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Public Papers - 1990

Remarks to the National Academy of Sciences

1990-04-23

Apologies for being late. To the distinguished members of the National Academy -- all -- and to Dr. Press and Dr. Ebert, Dr. Raven, Dr. Gordon, Dr. Blout -- now we start on our side -- Dr. Bromley -- [laughter] -- Jim Watkins, a member of our Cabinet, Admiral Truly, ladies and gentlemen, it really is an honor to be with you today.

We stand at a very interesting time. And the advice and counsel of this academy has been really crucial to American Presidents for well over a century, and I'm proud to be the latest to come over here to say thank you. We also stand at a moment of wondrous prosperity, but our wealth goes far beyond the merely material. Ours is an intellectual prosperity, unprecedented in history. For that and the health and security it affords this nation and the world, gratitude is owed to the men and women who have committed their minds and lives to science. Those devoted to such work -- its patient searching, its passionate struggles -- have engaged themselves in mankind's most exalted mission and the mind's manifest destiny: the search for understanding. That's what it all boils down to.

President Lincoln established this great institution in the dark hours of our nation's greatest crisis, which testifies to the enduring importance of scientific knowledge. In the years that followed, your academy has responded to urgent national needs in times of war and peace. When this magnificent building was dedicated, Calvin Coolidge predicted ``a new day in scientific research. A new sun is rising,'' he said. He was right. The awesome scientific advances of this century, many of which you've brought about, bring us ever closer to the understanding that's required of the universe, its origins, and our own. And science has told us a stranger and more wondrous story than myth might even have written for us.

Fourscore and 10 or 20 billion years ago, the theory goes, it all began with a universe of energy and mass unimaginably hot and compressed containing everything that would become what we now see in the heavens. And then, science tells us, in one incomprehensively powerful instant, energy and matter of every kind exploded in every direction -- or as a layman might explain it, somebody hit that cosmic baseball right out of the park. [Laughter] But while the pace of cosmic change may have begun with blinding speed and slowed down since, the pace of our scientific evolution has been rapidly accelerating, growing in intensity like a series of chain reactions in a critical mass of highly trained American gray matter, touching off scientific and technical revolutions in every direction.

Today I wanted to come over here to outline the role that this administration is playing to advance those revolutions, because as the pace of science accelerates, I believe that government must keep pace and will keep pace.

First, we've moved to better integrate science and technology into the policy process. We've created an interagency working group that will more closely link science and technology -- link their considerations with the policymaking process of the Economic and Domestic Policy Councils. My assistant for science and technology, Dr. Bromley, chairs this working group and participates in those Councils, advising them on matters related to science and technology, as well as serving on the National Space Council.

And we're also committed to greater cross-fertilization with talent from the private sector on issues ranging from pure research to manufacturing performance. So, this year we created a President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology -- experts whose guidance I value and depend on. I've already had two meetings with that group myself. We'll also be looking for counsel from this academy's new manufacturing forum, just announced this month.

We want to advance America's tradition of innovation, and we intend to get the biggest bang for the Federal buck. And this administration has also taken steps to reinvigorate the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering and Technology, in order to assure that the Federal investments in R D programs are closely integrated across these agency boundaries.

In January we sent a budget to Congress that includes a record billion for research and development -- an investment in a stronger economy, a more secure nation and, indeed, a brighter future. Our administration is committed to investing in the future. It's evident in the policies we're creating and the budget we're calling for, with everything from a 24-percent increase for NASA to our support of a major agricultural research initiative.

To improve the international competitiveness of American industry and our overall standard of living, we've called for a permanent extension of the research and experimentation tax credit. And we're working to lower the cost of capital and clear away regulatory burdens so that industry can make the kinds of investment that the future demands.

Along with the applied, market-driven knowledge so crucial to this country's competitive future, let me reaffirm two other priorities: first -- and I'm going to keep talking about this one -- math and science education. We understand that only with a new generation of scientists and engineers will your work and America's preeminence be assured. And so, we're engaged in a broad initiative of reform and restructuring in cooperation with the States. It's an effort that began with our first-ever education summit with the Nation's Governors last fall. And our goal is to make American students first in the world in science and math achievement by the end of this century and to convince more women and minorities to study science.

We're providing a number of new incentives for students, like the National Science Scholars Program that I've proposed. We're opening the doors of Federal laboratories, facilities, and agencies to students and teachers. Our budget increases funding by 26 percent to over billion for science, math, and engineering education, through the Departments of Education, Energy, Interior, and others as well as the National Science Foundation and NASA.

And today I ask our industrial and business communities to create new alliances for education, mobilizing more of this nation's great technical resources for the sake of the future. We are committed to ensuring that America has the brainpower to remain at the forefront.

A second priority of this administration is basic research, the historical wellspring of this nation's well-being. Science must be able to continue seeking answers to our most fundamental questions. For such reasons, our budget calls for increasing funding for the U.S. Global Change Research Program by 57 percent to over billion. And earlier this year, I reiterated my commitment to double the National Science Foundation budget by 1993. Today I want to call on Congress: Put our money where our future is. Put an increased National Science Foundation budget back on track.

