traditional Republican line would imply embracing policies that would either leave action to the private sector, or provide incentives for the private sector to invest or take other desired action. Whether or not this is an area of policy where McCain will be a traditional Republican or not is not clear given the lack of statements from the McCain campaign on the traditional areas of science policy. You can infer from the absence of those statements that he would, but the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. For instance, he is of a kind with the Democratic candidates in opposing the stem cell research ban. So it's possible that he might be the least hands-off of the Republicans who ran for President this year, but more hands-off than the two Democratic contenders.

There have been recent events that suggest McCain could disappoint those concerned with science and technology policy.

This past March Senator McCain made a good impression of Senator William Proxmire (noted for awarding the "Golden Fleece" award to government projects he thought were a waste of time). He objected to a study of grizzly bear DNA in a campaign commercial. Such studies are typical low-hanging targets that sound like a big waste when they are usually small dollars - at least in terms of the whole budget. You can read about this incident in this Washington Post article.

In January of this year, I read an article in the Washington Post noting the lack of attention given to technology in the campaign (which I am having trouble finding online). The author quoted McCain about technology, indicating it could be something he would assign to his vice-president. Do note that President Clinton did something similar during his administration, so perhaps Senator McCain's vice-presidential choice could be as relevant to the science and technology policy communities as his choice for science adviser.

There are also concerns over McCain's environmental plans, which have been criticized as not going as far as necessary. Given where I'm posting, I'll leave it for others to plumb those problems.

In short, McCain's science and technology policies are notable as much for what is not said by the campaign as much as what is said. It reflects a conventional Republican perspective, focusing more on technology than science, and more on market solutions than government support. While I suspect most advocates will find him wanting, I suspect that for most voters, there are other issues that will determine whether they support McCain or not. I think the same is true for the other candidates.

Posted on May 22, 2008 10:47 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics

May 21, 2008

Senator Clinton's Science and Technology Policies

Check out the candidates' science and technology related policies here.

Of the three candidates, Senator Clinton has made the most visible attempt to publicize her proposals for science and technology policy. This was done in a speech last October, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Sputnik launch. Perhaps consistent with this appeal to history, her policies in S&T appear to be the most conventional of the three candidates. To be sure, this is not an area in which any of the candidates are being particularly innovative, and this is not an area that will swing a number of votes to a particular candidate. But if any of the candidates (or their campaigns) formed their S&T policies from the talking points of the various science and technology advocacy groups, Senator Clinton is the most likely choice.

If you look at the Senator's Innovation Agenda you won't see anything that hasn't already been advanced by one advocacy group or another. In short, more research money, more people (through more fellowships and greater outreach to underrepresented groups), and more incentives for private sector investment (R&D tax credit changes, money for prizes, and various funds for alternative energy and green building). She wants to increase the budgets of both the NIH and (in a separate item/increase) the NSF, DOE Office of Science, and Department of Defense basic research budgets. Oddly enough, the amounts of increase for this group of agencies appears to be less than the doubling stipulated in the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). To be fair, the ACI covers NSF, NIST and the DOE Office of Science, but it would appear that Senator Clinton will favor the biomedical sciences over the physical sciences, when there is some consensus that the physical sciences are in greater need of assistance.

There are some parts of the Innovation Agenda that are different.

Most notable is the last point - Restore Integrity to Science Policy. This is consistent with Senator Clinton's invocation of the war on science, which she has used in a broader sense than Chris Mooney likely intended. Her plan to end this "war" is outlined in another policy statement. While I disagree with the idea that the stem cell research ban is part of the war on science, the rest of the points would be familiar to those who have followed the debates over the politicization of science - banning political appointees from editing scientific documents, allowing career scientists and civil servants to take the lead on agency rule-making, requiring annual reports on the efforts to prevent political pressure on editing scientific reports, and a broader national assessment for climate change (again, not sure that this qualifies as part of the war on science).

Also notable is the required set-aside of 8 percent of an agency's research budget for high-risk research. The policy statement references DARPA and it's high-risk/cutting-edge portfolio, but this also reflects language from draft provisions of the ACI. In an agenda that is relatively safe and conventional in its provisions, this is a welcome exception.

While I find nothing particularly objectionable in the policies advanced by Senator Clinton (there's the tricky question of paying for those policies, but I don't expect her to be alone on this point), there's little here for me to be excited about. As I post about the other two candidates, I don't expect that to change. This leads me to think that had ScienceDebate 2008 happened, the effort would have ended more with a whimper than a bang. It's just not a focus at the Presidential level, so there's little incentive to innovate in this area of policy - at least for Presidential candidates.

Posted on May 21, 2008 10:49 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics

May 15, 2008

Comparing Candidate Policies on Science and Technology

Over the next week I intend to make some posts about the science and technology policies of the three remaining major party candidates. With an eye toward generating discussion, I want to take a moment and note links to the candidates' policies on science and technology. I am focusing on the candidates' own statements or position papers from their websites. There are plenty of comparison websites, and they have their own perspective on the issues (and what 'counts' as science and technology issues).

This is intended as only a starting point. If I'm missing some resource that should be in the list below, please let us know in the comments.

Links after the jump, but two points worth noting. It's rare to see all of a candidate's positions related to science and technology all in one place. It's even more rare to see them categorized as such. You're more likely to see references to innovation and competitiveness or more issue specific areas (such as climate change and economic competitiveness).

Additionally, many campaign speeches and press releases are ill-described in search results or lists of media on these websites. I may very well have missed a relevant speech because the tagline was "Senator X Remarks at Iowa Jefferson-Jackson/Lincoln Day Dinner" and not "Senator X Remarks on Federal Research and Development Budgets"

Warning: Links to main sites for the candidates may redirect to a contribution form. If this happens, look for the skip button.

Senator McCain:
Remarks on climate change
Climate Change Plan
Remarks on energy policy

Senator Clinton:
Hillary Clinton's Innovation Agenda
Innovation Agenda press release
Ending the War on Science
Speech on Scientific Integrity and Innovation
Remarks on energy and the environment
Speech on improving infrastructure
Food Safety Plan

Senator Obama:
Energy and the Environment
Speech on Energy, October 2007
Speech on Energy, May 2007
Speech on Energy Independence, September 2006
Speech on Energy, February 2006
Speech on Energy, September 2005
Speech on Energy and Climate Change
Technology and Innovation
Remarks on Innovation and Education

April 26, 2008

ScienceDebate2008 - Lessons Learned?

No, it's not officially dead, but with the recent cancellation of a North Carolina debate that wasn't focused on science, and Senator Clinton's challenge today for an unmoderated debate, the likelihood that the event ScienceDebate 2008 first thought would happen in Pennsylvania, then in Oregon, rapidly approaches zero.

ScienceDebate 2008 has already been criticized here for being confusing about the intended purpose. Others have supported the effort, suggesting that at least it got people motivated about the problem. But ScienceDebate isn't the first groups to assemble a collection of dignitaries to prove the value of their message. Between them, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Scientists and Engineers for America, various groups of scientists for past presidential candidates, and the plethora of business and other consortia agitating for attention to science and technology, we haven't gotten very far. Whether they like it or not, ScienceDebate 2008 happened in Boston this past February during the AAAS meeting.

ScienceDebate 2008 is another example of good intentions horribly executed. Some possible reasons after the jump.

Political Debates Are Ideal as Theater, Little More
If you want to watch a show, then I can understand the appeal of the debates. But that is not the goal of ScienceDebate 2008. From the website:

We believe a debate on these issues would be the ideal opportunity for America and the candidates to explore our national priorities on the issues.

There's a good reason the League of Women Voters quit the debate game 20 years ago. The debates were already being scripted and molded into carefully crafted theater pieces by the candidates and their advisers. The coverage of these debates is not about comparing candidates priorities on the issues, but how answer A to question B would influence the votes of demographic C. Questions about character are no longer "who is your favorite political philosopher and why?" but opportunities to distance a candidate from disagreeable things said by other people. With apologies to Macbeth debates are full of sound and fury, but often signify nothing. I blame nobody for feeling debate fatigue, least of all the candidates.

One Step at a Time
Why start with a debate? Having sat in a few meetings with campaigns discussing their positions on various issues, I know that campaigns are willing to sit down with interested parties, be they niche or broad-based groups. Certainly the journalists in the organizing groups would have campaign contacts. With the strength of their supporters list, ScienceDebate could have held meetings with the various campaigns to better understand the candidates' perspectives on campaign issues, and to communicate the issues of interest related to science and technology. They may also have had the chance to offer their guidance on scientific or technical issues, helping avoid the situation where all three candidates managed to support the dubious claims that vaccines contributed to the rise in autism.

