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Public Papers - 1990 - November

Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the National Medals of Science and Technology


Welcome, everybody. Thank you all. Please be seated. And delighted to see you here. Pleased to see Secretary Mosbacher, our Secretary of Commerce; Secretary Watkins, Secretary of Energy; and of course, Dr. Bromley; Admiral Truly, right here in front, of NASA. Mike -- Governor Castle, good to see you, sir. And we especially want to greet our honored guests, this extraordinary gathering of scientific and technological genius. Welcome to the White House, and welcome to the presentation of the 1990 National Medals of Science and the National Medals of Technology.

The timing of these awards is fortuitous. A year ago this week, Barbara and I awarded medals to some of the artistic giants of our time: Alfred Eisenstaedt and Dizzy Gillespie and John Updike, among others. And with all that assembled talent, guess what led the evening news: the Rose Garden presentation of the national turkey. [Laughter] So, you're in luck. [Laughter] This year the turkey doesn't get here until Thursday. [Laughter]

And this gathering marks a proud moment for me, just as it was when this year's Nobel Prizes were announced and it turned out that eight of the nine winners in science and economics were born in the United States of America. It is, indeed, a tribute to America's frontier spirit and to our nation's steadfast resolve and sense of the future. For when it comes to leadership in science and technology, best in America means best in the world.

America's tradition of excellence has long been nurtured by a tradition of free inquiry aimed at the simple goal of better understanding ourselves and the world. In the 1945 report that led to the founding of the NSF, the National Science Foundation, Vannevar Bush -- no relation -- wrote that ``As long as scientists are free to pursue the truth wherever it may lead, there will be a flow of new scientific knowledge to those who can apply it to practical problems.''

And so it is today. More and more, nearly every product, from electronics to agriculture, incorporates the latest in technology. And more and more, our nation depends on basic scientific research to spur economic growth, longer and healthier lives, a more secure world and, indeed, a safer environment.

Today our government must help carry that research forward and contribute to the development of generic technologies that build on basic discoveries. If America is to maintain and strengthen our competitive position, we must continue not only to create new technologies but learn to more effectively translate those technologies into commercial products. In this way, we can help leverage the R D of the private sector, helping whole industries advance in an increasingly competitive global market.

The budget highlights our administration's commitment to science and technology. We won double-digit increases for both NASA and the NSF and expanded funds to investigate global climate change. We remain committed to doing even more, doubling the NSF budget over 5 years and extending the tax credit for R E, research and experimentation. And we're going to keep raising America's sights. Space station Freedom will give us a permanent presence in Earth orbit, and the Space Exploration Initiative will take us to the Moon and Mars and beyond -- back to space, back to the future, and this time back to stay.

Thirty years from now, when the Nobel Prizes are announced, I want America to be well represented. And 30 years from now, when the Medals of Science and of Technology are bestowed, I want to see America graced by a group as accomplished as that here today. Many of today's honorees serve as prime examples of how we can effectively translate basic science into commercial technology. I think of Millie Dresselhaus, arguably the most important and prominent woman physicist and engineer of her generation, whose hard work helped to revolutionize semiconductors, or Allan Cormack, whose pioneering efforts earned him a Nobel Prize and made CAT scan a household word, and scholars as diverse as Boston's Baruj Benacerraf or Seattle's Donnall Thomas, another Nobel laureate, whose contributions to immunology may lead to new answers in our battle against cancer and AIDS. Scientists like you have, indeed, helped America to understand that AIDS is a disease, not a disgrace. And scientists like you who have helped America to appreciate our responsibility to those who are living with HIV and AIDS. And they deserve our compassion, they deserve our care, and they deserve more than a chance: They deserve a cure.

Another legacy of these prestigious medals and the work they honor must be the cultivation of excellence in science and math in classrooms across America. The National Science Scholars program we proposed soon after taking office has now been enacted and will encourage budding scholars of today to become the scientists of tomorrow. Guiding our efforts is an ambitious but critical goal for this decade: By the year 2000, U.S. students will be first in the world in science and math.

This week is Education Week, and its theme is ``Educating Everyone Takes Everyone,'' a fitting motto for the challenges that lie ahead. If we are truly to remain a world leader in science and technology, then we must achieve a renaissance of quality in our schools and we must tap the talent, the energy, and the commitment of all our families, businesses, and universities.

The people we honor today are American trailblazers, real-life pioneers who pressed the very limits of their fields. You have distinguished not only yourselves but also your nation. And that's why America continues to need and want and appreciate your creativity, your genius, and your diversity.

Thank you. Congratulations to all. And God bless the United States. Thank you for coming.

Note: The President spoke at 2:01 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to D. Allan Bromley, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy; Richard H. Truly, Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; and Gov. Michael Castle of Delaware.

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