NAS Symposium Speakers Highlight Value of Basic and Behavioral and Social Sciences

March 12, 2020

Last month, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) held a symposium to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the historic report ‘The Endless Frontier’ and mark the beginning of a year-long initiative to consider the next 75 years in science (webcast). Vannevar Bush was the Director of the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II when he submitted the report to President Truman. The report provided the intellectual architecture for the national science infrastructure in the federal government and in universities. In her welcoming remarks, Marcia McNutt, President of NAS, praised the report and identified opportunities for future growth including building a solid understanding of behavioral and social sciences as well as the humanities, a theme that would be heard throughout the day.

Dr. Droegemeier, OSTP

Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), two of the first speakers of the day, emphasized the importance of federal funding for basic and fundamental sciences, which are timely remarks as Congress considers the budget for fiscal year 2021. Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, raised a second theme — the importance of US international leadership, particularly in regards to competition with China, and the urgent need to plan for the future. Dr. France Córdova, NSF Director, spoke about the value of the international nature of scientific discovery, team building, exchange of information, industrial progress, and national success. A vision that would be echoed by other speakers.

The importance of the behavioral and social sciences was highlighted time and again. Rafael Reif, President, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, offered that research must integrate these disciplines and the humanities from the very beginning of research questions, and not as an afterthought. On a separate panel, Shobita Parthasarathy, University of Michigan, explained that in addition to investing in the research, we need to do a better job translating behavioral and social science findings to policy and practice to inform the goals that had already been mentioned as critical to the future of science, increased multidisciplinary team science, diversity, and STEM teaching and learning.

Another theme of interest to FABBS members was how to advance the communication of science to broader audiences. Panelists recognized that the current lack of incentives for researchers to communicate broadly affects both their prioritizing engagement for themselves and teaching it to their students. Alan Leshner, former CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, suggested that federal agencies fund basic science. Additional panels addressed “The Role of Government and Philanthropy in Supporting Our Research Enterprise” and the “Evolution of the Government-University Research Partnership” and “From Basic Research to Innovation and Economic Growth, and the Next 75 Years”.

Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)
Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Alan Alda, giving an opening address to “Science Engagement with the Public”