I suspect the idea to start with a debate was the idea that the public needs to know why these issues matter, but my previous point speaks to why debates are lousy education forums. Yes, the science and technology communities have done poorly in convincing the public of the importance of their work. That's part of the reason why candidates can deal with those issues by crafting their position papers and leaving it be. Most voters don't know or don't care.

Grow Your Base
Everything about ScienceDebate 2008 suggests to me an effort to craft a general purpose debate on science and technology. While that appeals to me as a generalist, it misses something politically. By engaging the various science and technology niches, ScienceDebate 2008 could have transcended the perception of a niche into a larger group worthy of attention. There are plenty of groups - inside and outside of science and technology communities - that have a stake in issues related to science and technology. Open government groups may respond to Senator Obama's position on using technology to open government. Business groups will be interested in Senator McCain's proposal to expense investments in technology. Construction groups will be interested in Senator Clinton's proposed fund to support purchases of environmentally sound homes. And by engaging these groups, the message that science and technology matter can spread.

Should I be proven wrong and there will be a ScienceDebate before the general election, I still believe these criticisms are valid. I'm supportive of the goals. The methods leave much to be desired.

Posted on April 26, 2008 04:12 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics

April 25, 2008

Science Advisor Confirms His Existence

Correcting two Nobel Prize Winners, Science Advisor to the President, Dr. John Marburger responded in today's Wall Street Journal to last week's Op-Ed from Drs. David Baltimore and Ahmed Zewail bemoaning the lack of a science debate. Marburger was generally supportive of the piece until he noted what I did in an earlier post here - that the assertion that there is no science adviser nor science office in the White House is false. He was a good sport about it, which is all the better to him.

While I had much evidence to the contrary, a Google search on "presidential science adviser" reassured me that my office and I do in fact exist in the virtual as well as in the real world.

My thanks to the OSTP Communications Director for letting us know of the letter - and that Prometheus is on their radar.

The original Journal piece has since been amended with a correction - something that can't help the advocacy of Baltimore and Zewail. It's hard to respect the arguments of someone who can't get their facts straight.

Posted on April 25, 2008 01:23 PM View this article | Comments (1)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics

April 18, 2008

Memo to ScienceDebate Supporters - Don't Fudge Facts

Today was the scheduled date for the simultaneously quixotic and pragmatic ScienceDebate 2008. Since it won't be happening, at least in Philadelphia (the organizers are going to try for another date in Portland, Oregon shortly before that state's May 20th primary), there have been some pieces in the blogosphere (particulary bemoaning the absence of interest from the candidates in the debate.

While the non-event of ScienceDebate 2008 is worth analyzing (which I hope to do next week), I wish to take to task two authors of an Op-Ed in the April 17 edition of the Wall Street Journal advocating increased support of science and of ScienceDebate 2008.

Two Nobel Prize winners, David Baltimore (Biology 1975) and Ahmed Zewail (Chemistry 1999) manage the impressive feat of making Dr. John Marburger, the Presidential science adviser, disappear.

The piece is novel perhaps only in its location in the Wall Street Journal. The arguments are standard, and include appeals for increased science support due to economic impact, increased foreign competition (Rising Above the Gathering Storm is referenced, almost de rigueur in such pieces), and decreased opportunities for young scientists. But the authors undercut their arguments with some clear factual errors. To wit:

Today we do not have a presidential science adviser and there is no office of science in the White House.

I suspect the authors were trying to criticize President Bush for appointing Dr. Marburger at a lower level (Science Adviser to the President) than prior science advisers (which were formally titled Assistant to the President). But it reads as though we were back in the Nixon administration, when the science adviser position and the Office of Science and Technology Policy were shuttered.

So Baltimore and Zewail misrepresent the state of science advice, and go on to misrepresent the state of science initiatives.

Last year things seemed hopeful, at least for the physical sciences. The National Academy of Sciences issued a report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," that helped drive Congress to pass legislation – the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) – aimed at bolstering the sciences. It was supposed to beef up the study of science in high school. In the end, no money was found to fund the initiative. It was a commitment made, but not kept.

This paragraph is missing a critical adjective in front of funding. The ACI has not been fully funded. Some money has been found to fund parts of the initiative. It still is a setback, but not the catastrophe that no funding would be.

Putting aside the value of their arguments, by fudging the facts Baltimore and Zewail undercut their cause. At the very least they are misleading the public. Should the public figure it out, their reputations - and by extension their arguments - will be discredited. A reasonable response to this would be 'Why should we listen to them if they can't get their facts right?' Baltimore already has enough borderline questionable activity (look into the Baltimore Affair for more information) in his past that he should both know better and be more careful when he makes pronouncements. So should we all.

Posted on April 18, 2008 06:43 PM View this article | Comments (5)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics

April 17, 2008

Climate Change Interview with John Holdren

Regular readers may find it surprising to see me post on climate change, but you don't see this every day.

Harvard's John Holdren is currently on television (at least on the East Coast) discussing climate change for two segments with a national figure. The big deal, which includes the name of the interviewer, after the jump.

If you looked at the timestamp, you might have guessed, but Dr. Holdren is on The Late Show with David Letterman. Dave is being relatively serious, joking only about noticing climate change when a pond in his backyard would boil in the summers. Letterman describes himself as someone who's come around on the issue, and I think it's genuine, as I recall him noting other signs of climate change at various times during his show over the last several years.

Holdren is acquitting himself well, unlike certain other noted scientists who have appeared on popular television to discuss scientific issues (Dr. Agre, I'm looking at you). He's nearly jargon free, and aside from the gaffe of not getting up until after the show breaks for commercial, appeared to be a consummate pro. Nice job.

Those in other time zones can probably catch the show later this evening. Dr. Holdren is the second guest. I suspect it will be available online at some point, if not at, then at other providers.

Posted on April 17, 2008 10:32 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Climate Change

April 16, 2008

Mission Creep in the War on Science

While reviewing the policy statements of the remaining presidential candidates with respect to science and technology, I noted what is to me an unfortunate use of the phrase "War on Science."

Before I get into the details, a couple of necessary statements.

I am commenting strictly on the use of language. No endorsement, pro or con, is implied of the particular candidate.

While I welcome comments about what Chris Mooney and others mean for the phrase interpretations of what the "War on Science" is or should be are strictly my own. So are any misinterpretations.

A recent press release on aerospace and aviation funding from Sen. Clinton's campaign appears to expand the meaning of the War on Science.

Most of the press release concerns traditional red meat for the scientific and technical communities. More funding for all the things those communities desire (additional federal research money, more fellowships, more incentives for R&D investment). Nothing objective, nothing new, nothing out of the ordinary. But one sentence caught my eye.

From the press release (specifically from part of a paragraph on initiatives for aerospace research and NASA activities):

Hillary will double NASA’s and FAA's aeronautics R&D budgets as part of her plan to reverse the Bush administration’s war on science.

Sen. Clinton has consistently noted the various efforts of the Bush administration to willfully ignore or squash scientific evidence, as have Prometheus readers. That kind of activity is consistent with how I read Mooney's formulation of the War on Science.

What is new to me is associating increased research budgets with this War on Science. This mission creep is misguided, and if others pick up on this and run with it, what power a War on Science may have will be undercut.

First, while individual areas of research may have suffered a drop in funding, research funding overall has not suffered cuts in overall dollars. Yes, there have been reductions in the rate of growth, but if there really was a battle in the War on Science over research funding, I would expect to see cuts in budgets.

You may be thinking "While the actual dollars may not have been cut, stagnant funding actually restricts the research enterprise." But the value in the War on Science is in perception as much as anything. If the strength of your argument is in the details, it doesn't have the quick punch of big numbers.

Second, and perhaps more important for those with an ideological stake in the conflict, limited research budgets have been a perennial complaint that crosses party lines and presidential administrations. It's not a war when everyone's against you - it's a siege. While I've never thought the War on Science argument held a lot of sway outside of scientific communities, I know arguments for more money don't hold much sway outside of scientific communities, since they compete with other arguments for more money.

This particular use of the War on Science appears to be isolated, but should Senator Clinton become the Democratic nominee, I will keep an eye out for more of this mission creep.

Posted on April 16, 2008 08:27 PM View this article | Comments (3)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics

April 01, 2008

April Fool's Day as Teachable Moment?

Today there are no doubt a plethora of jokes bouncing through the interwebs. Whether this is reflective of the mindset in Washington or an attempt at stealth advocacy, I've noted the following from Public Knowledge, a public interest group focused on intellectual property rights.

Public Knowledge Slams New Intellectual Property Legislation

As the title of this post suggests, this is indeed an April Fool's joke. The execution is a bit subtle, but those who dig into the comments embedded in the associated legislation should figure it out.

At the risk of further ruining the joke, I wonder how effective it is to devise a piece of legislation that cobbles together worst case scenarios for content users and throw it into a gag. It's worth noting what parts of their gag legislation are reflective of actual legislation, but I'm not sure how many people will read deeply enough into this that weren't already aware of the issues.

