NASEM President Assesses ‘The State of the Science’

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) hosted the inaugural State of the Science Address on Wednesday June 26, 2024.  President of the National Academy of Sciences, Marcia McNutt, PhD, gave an address to a packed room.

[The webcast of the address and panel discussion is available for viewing here] 

In her address, Marcia McNutt, PhD, made the case for the importance of STEM in the United States, emphasizing the need for America to remain a world leader in the sciences to exert global influence. She situated her address in the context of growing competition with China, detailing the rapid rise of China’s presence in the scientific sphere. She highlighted the shortcomings of US scientific investment and forecast the devastating impacts that may arise if we continue on the current course. However, she was optimistic about the future, noting “Our country has a remarkable ability to adapt, and to learn, and to try new things.” McNutt outlined several specific challenges: 

  • The US has become extremely dependent on foreign born students and has a need to continue to attract the best international talent in the face of growing international competition.  
  • Resources need to be coordinated both across sectors and internationally to make a greater impact.   
  • Public support for science needs to be strengthened. 

 To address these challenges, McNutt proposed several direct interventions: 

  • Improve K-12 education by nurturing the innate curiosity of children as natural born scientists, leverage artificial intelligence tools to reduce the burden on already overworked teachers, and support informal educational programs in STEM. 
  • Reduce red tape by reducing barriers to student visas, easing access to visas to retain STEM talent post graduation, and reducing regulatory burden on faculty.  
  • Create a national research strategy in which there are explicit directives about how to engage and facilitate connections between academic, industry, and government sectors without closing out the opportunities for serendipity.  
  • Strengthen university-industry partnerships by encouraging students to intern at corporations and modernizing the rules of engagement surrounding the engagement with industry. Supplementing this point, McNutt noted the importance of including regulations surrounding conflict of interest, expressing her support for a consortium approach.  
  • Strengthen global partnerships by inviting international partners to collaborate in US led initiatives, creating well communicated policies for collaboration, and deploying procedures for evaluating success of collaborations periodically.  
  • Cultivate trust in science by rewarding researchers for producing excellent and trustworthy research, emphasizing training in research ethics, supporting excellence in communicating science to the public, and countering misinformation.  

Following McNutt’s address, Harvey V. Fineberg, MD, PhD, facilitated an insightful panel discussion that featured Christie Aschwanden, Stephanie Diem, PhD, James Mayika, PhD, E. James Marshall Shepherd, PhD, and Grace Wang, PhD, and Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, FACOG. The panelists each shared their perspectives on the importance of a national strategic plan, improving science education at the K-12 level and beyond, and educating scientists about how to communicate with and include communities in their research in order to help bolster public trust in science.