Today science and technology are assuming a broader and more interrelated role in human life than ever before, and they're becoming forces for historical change. Satellites already help us study the Earth's natural systems and assess environmental threats, and the Mission to Planet Earth will further our work of global stewardship. But this past year, in the Revolution of '89, we've also seen communication satellites, along with video cameras and VCR's and fax machines, becoming a potent force for peace -- both a product of science and a source of conscience -- bringing the actions of nations before the eyes of the world. Pictures from Poland and South Africa, scenes on the Berlin Wall -- the eye of technology has proved more powerful than chisels for breaking down barriers; etching the idea of freedom on the psyche of humanity; and setting off a wondrous, hopeful, political chain reaction worldwide.

It's no accident that many of the individuals at the center of today's worldwide political revolutions share a vision of the future based on personal freedom, openness, and freedom of inquiry. These values are shared by our political system and by science alike. Science, like any field of endeavor, relies on freedom of inquiry; and one of the hallmarks of that freedom is objectivity.

Now more than ever, on issues ranging from climate change to AIDS research to genetic engineering to food additives, government relies on the impartial perspective of science for guidance. And as the frontiers of knowledge are increasingly distant from the understanding of the many, it is ever more important that we can turn to the few for sound, straightforward advice.

The National Academy of Sciences is re-nowned for objectivity and immunity to partisan pressures. Your impartial guidance has been invaluable to American Presidents and to the American people for well over a century. So, I am confident that the members of this body, the most distinguished scientists in America, will continue the tradition that has been the academy's hallmark. On this I know we agree, because so many of our technical and scientific achievements have been the products of independent minds. And if the Earth-moving events of 1989 reminded us of anything at all, it's that complex bureaucracies and centralized planning don't work well in the governance of societies. We will not try to impose them on science.

Just as entrepreneurs and small businesses fuel the growth of the American economy, the backbone of American science is its brilliant array of individual investigators spread across the Nation. Among so many, think of Chester Carlson, who invented the photocopy machine in a little room over a Long Island pub, or Barbara McClintock, working alone, who made monumental discoveries in genetics nearly 50 years ago that the world began to understand only in the last decade.

Look, of course, I can't claim to comprehend how science does its work. Like many, my scientific understanding has been influenced by those Gary Larson cartoons -- [laughter] -- like the one where, after detailed calculations, Einstein discovers that time is actually money.

I'm not here as an expert but as a believer. And one of the best things government can do to support the magnificent creativity and energy of the American technical community is to locate individual scientists with talent, furnish them with adequate resources and state-of-the-art instrumentation -- through agencies like our marvelous National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and then the Departments of Defense and Energy and others -- to help these investigators make progress.

But there are also scientific challenges that, because of their unprecedented scope and importance, demand unusual support and international cooperation. Already, the European Space Agency, Japan, and Canada are making hardware contributions valued at more than billion for Space Station Freedom, a key component of our Space Exploration Initiative. Combined with our total investment of about billion, this will be the largest international R D project ever undertaken.

We're exploring new ways to encourage international cooperation on the big science projects, like mapping the human genome, global change research, and the superconducting supercollider -- a technological giant that will recreate the fireball of our origins and allow us to study forms of matter that haven't existed since the birth of the universe.

There's a vote coming up in Congress this week on that supercollider, so I'd like to call on the members to support that project, as well as our NASA budget. Only by doing so will we keep America on the leading edge of advancing human knowledge and pushing the limits of space exploration.

Tomorrow morning the space shuttle is scheduled to lift into the heavens the most sophisticated celestial object that mankind has ever built -- the Hubble Telescope -- with the power to see the ends of the universe and back to the birth of time. I understand it's half a billion times more sensitive than the human eye. You talk about the vision thing -- try on the Hubble Telescope for size. [Laughter]

But on the southwest grounds of this great academy rests a bronze memorial to a scientist who helped define mankind's understanding of time and space, of matter and energy. Among the engravings on that memorial are words of wonder about the ``joy and amazement'' Einstein felt ``at the beauty and grandeur of this world of which man can just form a faint notion.'' Your work, the work of science, daily brings that beauty and grandeur into sharper focus.

I'm blessed to be President at this fascinating time in the history of the world, in the history of our country. And as President, I can assure you of this: My administration is committed to supporting you as you pursue the knowledge that illuminates the world, knowledge that will surely, ceaselessly continue to bring benefit to all mankind.

Thank you very much for what you do, and God bless each and every one of you. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 2:09 p.m. in the auditorium at the National Academy of Sciences Headquarters Building. In his opening remarks, he referred to Frank Press, James Ebert, William Gordon, and Elkan Blout, president, vice president, foreign secretary, and treasurer of the academy; and D. Allan Bromley, Science Advisor to the President and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

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