So let me raise this question, independent of the April 1 baggage - how effective can worst-case alarmist scenarios be in evoking meaningful action? Does it depend on the issue?

March 10, 2008

State Science and Technology Policy Advice

I wanted to make note of a National Academies report, State Science and Technology Policy Advice: Issues, Opportunities, and Challenges: Summary of a National Convocation, recently released in pre-publication form. (Essentially, this is an early draft of the report, uncorrected proofs.)

As the title says, this is the summary of a national convocation on providing science and technology policy advice to the states. It was held last October, and from the looks of the project website, it was the first of a planned series of convocations. The 2007 event focused on energy, the environment and economic development.

Personally, I welcome projects like this, which emphasize that science and technology policy in this country is not limited to the federal government. It is arguably more complicated at the state level, in part due to a relative lack of infrastrucutre and the intermingling with economic development policy. But with continued pressure on federal science and technology budgets, and states taking a lead on various science and technology issues (see California with stem cells and the Northeast with its emissions compact), state capacity in science and technology policy is more and more important.

My only caution is that this project focuses on what Harvey Brooks called "science for policy" - scientific and technological advice for various policies. An equally important part of science and technology policy is developing, analyzing and assessing policies for science and technology - "policy for science." It's not so easily separable from science for policy - unless you're an academic.

Posted on March 10, 2008 06:38 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General

March 06, 2008

Blogging - Even Daniel Greenberg Does It

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a blog connected with its Review section. Called Brainstorn: Lives of the Mind, it collects the wisdom and musings of scholars in several fields. Among them is Daniel Greenberg.

If you're a scholar of science policy, his name should be familiar. If it isn't, stop reading blogs and check out his books. Perhaps best known for his book The Politics of Pure Science, Greenberg has written several books and articles about the American system of scientific research, mostly about how it is funded (or not) at the federal level.

If you're still not sure about whom I speak, titles of his recent posts should suggest the tenor of his work:

Would a Department of Science Be an Improvement?"
Delusions on the Frontiers of Science
We've Got a Monster on the Loose: It's Called the Internet

Whether you agree with him or not, Greenberg is worth reading. We could all use a contrarian viewpoint from time to time.

Posted on March 6, 2008 08:26 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General

March 02, 2008

Information Request - NSF and a Lack of Data Protection

Update - 3/3 I managed to find the relevant GAO report. It turns out that I was mistaken to assume that the report was released within a few days of the news report. The GAO document was released in late January. However, the relevant agencies are only listed in the report. They are not singled out.

Original Post

When a issue involving science and technology policy - if only slightly - makes the local news in DC, my ears perk up (sometimes even literally). Last weekend there was a local news report about government agencies' general failure to implement Office of Management and Budget recommended procedures for protecting the data they keep. The Washington Post and other news providers picked up the story.

(For the record, this is one of many things I keep an eye on for my day job. If I could confirm what's alleged below, I'd probably blog about it for the job, but it's worth posting here for a couple of reasons.)

First, while most of the 24 agencies surveyed did poorly, only two failed to implement any of the recommended policies for securing information: the Small Business Administration and the National Science Foundation. I'm not raising a hue and cry on this point right now because I've run into a block - I can't find the underlying documentation from the Government Accountability Office confirming the scorecard referenced in the report. So if there are readers that can speak to the source of the claims by GAO that the NSF failed to implement any of the recommendations, I'd love to see it.

Additionally, it's quite possible that the problem has been addressed. The NSF Chief Information Officer, George Strawn, is quoted by the Post as saying "contrary to the GAO report, his agency has implemented all or part of all five measures."

Of course, the problem with the scorecard demonstrates how ill-prepared most agencies are to protect the information they keep. I do not single out the government here, the rash of data breaches over the last few years has hit the private sector as hard as the public sector.

What's annoying is that the recent GAO testimony on information security doesn't have this information (or I'm looking in the wrong place), and the NSF website has absolutely nothing on this report (and I am looking in the right places there). It may have been several years since NSF has had to deal with negative publicity (or wanted to try), but the way to do it is not by keeping silent. It appears that the public face of the agency - on the website anyway - is all about the results of research funding. Personally, some publicity about how well the agency operates would go a long way to reminding people that not only does NSF fund good work, but also that it does a good job administering the operation. We - the science, science policy and science advocacy communities - may accept without question that science is done right and above board. But the public doesn't know us, and frequent reminders are common courtesy and good government.

Posted on March 2, 2008 10:42 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General

February 20, 2008

R&D Funding - An Investment that Looks Like an Entitlement

This post is prompted by the following quote from Raymond Orbach. Dr. Orbach is the head of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Science, one of the casualties of the government's inability (or unwillingness) to fully fund the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI). The ACI was announced in 2006, and, among other things, would double federal funding for the physical sciences at DOE, the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The quote is taken from Dr. Orbach's January 30 remarks at the Universities Research Association. (Hat tip from the American Institute of Physics' FYI Bulletin. His remarks focused on the challenges facing the research community with the recent budget problems. I want to focus on the following quote for a particular idea.

"Compounding this danger is that we scientists tend to regard the proposed increases for the physical sciences under the American Competitiveness Initiative and the America COMPETES Act as an entitlement. That attitude has failed us."

Research funding as an entitlement? I'm guessing Orbach was hoping to get a rise out of people, but the idea is worth examining.

What are the other entitlements in American politics? Where the budget is concerned, there is Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Before the welfare reform legislation of 1996, welfare would have made that list. There are no doubt other programs that are also considered entitlements - programs with set amounts assigned to it, which increase with the cost of inflation, or some other regular process.

Well, federal research and development funding has certainly not increased in regular increments, tied to inflation or any other measure. There have been attempts - successful and not - to double the budgets for the research agencies. But there's is no benefit formula attached to these considerations. Social Security and Medicare benefits are connected to specific formulas, but doubling the NIH budget wasn't connected to any particular scientific output or outcome (aside from presumed improvements in health). So on the face of it, research and development funding does not resemble federal entitlements.

But the science community (certainly the science advocacy community) can appear like it wants regular increases to the science budgets (and I suspect you can find statements to that effect on various organizations' web sites). Without an effective communication strategy for why the community wants these increases, it can appear that scientists are just another group with a hand out. Given the public perception that scientists are disconnected, part of the elite, out of touch; and combine that with the difficulty of effectively capturing the outputs and outcomes of that research funding, I certainly understand where people could get this idea. I would certainly understand that people would express disdain at current attempts to double NIH funding, because it was already doubled within the last few years.

So, let me put these questions out there - how can we make R&D funding - and the associated campaigns for it - look less like asking for an entitlement? If you don't think the requests for R&D funding *look like* asking for an entitlement, how would you defuse that criticism? Remember, in policy and politics it's often as much about how things look than how they are (just burrow into the current Presidential campaign for examples).

Posted on February 20, 2008 08:35 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | R&D Funding | Science + Politics

January 23, 2008

New Measures for Innovation

I posted before about the Advisory Committee on Measuring Innovation in the 21st Century, an effort of the Department of Commerce to adjust the economic statistics to better reflect the nature of current innovation. The challenges of effective measurement (and the corresponding analyses) can be demonstrated by the lack of effective data on the services in the economy, and the limits of patent measures as an indicator of innovation.

As an unfortunate indicator of the perceived value of the project, the committee's report was released this past Friday (a time guaranteed to get limited attention from the media). You can read the press release, as well as key quotes and facts, from the Committee's homepage -

The project will continue through a series of workshops on the drivers of innovation. The Commerce Secretary committed to developing measures for innovation through the Bureau of Economic Analysis, with help from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and relevant Department of Commerce agencies. The plan is to develop an innovation account that would include measures of intellectual property and human capital that would help measure the impact of investments in innovation on productivity. They will encourage the National Science Foundation to continue its efforts to improve R&D measures connected to innovation. The first new account (the official parlance for a collection of measures in the economic indicators) is expected by January of next year. In the meantime, interested parties should check back with the website to learn about the workshops and other efforts of the committee.

Posted on January 23, 2008 11:15 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Scientific Assessments

January 18, 2008

Science Budget Trouble Is Becoming a Habit

While I completely agree with Dan Sarewitz's criticism that science policy is often reflexively treated as only science budget policy, sometimes you need to talk about the budget. Over the holidays, the Democratic-led Congress continued to demonstrate its strong leadership and forceful action by rolling over to the Administration's insistence final budget numbers for Fiscal Year 2008 (finally approved nearly three months into the year). While of a kind with other failures of Congressional leadership, the casualties of this compromise include the authorized doubling of research accounts at the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (was there no hue and cry in Boulder?).

