PCAST Discusses Future of Scientific Research

July 21st, 2011 by Erwin Gianchandani Post a comment »

In a public session last Friday, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) spent time discussing the future of scientific research in the U.S. — hearing from Keith Yamamoto, Executive Vice Dean of the UCSF School of Medicine, and Venkatesh Narayanamurti, Professor of Technology and Public Policy at Harvard. The pair spoke about an upcoming American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Study on the Impacts of Federal and Industry Funding of Science, Engineering, and Medicine on American Universities (ARISE II). While much of the discussion centered on the life sciences, there were some interesting points raised about the divide between basic and applied research — as well as the future of the academic research enterprise broadly.

ARISE I by the American Academy of Arts and SciencesAccording to a summary of the meeting published by the American Institute of Physics:

To open, Yamamoto discussed the context of the report and its predecessor, Advancing Research in Science and Engineering, or ARISE I. [ARISE I] was narrowly tailored, focused tightly on two key points: how to better support early career faculty, and how to encourage transformational research. By contrast, ARISE II has taken a broad focus and assesses the interfaces between academia, government, and industry as they affect twenty-first century science, engineering, and medicine. Yamamoto said that these interfaces, which evolved in the twentieth century, need to change to better address crucial societal issues.

 

Narayanamurti discussed the history of the connection between physical science and engineering with industry and manufacturing. He cautioned against creating a strong divide between basic and applied research, saying that in the twentieth century, companies like AT&T and General Electric created their renowned industrial laboratories that conducted Nobel Prize-winning research. He argued that these companies saw the long-term benefit of investing in such research, and that is how they gained their competitive edge.

 

However, in recent years, publication surveys show that articles produced by industrial sources have declined precipitously. He closed his presentation by saying that there needs to be rethinking of the relationship between academia and industry…

 

[Yamamoto] discussed how, to this point, the distinctions between academia and industry, and basic and applied research have often been viewed as boundaries, not interfaces…

 

Yamamoto outlined several areas the committee is looking to for solutions. The first is tenure and promotion policies in academia, namely the possibility that higher value could be placed on collaborative and team investigations. The committee is also assessing how to better align the scientific workforce with areas of greatest need. He then discussed whether conflict of interest policies should be changed to acknowledge and manage conflicts rather than claiming to eliminate them, as the system currently does. Lastly, he said the committee is discussing whether universities could promote increased licensing and patenting of their intellectual property while protecting academic freedom.

Read more about the ARISE reports here.

(Contributed by Erwin Gianchandani, CCC Director)