This doubling was constructed as a key part of the American Competitiveness Initiative, the COMPETES Act passed by Congress last year, and the continuing perception of the physical sciences as the mistreated younger sibling jealous of the doubling of NIH in the 1990s (and blissfully ignorant of the older sibling's hard fall to earth once the growth rate returned to earth). Details can be found in a few places, including the blog of my colleagues at the Computing Research Association, and the always thorough AAAS analysis.

This marks the second consecutive fiscal year where the proposed increases outlined in the American Competitiveness Initiative were not fully funded (FY 2007 was funded at FY 2006 levels for nearly everything when both parties opted to not pass most of the appropriations bills). The doubling is off track, and I'm kind of surprised at the relative lack of outrage. Perhaps the timing has something to do with it (I was on vacation at the time, or I'd have posted earlier), or there may be a sense of resignation that while the House Science and Technology Committee is very supportive, there are plenty of other goals that crowd research funding out.

So, what to do?

Realistically, this particular problem is not a science policy problem so much as a budget policy problem. There was a time when budgets were actually passed on time, but recent years have seen an acceleration of the trend to the point where the FY 2008 appropriations were finally signed into law about 6 weeks before the FY 2009 requests will be released.

But there is an additional concern, independent of budgetary dysfunction. Research funding just isn't considered important enough to sacrifice other things. While the comment writers are busy describing how irrational and out of touch the legislators are to not see research funding as important, let me suggest it's those who would raise such criticisms as being out of touch. Following the traditional special interest model of advocating for research funding has shown results that are mixed at best. Other interests are better organized, or represent issues and needs that are seen as more important and/or easier to justify to constituents (even districts with military bases and top research institutions will make sure the troops get the money before the bench scientists).

A serious re-thinking of funding models and advocacy models for that funding would be worthwhile, even if it only served to highlight common assumptions made by science and technology advocates. The current arguments about economic competitiveness lack a sense of connection that would make it easier to support this funding. The increase in Ph.D. production takes time, and how can we effectively show that those new Ph.Ds contributed specific amounts to the Gross National Product? It might be easier to demonstrate more immediately how science and technology can be tools for achieving other policy goals. I think it would be more persuasive to policy makers to demonstrate that new science and technology programs helped retrain 30,000 displaced workers than to say that 30,000 new scientists and engineers narrow the gap between American and Indian scientists and engineers. We need something like an interdisciplinary approach to these problems in a policy sense.

While it may serve the standing of scientists and engineers to hold themselves apart when presenting their knowledge and advice, perhaps it is that separateness that contributes to this persistent marginalization. By engaging the potential of scientific and technological knowledge to fulfill other policy objectives the value of that work (and of funding that research) might be easier to support. Take the NSF's broader impact criteria seriously. Sell the expert panel on the scientific merit, and sell the funders and the public on the broader impact. Collect the broader impact stories for your Congressional visit days, tailor them to the member's district, show that person how science and technology help their other goals and get them re-elected. Craven? Perhaps, but reflective of the motivations behind decisions in government.

Posted on January 18, 2008 10:45 PM View this article | Comments (2)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | R&D Funding

January 17, 2008

2008 Edition of Science and Engineering Indicators Out Now

Yesterday I attended the official release of the 2008 edition of Science and Engineering Indicators, the biennial compendium of facts, figures, charts and graphs on the U.S. science and engineering enterprise (there is international data, but its typically presented for context). It's produced by a subcommittee of the National Science Board, with the support of the NSF Statistics staff. You can read the press release and wade through the online version to see all the details.

As part of their effort to continually adjust (I don't want to judge whether it's improved or not) the message presented by the Indicators, this edition was accompanied by two additional documents. One of them is a Digest of charts and graphs that various science advocacy groups will flog over the next two years to argue how badly their disciplines are being screwed in the research budget. (They are, but that's for another post - tune in Friday). There is also a policy document about R&D and international competitiveness. Those who have followed the discussions in this area won't see a lot of new material, simply updated arguments with the perpetual sky is falling perspective. The policy document is a relatively new addition to Indicators. This follows a similar document with the 2006 edition that focused on STEM education.

While the document is presented as a policy-neutral object, there are always hidden assumptions and presumptions that are useful to tease out. Just ask some questions, like what's missing? For example...

One of the charts in Chapter 7, Science and Engineering: Public Attitudes and Understanding, reports on the responses to a survey question. The bottom chart in Figure 7-11 (page 7-26 in Chapter 7)covers how well people think government is funding basic research. (Let's put aside for the moment the problems with the idea of "basic research").

The data indicate an upward trend in the percentage of people who think government is funding too little basic research and a downward trend in the percentage who think government is funding too much.

What's missing is that the percentages over the timeframe reported never add up to more than 50-52 percentage points. So while more people are getting behind the idea of more government funding of basic research, nothing is said in the figure or the associated text about half the people either not knowing about government funding of basic research or not caring.

I'm sure this isn't the only part of Indicators where what isn't there can be as important (or at least as interesting) as what is included. In other places this could be attributed to selective research and criticized as such. But since this information is considered a significant resources in framing science and technology policy arguments, it is perhaps more important to review, critique, and provide feedback on the data and statistics found in Indicators.

Posted on January 17, 2008 10:36 AM View this article | Comments (2)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General

December 07, 2007

STS Acting with Science, Technology and Policy

The title refers to the theme of the 2008 joint meeting of the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) and the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST). The two associations hold joint meetings every four years. The conference is scheduled for August 20-23 in Rotterdam , the Netherlands . The call is available online.

I’m a member of 4S (actually I was, I apparently let my subscription lapse without notice), but have yet to attend one of their conferences. Budget considerations are the prime reason, but the other factor has been what I see as a lack of attention to science and/or technology policy (which is common to the other STS societies I belong to), save for occasional analyses focusing on Europe . I’d encourage those who disagree with my characterization to comment and help me plumb the depths of my ignorance.

I did give this event extra consideration – even with the added travel expense – from the following passage in the call:

STS-approaches are no longer only relevant for understanding the production of science, technology and innovation; they also are relevant for understanding the co-production of science and technology with policy, democracy, law, and the organization of health care, among other major institutional matters. Similarly STS researchers have become increasingly involved with practices of technology development, policymaking, legal decision-making and governance in different fields, such as science and technology policy, environmental regulation, and health care. The balance between observation and participation seems to have changed in these consequential practices of ‘acting with’. Such engagement is currently a major topic of discussion within the STS field. Several workshops, editorials and special issues have already been published or are under way. The ‘acting with’, or interventionist approach is likely to have consequences for research methodologies, for researchers’ obligations toward different publics, and for the kind of products STS-researchers deliver. In addition, like other aspects of science and technology, interventions by STS researchers are themselves subject to contingencies and negotiations that can lead to unanticipated consequences.

I think the first sentence is false...

STS was always relevant to the interactions of science, technology, policy, and all the other forces mentioned in the second part of the sentence. So I am pleased to see mention of this trend. In my opinion, it hasn’t ‘crossed the pond’ very well, so I would not be surprised to see this focus on participation – on ‘acting with’ – to be driven by the European membership of these organizations.

I am concerned by how this interventionist approach is demonstrated. In conversations I’ve had with STS scholars (one of which you can read at The World’s Fair blog (scroll down to the comments to find the conversation), I find that we can be talking past each other about what it means to be ‘acting with.’ I hope to figure out why this happens in future discussions (and blog posts), but I suspect there are some ideological differences at play, as well as an interesting difference of perspectives on what is and isn’t (and what should and shouldn’t be) political in this ‘acting with.’

Where the 4S/EASST conference is concerned, I'll be interested to see what happens. But as for me going, there's a U.S. conference that overlaps, so I will probably not be going to the Netherlands.

Posted on December 7, 2007 04:37 PM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General

November 13, 2007

More Intellectual Disrobing, Please

No calls for burlesque here…the phrase is a quote from John Dewey in his book Experience and Nature (1925, Chicago: Open Court):

"An empirical philosophy…is an intellectual disrobing. We cannot permanently divest ourselves of the intellectual habits we take on and wear when we assimilate the culture of our own time and place. But intelligent furthering of culture demands that we take some of them off, that we inspect them critically."
In my last post, and some of my others on Prometheus, I have – if only implicitly – been encouraging such periodic, if not perpetual, divestiture and inspection. I want to do the same with this post. Instead of a call to rethink the perpetual appeals for a president that pays attention to science, I want to look at calls for revisiting science policy. I am in favor, but I think such proposals are, ironically, in need of the very intellectual disrobing they are advocating.

As an example, I point out this New York Times profile of former National Academy of Engineering President Bill Wulf on the occasion of his departure from that post earlier this year. (I should note that I did work for the National Academies, and staffed two different panels Dr. Wulf participated in.) While much of his comments focus on what he calls the ecology of innovation (something I may visit in a subsequent post), I want to point out some of his complaints about technology policy that could use some intellectual disrobing. That they take place in the midst of calls for essentially the same thing is not unique in policy.

Wulf is interested in revisiting various innovation policies, and while it may not be the intellectual disrobing Dewey had in mind, acknowledging changing times and circumstances should be encouraged, even more generally than in the following:

"At least every once in a while we should stand back and say what was the intent of intellectual property protection, what was the intent of the export control regime, what was the intent of antitrust? And in the light of today’s technology, what’s the best way to achieve that?"

Great questions, and my experience and study with each of these policies demonstrates that the intents behind these policies can change over time. Their consequences certainly do. We see some skin here. But we're only going from t-shirt and long pants to tank top and board shorts (or a evening gown to a blouse and pencil skirt). Another Wulf quote shows an intellectual habit worth examining.

"Or take what he called “the idiocy” of enacting short-term tax credits for research and development. “R and D takes many years,” he said. “If companies invested this year to take advantage of the R and D credit and then the next year it went away, they would have to stop the research and they would have wasted money.”

He says this is why corporate leaders tell him “with near unanimity” that tax credits have little influence on their decisions."

The habit here is the tendency to presume that policies that affect science and technology were designed, developed or implemented with science and technology in mind. This is tax policy, and while no more of a rational area than any other part of policy, it does not necessarily follow that encouraging research is the first or only intention of such a policy. If the last sentence of this quote is any indication, the R and D tax credit does not influence corporate R and D policy. That seems unlikely (and groups such as the Business Roundtable would take issue), but it does not make such policies "idiocy."

What Wulf, and all of us, ought to do to properly disrobe - intellectually, of course - is not only to ask about the intent, consequences and outcomes of science and technology policies, but of interests that would influence relevant policies. This influence isn't always obvious, because it is often indirect - the policy is designed for goals outside of science and technology.

When I write interests I am thinking a bit differently than when Roger spoke of values when he suggested that we ask "So What?" in a recent Bridges column. He was writing about political disputes involving science, but particularly where appeals to truth were involved. The interests I speak of can include contested values, but also disputes about the purpose of various policies and the consequences of policy choices. Unintended consequences don't have to connect to any particular values to affect the outcomes of science, technology, or innovation. But our intellectual habits often presume intention or purpose where there may be none. To better understand those circumstances we need to question our presumptions, interests and values, to shed our intellectual clothes and scrutinize the surroundings.

Anybody know a good tailor?

October 30, 2007

The Problems with Calling for a Science President

The cover article in the current (October 2007) issue of Seed magazine is titled "Dr. President." It's the clearest example of what I see as a fair amount of optimistic thinking about the intersection of science and presidential politics. Written by Chris Mooney, who tread a lot of similar - but more partisan - ground in his book The Republican War on Science, the article reads like many laundry lists of policy prescriptions for the next president that tend to appear (and are typically ignored) in the months leading to a Presidential election. I helped put together one such list while working at the National Academies. Carl Zimmer, writing in The Loom, noted a similarly idealistic call for a Presidential debate on science issues. (And like he said, why is it in a section called "On Faith"? Because Matthew Chapman - the one making the appeal - is an atheist? A science debate will be narrow enough without restricting it by framing it with religion)

Working in Washington, I'm encouraged by the optimism (due to its scarcity here), but really feel the need to temper this optimism about having a 'science president' or a public debate on science issues by critiquing some of the underlying assumptions common to the arguments, and others, that often come with calls for a science president, or presidential leadership on science. Mooney and Chapman aren't the first, nor will they be the last, to make these arguments. But they will fall on deaf ears, much like Senator Clinton's recent outline of her science and technology policy goals (note what ended up dead last).

Here are a few notions that need a re-assessment:

Good science underlies sound policy, so it should matter politically

It's been at least two presidential election cycles since any serious discussions of policy choices were a significant part of political campaigns. Watch a Sunday morning news show. It's never about what would be best for the country, but what is best for whichever campaign is the topic of conversation. If the importance of science policy choices is to be made part of a presidential campaign, the question, or dare I say it, the framing, should be how to make science something that gains valuable endorsements (nobody is going to care who Scientist and Engineers for America will endorse, if for no better reason than maybe 200 people know of the group, much less who leads it). So the arguments for "reason, logic, a consideration of fact, and healthy skepticism" Mooney makes may guide someone to better governance, but they won't do a thing for political accomplishments, absent some demonstration that it will increase political capital or poll numbers. Candidates need to be convinced of how science and technology policy can get them the job before they can be bothered with how they can help them perform the job.

The President makes a lot of difference in science and technology policy

In "Dr. President" we are told that "The next President of the United States of America will control a $150 billion annual research budget, 200,000 scientists, and 38 major research institutions and all their related labs. This president will shape human endeavors in space, bioethics debates and the energy landscape of the 21st Century." Given the diffuse nature of the national research enterprise, with many agencies administering various buckets of money and groups of scientists, the notion that the President can control the bench scientist in the same way that they can control their science adviser doesn't hold (nor would it be welcome in most scientific communities). Assuming that we had a science friendly President (or at least one who wasn't science hostile or science indifferent), there are plenty of other people that influence the research enterprise to assume that wholesale changes could be made by one person. Anyone who has followed the various campaigns for doubling the budgets of various science agencies should remember the time and political support required to make that happen.

While this can be frustrating, it does allow for a relative lack of government oversight that scientists have traditionally welcomed and encouraged. They don't want to be micromanaged, which makes things like the stem cell research moratorium a particular problem for many scientists. But no policy issue is going to be decided solely on the science - nor should it be. After all, this is a democracy, not a peer-reviewed elite community seeking to better understand the world. This leads into my next presumption.

Science is democratic

While the sociologist of science Robert Merton wrote of a natural affinity between science and democracy ("A Note on Science and Democracy." Journal of Legal and Political Sociology 1, 115-126, 1942.) because democracy allows for greater scientific freedom, that democratic affinity runs only one way. When arguing for science to inform policy, very often there is a presumption that the science dictates a particular policy outcome. This leads to frustration when the chosen policy outcome is different from the one 'dictated' by the science. If we are to really encourage the discussion of science and its implications that Mooney writes of in his Seed article in order to re-energize democracy, we must be willing to acknowledge that sometimes the decisions may not match what the science suggests (putting aside how many arguments can be had over what exactly the science suggests). To ignore the science is not the same as to obstruct, redact or suppress it. The crux of a democracy is not to make good choices, but for the people to make those choices.

Both Mooney and Chapman make good arguments for their goals, and describe situations that would be welcome in a political campaign (though I am chronically fatigued by the debates - and I've only watched the coverage). But policy discussions are not what makes a difference in political campaigns (though I think they should), and they write as though they do. Policy discussions don't attract media coverage, and the debates are ridiculously meta- about particular policies - focusing not on the policies, but on what they mean to the campaigns. Science and technology policies don't matter politically, and addressing this should be the focus of those who want a "Dr. President" before they fill out that president's prescription pad.

Posted on October 30, 2007 09:54 PM View this article | Comments (4)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science + Politics

August 17, 2007

A Technology Assessment Revival?

A recent Issue of the American Institute of Physics' Science Policy News revisited a topic addressed in one of the earliest Prometheus posts - the Office of Technology Assessment, or OTA. You can review a brief history and archived reports online. Ever since its demise in the mid 90s there has been a regular attempt to revive the body, which provide technology assessment and related policy analysis to Congress. Legislation has been introduced on more than one occasion to revive the body, or some similar capacity, but the bills have not gotten very far in Congress.

The AIP piece notes that in the House and Senate Appropriations Committee Reports that accompanied their respective Legislative Branch Appropriations bills, there is language to provide the Government Accountability Office with technology assessment capacity. As usual, the amounts differ between the two chambers, but it is a relatively small amount ($2.5 million in the House report, $750,000 plus four full-time employees in the Senate report). Read the relevant sections of the Senate report (pages 42-43) for a better idea of what this technology assessment function might resemble.

Given limited budget resources, and lingering baggage from the demise of the OTA, placing technology assessment in the GAO has its advantages. The agency has a strong reputation for non-partisanship and independence. It has a small group of expertise within its Center for Technology and Engineering. It has tested a pilot technology assessment program since 2002, with at least 3 reports produced so far:

Technology Assessment: Protecting Structures and Improving Communications during Wildland Fires. GAO-05-380. Washington, D.C.: April 2005
Technology Assessment: Cybersecurity for Critical Infrastructure Protection. GAO-04-321. Washington, D.C.: May 28, 2004.
Technology Assessment: Using Biometrics for Border Security. GAO-03-
174. Washington, D.C.: November 15, 2002.

Please don't pop the champagne corks just yet. The language is connected to appropriations bills that have not been approved - yet. Previous efforts to provide similar resources to GAO have met with limited success. This kind of approach has been tried since at least the FY 2002 budget, usually getting cut from the final appropriations bill. The House Science Committee hearing from last July showed few serious Congressional signs of interest in developing a new body for technology assessment, or a technology assessment function for an existing body. And this committee is the closest thing to a consistent source of support the science and technology policy community has on the Hill.

So again, a policy outcome desired by many in the science and technology policy fields could fail. Unlike the recently passed competitiveness legislation (which took two sessions and a concerted behind the scenes effort with industry), it would be especially self-serving to generate a National Academies Report arguing for increased technology assessment capacity. If this is truly needed, how should the community make its case (its tactics), and what is the case to make (its argument)?

Posted on August 17, 2007 10:43 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General

July 04, 2007

To go from RAGS to legislation

[David Bruggeman is a frequent contributor so we finally gave him an author tag. Click on his name to see all his posts. -eds]

One of the less publicized legislative efforts this year is the second attempt to pass parts of the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI), introduced by President Bush in his 2006 State of the Union address. Many of the pieces of the ACI were recommended in the widely cited National Academies Report Rising Above the Gathering Storm. The parts of ACI that attracted the most attention of science and technology community were the goals of doubling the budgets for NSF, the Department of Energy's Office of Science, and the research accounts of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Those increases were part of the President's FY 2007 Budget Request, but failed due to the inability of Congress to pass most of the budget for that year. The FY 2008 request shows the Administration still committed to doubling those budgets over 10 years. But the Executive Branch cannot implement the full ACI without legislative action.

Efforts to enact other parts of the ACI have not been as forthcoming. Three bills introduced in 2006 (two in the House, one in the Senate) to strenghten and expand federal programs to encourage more students to major in Science, Technoogy, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines, as well as expand early career awards for researchers, withered on the legislative vine (although the House legislation did make it out of committee). Very similar legislation was introduced again this year, and as the Democrats have made some noise about an innovation agenda, there has been some progress. Currently both the House and Senate have passed legislation which awaits a conference to hammer out the differences. Both bills can be examined in detail through the THOMAS website maintained by the Library of Congress.

The House legislation, HR2272, is an omnibus bill containing pieces of earlier legislation. HR2272 includes reauthorization legislation for both NSF and NIST, reauthorization of the High Performance Computing Act, and language to increase education programs encouraging more majors in STEM disciplines (and for more of those majors to teach at the K-12 level) and programs to support early career researchers in physical science disciplines. The early career research awards would be through both the NSF and the Department of Energy.

The Senate bill, S761, would include most of the same provisions. The differences, to the extent I can discern them, have to do with specific numbers - funding, number of grants/fellowships/etc. Both bills also mandate various studies on STEM education and innovation, as well as some kind of coordinating mechanism for the federal government with respect to improving innovation. Hopefully those efforts, if enacted, could be informed by (and help guide) the nascent federal research programs on the science of science policy and innovation. But I'm a dreamer.

Each bill contains a previously discontinued federal technology program administered by NIST. (If some readers find this sufficiently interesting, it may be worth a separate post). The Senate bill reinstates the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Technology, a kindred program to EPSCoR, the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. In each case, the program aims to improve the competitiveness of states that have historically received fewer federal dollars. The House bill creates what they call the Technology Innovation Program (TIP), but this appears to be a renaming of the Advanced Technology Program (ATP). ATP has been heavily criticized as ineffective, corporate welfare, or both. It is intended to help bridge a funding gap - the so-called 'valley of death' between initial development and commercialization. ATP would have been fully defunded by now, but the failure to enact the FY 2007 budget for NIST gave ATP another year of life - and forced NIST to continue a program it had prepared to dismantle. A surface comparison shows little difference betwen the TIP and ATP, and language allows for continuation of current ATP awards under the TIP.

While this legislation is much further along compared to this time last year, there is no guarantee that there will be a bill to sign by the end of the year. A conference has yet to be scheduled, while both bills have been ready since late May. As science and technology policy have rarely, if ever, been a high legislative priority, these bills may take a long time to get to the President's desk. While the Administration is generally supportive of the doubling, they have expressed dissatisfaction with the new programs and additional costs in the legislation. As President Bush rarely uses the veto pen, this may be an empty threat. But this is not yet a finished project.

April 13, 2007

Baby Steps Toward a Science of Science Policy

Two events in February demonstrated an effort to revisit the assumptions behind the processes and study of innovation. The NSF announced aProgram Solicitation in their new program on the Science of Science and Innovation Policy. Submissions are due May 22. This has been in the works at NSF since 2006, and is at least in part a response to the Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Marburger's call for a 'science of science policy.' This idea was explored previously on Prometheus. Besides the NSF program, there is a Department of Commerce advisory committee I posted about earlier that is working on how to better measure innovation.

I think both programs are good steps toward a better understanding of science policy, but are at best preliminary steps. (Any judgments about a program that has yet to receive its first grant proposals are by their nature preliminary, so please bear with me). I'll address this in just a bit, but first some details on the two programs.

The Advisory Committee on Measuring Innovation in the 21st Century held their first meeting February 22 in Washington, D.C. The agenda, members, and other relevant documents can be found online. The group is focused on business and economic measures, as befits a Department of Commerce work. Much of the meeting was thinking out loud, working out what exactly the committee would develop. After discussion encompassing the different kinds of innovation, as well as the different ways companies measure that innovation, the group came to some preliminary points of consensus:

  • The committee will develop a group of metrics, the core of which will focus on productivity - total output per unit of total input, not the traditional output per hour measurement.
  • The committee will examine changes to the system of national accounts - the series of economic statistics gathered by several different agencies.
  • Measures will cover the different kinds of innovation: user centered, firm focused, incremental, radical, process, product, etc.

The NSF Program Solicitation for the Science of Science and Innovation Policy (SciSIP) Program anticipates granting 20-30 awards in this cycle. Located in the Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences, "SciSIP will underwrite fundamental research that creates new explanatory models and analytic tools designed to inform the nation’s public and private sectors about the processes through which investments in science and engineering (S&E) research are transformed into social and economic outcomes. SciSIP’s goals are to understand the contexts, structures and processes of S&E research, to evaluate reliably the tangible and intangible returns from investments in research and development (R&D), and to predict the likely returns from future R&D investments within tolerable margins of error and with attention to the full spectrum of potential consequences."

A tall order, and this solicitation will hopefully be the first of many to really pull all of these pieces together (and support all those innovation scholars casting about for grant money). This iteration of the program focuses on Analytical Tools and Model Building, appropriate first steps for what could be an long-term exploration. There are also two special criteria for proposals: Fit to SciSIP (how the project will add to the fundamental knowledge base and Multidisciplinarity and Interdisciplinarity (encouraged but not required).

The NSF solicitation is, in my opinion, written as though they are trying to build a new body of scholarship. But such a body of knowledge and scholars is out there, and could use a solid aggregation and synthesis. But that's not breakthrough research, and by conventional wisdom not the Foundation's business. The NSF has also been burned (or is at the very least timid) when engaging with policy relevant research (see their workforce estimates from the early nineties). Because of those points, I am concerned that this program won't go as far as it needs to accomplish its ultimate goals: "developing usable knowledge and theories of creative processes and their transformation into social and economic outcomes as well as developing, improving and expanding models and analytical tools that can be applied in the science policy decision making process". (Boldface mine) Research without consideration of policy applications is one thing. But this solicitation states that policy considerations are relevant, and the NSF does not have a history of making those connections very well. How will this play out in grant applications, proposal review and awards? I'm skeptical the NSF, or the researchers applying to it, will be quick to adjust.

Both the NSF and Department of Commerce efforts are good programs that could change the way we consider innovation and policies meant to encourage it (although the implementation of the NSF program could fail to meet its intended goals - its early). But the effort to better understand investments in scientific and technological research goes beyond innovation, even beyond science and technology research. It also involves policy research, and without having that as part of the entire process, we will not have a science of science policy, but more science of innovation. It's unclear that this is being considered. I asked Dr. Marburger what the next steps were in developing the science of science policy, and he referred me to ongoing efforts in Europe. I hope that enterprising institutions and individuals can take the work done here and grow it into a true science of science policy.

The House Science and Technology Committee - More than Just a Name Change

With a reputation for bipartisan cooperation, the House Science and Technology Committee (formerly the House Science Committee) continues to be a strong supporter of federal research and development. But things have changed with the new Congress. Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), the new chair, finalized the changes in late Januray. Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) is the new Ranking Member.

Per a press release available on the committee's website the Science and Technology Committee now has 5 subcommittees during the 110th Congress. This is one more than in the previous Congress. The new addition is the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, which is chaired by Rep. Miller (D-N.C.), and Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-WI, and former committee chairman) is the ranking member. They have already held hearings on Office of Management and Budget involvement in agency regulatory development and the influence of agency media policies on scientists. The full committee has already demonstrated its interest in oversight with its own hearings and other activities focused on the executive branch.

The other four committees remain essentially the same as before, with slight name changes to better reflect their jurisdictions. They are as follows:

    Subcommittee on Energy & Environment Chairman Nick Lampson (D-TX) Ranking Member Bob Inglis (R-SC)

    Subcommittee on Technology & Innovation
    Chairman David Wu (D-OR)
    Ranking Member Phil Gingrey (R-GA)

    Subcommittee on Research & Science Education
    Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA)
    Ranking Member Vern Ehlers (R-MI)

    Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics
    Chairman Mark Udall (D-CO - Boulder)
    Ranking Member Ken Calvert (R-CA)

The committee website is still getting its sea legs, so to speak (as are many Congressional websites), so some pages will link to old or outdated information. In fact, the header for the current webpage still reads as though it were the Democratic minority's website from the 109th Congress. A list of current committee members online.

February 04, 2007

Implementing Science of Science Policy: Different Approaches

Sparked in part by remarks from the president's science adviser (noted in Prometheus), the National Science Foundation has made some efforts to develop a program addressing the "science of science policy." While not the top priority of the Foundation, and like much of its work, delayed by federal budgetary issues, it doesn't appear to be much more than a research program focused on innovation studies (you can read a program prospectus online. While useful, such studies are arguably only part of what might constitute a "science of science policy"

Something more on point to the initial request (based in a concern for finding out how well the research investment has paid off) has emerged from the Department of Commerce. In early December the Secretary of Commerce formed an advisory panel on measuring innovation (the initial press release, Supplementary Information File, and Charter are available online.

From the Recent Activities webpage of the Economics and Statistics Administration (the panel's home within the Department - even separate from the Technology Administration)

"The Measuring Innovation in the 21st Century Economy Advisory Committee will help develop ways to measure innovation so that the public and policy makers can understand better its impact on economic growth and productivity. The committee will study metrics on effectiveness of innovation in various businesses and sectors, and work to identify which data can be used to develop a broader measure of innovation's impact on the economy."

So the commercial/financial considerations that underly research investments will apparently have a hearing in this panel. Not to say that they couldn't in whatever NSF proposal eventually emerges, but the relevant research community seems a bit allergic to such things. It also brings to the discussion a group many Prometheus readers may not recognize at all (Dale Jorgensen and Donald Siegel are the academics I recognized, and Steve Ballmer and Sam Palmisano were the CEOs I knew).

While advisory panels have their own trials and tribulations (which I observed many times when I worked at the National Academies), I'm encouraged to see other parts of the government enter the discussion.

The Advisory Committee is schedule to hold its first hearing on February 22nd. I'm cautiously optimistic.

Posted on February 4, 2007 09:51 AM View this article | Comments (0)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General

June 15, 2006

Oversight Exemptions for NOAA?

Yesterday the House Science Committee, while passing an act formally codifying the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration into law (President Nixon created the agency via Executive Order), dealt with amendments over scientific integrity.

According to, Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) offered an amendment providing whistleblower protection for scientists and punishment for employees who tampered with science. The amendment would have also exempted NOAA from the Information Quality Act - legislation that allows the public to petition the government over flawed data. Another amendment, by Rep. Costello (D-IL) would have barred the White House from editing reports prior to submitting them to Congress.

Both amendments failed. Chairman Boehlert released a statement addressing his opposition to the amendments, which can be found here. He argues that the amendments would have prompted some difficult jurisdicitional scrambles (mainly with the Government Reform Committee and the Resources Committee - which also has NOAA oversight). He also argues, I think convincingly, that the amendment is written somewhat broadly, and placed in a bill related to an agency that is not, in the eyes of many, a particularly egregious offender in the debates over political interference in science.

While I understand the sentiments behind the amendments, I'm not in favor of potentially sabotaging legislation that is necessary. A large government agency without formal statutory authority? That needs to be addressed. And adding arguably tangential amendments makes it harder to pass such legislation. A desire for better science should not trump the need for good law.

Posted on June 15, 2006 10:10 PM View this article | Comments (5)
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Science Policy: General

May 04, 2006

Skeptics Society Conference Preview

The Skeptics Society hosts an annual conference on a topic of their choosing. This year's conference is entitled "The Environmental Wars: The Science Behind the Politics" and will be held 2-4 June, 2006 at CalTech.

From the conference website:

"Why are we still debating climate change? How soon will we hit peak oil supply? When politics mix with science, what is being brewed? Join speakers from the left & the right, from the lab & the field, from industry & advocacy, as we air the ongoing debate about whether human activity is actually changing the climate of the planet."

From what I know of the Skeptics Society, they would welcome people from any perspective on the issue. The speaker lineup bears this out:

John Stossel
Michael Crichton
Adam Savage (MythBusters)
James Randi
Jonathan Adler
Ronald Bailey
David Baltimore
Gregory Benford
Brian Fagan
David Goodstein
Paul MacCready
Chris Mooney
Donald R. Prothero
Tapio Schneider

At a first glance of the schedule (and please keep in mind I'm one of the few on Prometheus who don't follow this debate closely), the potentially interesting events would include the panel of Chris Mooney and Ronald Bailey, as well as the keynote with John Stossel, Michael Crichton, Adam Savage and James Randi. Sparks (and hopefully only sparks) will fly.

Posted on May 4, 2006 12:32 PM View this article | Comments (4) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Environment

January 23, 2006

Conference of Interest – Science, Technology and Innovation

This announcement has been out for a while, but I bring it to the attention of Prometheus readers because it highlights some of the same things we talked about after my post “Policy Sciences and the Field of S&T Policy.” That is, this is a conference that intends to be critical about the progress of research in the field of Science, Technology and Innovation. Here’s the important information:

The Future of Science, Technology and Innovation Policy: Linking Research And Practice SPRU 40th Anniversary Conference, 11th-13th September 2006 (link)

This conference … offers the opportunity to engage in a critical evaluation of the present and future research agenda of the Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) field.

Those interested in presenting a paper should submit a 500-word abstract by 17 March 2006 along with their full contact details. The abstract should be submitted to . All abstracts will be subject to peer-review.

Authors will be informed whether their papers have been accepted by 10 April 2006.

Final papers must be submitted by 14 July 2006; the maximum length is 5,000 words.

Participants for the conference are encouraged to register as early as possible, and at the latest by 31 July 2006. The conference fee will be £250 (£200 for students), or £300 (£250 for students) if you also wish to attend the Conference Dinner and the Reception in the Brighton Pavilion. This fee does not include any travel or accommodation costs. A late registration fee of £75 will be payable by those who register after 31 July (assuming there are still places available).”

I encourage everyone to read the full announcement. Depending on who you ask, there is little or no difference between STP and the Science, Technology and Innovation field. Arguably its members are more European (SPRU is in England, STI programs in the U.S. include George Washington University and Georgia Tech); focus more on policy for science, technology and innovation (while many in STP are more concerned with how science influences policy); and are focused more on quantitative analysis. But I don’t think anyone who identifies with STP would feel out of place at STI, or at this conference.

But as I mentioned at the start, this conference is making an effort to have a reflective, critical discussion about the progress of STI. Some excerpts:

"We aim to identify fruitful new ways forward in the field of STI policy by subjecting these established frameworks to structured debate and critical evaluation."

"[W]e would like to engage in a critical evaluation of the approaches developed by the STI research community and their use in policy practice."

"(ii) Contribution of Our Studies to Policy-Making - What is the evidence that we, the research community, have actually helped to improve the quality and effectiveness of policy and management? In particular, what are the unanticipated consequences of our models on policy-making?"

"Overall, we invite participants and contributions that are willing to engage in developing the future research agenda of the STI field. The conference aims to trigger a critical and collective dialogue that could contribute to making the STI field more exciting and challenging for our research community, more relevant to policy practice and more 'in synch' with society at large."

This last sentence, to me, summarizes what I think any public policy research community should ask themselves, and ask themselves frequently. Even if you can’t attend this conference in September, I encourage you to keep asking these questions in your own work and other conferences and workshops.

Posted on January 23, 2006 11:45 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Hodge Podge

January 11, 2006

Policy Sciences and the Field of S&T Policy

This essay is in response to the series of articles in Policy Sciences (and posted on Prometheus) that discussed the future of the policy sciences. My comments assume a basic familiarity with these articles, and any page references are to those articles, which you can find here I've written a brief summary of the main discussion which you can find below. My intention is to spark comment on how the discussion about policy sciences is applicable to science and technology policy.

While the interests and research agendas of people in both communities do overlap, I think there is a distinct difference. The policy sciences are a specific intellectual tradition within the academic public policy community. The policy scientist would be concerned with context, unpredictability, uncertainty, trial-and-error, and normative commitments in their work (213), which would be problem oriented and utilized many different methods (209). They do not have a specific subject matter focus within public policy. They are also a smaller field that can trace their academic pedigree to one of two founding scholars: Lasswell or McDougal. While there are similar forebears in science and technology policy (Brooks, Bush, Greenberg, Hounshell, et al.), their academic influence is not as distinct. There aren't the common tools, perspectives and approaches to pass down to the 'next generation' of scholars and practitioners.

First, some personal context to inform the rest of my comments. My bachelor's degree is in politics, and my master's is in science and technology policy. I'm currently all but dissertation in science and technology studies at Virginia Tech's National Capital Region campus. I am sympathetic to the policy sciences tradition, and I have taken courses with professors influenced by it; however, I am not trained in that tradition. This is an example of the convergence hypothesis Pielke mentions (220), and a career track similar to one of the authors, Rodney Muth. I also engage in the kind of dual life mentioned by Pielke (222), though my policy science work has been primarily in my professional work, having been employed in the field most of the time I have pursued graduate studies.

I welcomed and enjoyed this exercise in self-reflection about an intellectual perspective (I do not think it fits conventional definitions of a discipline, mostly because it is defined by approach more than subject matter). I think many fields would benefit from this kind of dialogue, including those who study, analyze, and practice science and technology policy. In fact, since many people do come to science and technology policy after being trained in other disciplines (our own version of the convergence hypothesis discussed in the articles), this kind of dialogue may be even more important in trying to determine where the field has been and where it could go. Also, while almost all policy scientists could be put into a larger academic endeavor, public policy, the same is not true for the science and technology policy field. Participants in that work may have homes in public policy, STS, or any number of science, engineering or humanities fields. The diffuse and diverse nature of the science and technology policy field also makes such a discussion that much harder to have.

There are two major points I want to discuss. First: why restrict this kind of reflective/reflexive discussion to the academic component of the policy sciences? This restriction may not have been intended, since this discussion was in an academic journal. But I think this restriction explained some of the optimism over whether the policy sciences community was sustainable. Wallace seems to think a community is sustainable as long as you can maintain the population of teachers in the field. If that's true, and the field has a good handle on future demand then perhaps the policy sciences needn't worry. But is that what the community wants to sustain? This should be a question, as Muth writes, of outcomes, rather than outputs such as faculty positions or number of Ph.D. students in programs. Discussion of applications of policy sciences research and non-academic work in policy sciences are scarce in these articles, and as someone who does not see an academic career for the bulk of graduate students (myself included), I think the authors fail to adequately consider a significant portion of their own community, both now and in the future. An outcome of many academic programs in science and engineering is trained workers in non-academic settings. Why don't Pielke, Wallace, Pelletier and Muth consider that a valid outcome of policy sciences? This is consistent with the trends in science and technology studies and science and technology policy to give short shrift to undergraduates, something apparently shared in the policy sciences. I understand that some consider graduate students the proper emphasis for continuing intellectual traditions. However, for a problem-oriented, pragmatic endeavor like the policy sciences (or science and technology policy), why not spread the precepts, tools and approaches to all the people you educate? After all, an undergraduate in your field stands as much of a chance as a graduate student in developing, executing and/or analyzing policy. If they carry on the communal intellectual tradition, doesn't that magnify the influence of the field? Couldn't it help increase enrollments and, by extension, funding? Does the science and technology policy community have an understanding of what it wants to sustain in terms of outcomes and outputs? Perhaps. But that is a question worth asking every few years, and not just in a commonly read journal (which probably doesn't exist for science and technology policy).

Second, the tension between a cohesive intellectual community and the diverse, diffuse location of policy scientists in academia deserves continued attention, and I think the same tension is present in the science and technology policy community (those who have attended conferences on science and technology policy, or have noticed the increasing specialization within science and technology policy may find this familiar). While invisible colleges (academic communities organized virtually, rather than in a single, physical location) are real, and could address many of the concerns raised by those seeking a more centralized field of policy sciences, they are shrinking in size as they grow in number - a by-product of academic specialization. The institutional resources of federal agencies and academic departments do suggest that policy sciences (and science and technology policy) face additional challenges for not being located in established departments (or federal and state agencies). However, the reward structures of universities are sufficiently different from the kind of pragmatic, problem-oriented work encouraged by policy studies that perhaps the best place to grow policy sciences (and work in science and technology policy) is in research institutes (such as CSPO or SPRU) or outside of academe entirely.

Additionally, much of the relevant literature of science and technology policy, as well as those who influence it, are not located in academia - as I hinted at earlier. So not only is the academic community involved in science and technology policy spread across disciplines and departments, those who would use that knowledge are likewise diffuse and diverse. Would gathering these groups in a single organization or discipline better focus the field and improve its efforts in training policy scholars and professionals? I'm resistant to efforts towards a monoculture for the field. For better or for worse, I think academic and organizational turf battles would doom any effort (at least in the United States) to limited success. One might look at the Office of Science and Technology Policy as one example of such limited success in developing and promulgating a common perspective of science and technology policy. This field must learn to work with its diversity and diffuse organization, because I think it is much harder to try and centralize it as one might try and centralize an academic discipline. However, if centralization is to occur the research meetings organized through the Gordon Research Conferences on Science and Technology Policy are one candidate.

While the discussion in Policy Sciences does not come to any strong conclusions on how to proceed with respect to the field of policy sciences, those third-generation scholars with standing should be encouraged to take some chances, build some connections outside of their group, and conduct some experiments/pilot projects on future possibilities for their community. And we, the science and technology policy community, should doing the same. A stronger network can mean greater impact. Part of that strength comes from a better understanding of what each part of the network does. That's where discussions like the one Roger started can be of most use. I'm going to start by learning more about the policy sciences and how they might apply to science and technology policy.

Summary of Policy Sciences Discussion

[Ed.- The articles summarized below can be found online here.]

Roger Pielke starts the discussion asking "What Future for the Policy Sciences?" Concerned not only about the upcoming generational shift in the field, he considers three factors in the broader policy movement as external threats to the sustainability (survivability) of policy sciences as an academic endeavor: the interest in predictive tools; an axiology of science that doesn't select for the pragmatic, problem-oriented research encouraged in policy sciences; and increasing politicization of scientific practice. He also identifies three internal factors challenging the field's sustainability: a lack of degree programs to produce tenured faculty trained in policy sciences; a lack of dedicated course materials and other exposure to policy sciences; and a lack of distinctive identity for the policy sciences. Pielke spends much of the rest of his essay articulating an identity for a policy scientist, distinguishing it from social scientists and policy advocates as someone engaged in integrating knowledge and crafting contextual maps in order to better inform the policy making process and policy analysis. He wants to further distinguish policy sciences by finding some kind of satisfactory home within the university environment.

Richard Wallace, in "Orienting to the Policy Sciences' Sustainability Program," does not see the field in as dire straits as he feels Pielke does. He provides a short primer on the academic development of policy sciences. He sees the field as small, but with sufficient interest to maintain its numbers. Suggesting Pielke is really concerned with relevance rather than sustainability, Wallace sees a community that, regardless of disciplinary home or Pielke's threats, is producing scholars that contribute to policy sciences. Both Wallace and Pielke's concerns come from anecdotal experience, suggesting a diversity of experience and background that calls for the integrative knowledge and contextual mapping of a policy scientist.

David Pelletier discusses "Sustainability of the Policy Sciences: Alternatives and Strategies," and does expand his discussion slightly beyond the academic policy sciences community. He does this by first outlining how many policy sciences concepts are gaining traction in other academic fields and how they are being exposed to many students and early career professionals. He also sees non-academic policy scientists as a key part of institutionalizing the field through strengthening its network. Not really disagreeing with Pielke, Pelletier is trying to provide additional context to the discussion. He sees the best future of the field in a stronger network that supports the policy sciences framework for a diverse group of users.

Rodney Muth also shares some of Pielke's concerns, but characterizes his approach in "Rethinking the Problem: Outcomes or Sustainability?" as optimistic. He is concerned that Pielke's call to "mimic other disciplines" (248) could backfire, robbing the field of some of its unique perspective. He also considers the question of outcomes more important - asking if the policy sciences field leads to better policy rather than if the policy sciences could be sustained as a field of endeavor. Muth suggests a multifaceted strategy to address the outcomes of policy sciences. This would involve encouraging problem-focused activities, integrative education and otherwise seeking common ground with other scholars and practitioners.

Pielke concludes the discussion in his "Rejoinder to Muth, Pelletier and Wallace," by detailing how his concerns and perceptions are not as different from those of the other authors, especially over concerns about policy sciences becoming more like a discipline. He does believe none of them really addressed his concern about where the future policy scientists are going to come from. While this is true, Pielke's statistics focus exclusively on Ph.Ds, which may cause him to overstate the problem if it is simply one of producing people trained in the policy sciences.

Posted on January 11, 2006 07:25 AM View this article | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Posted to Author: Bruggeman, D. | Hodge Podge

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