Science and Technology
Outlook and Report '95

Inextricable Links

Science and technology are linked in a multitude of ways, each building constantly on the gains in the other domain. It is certainly true that technological advance ultimately depends on fundamental science, and the highly trained people educated at our universities and colleges. But old distinctions between "basic" and "applied" science are blurring.

In a world of ever tougher global economic competition, links between public and private science and technology initiatives must grow stronger as well. Private businesses are the principal actors in converting technology to goods and services, to profits and jobs, and they have supported much of the research and development needed to develop new technologies. But the public sector has a vital partnership role to play in the science and technology enterprise.

Symbiosis between science and technology. The relationship between basic research, applied research, technology development, and commercialization is not a linear progression. Rather, disparate fields of research (e.g., physics and biology), stages of research (e.g., benchtop and field test), and venues of research (corporate and government, domestic and international) now flourish symbiotically. Often a technical or engineering advance will stimulate or enable scientific inquiry. For example, cars powered by internal combustion engines hit the road long before scientists began to understand, even imperfectly, some fundamental principles of combustion. Magnetic resonance imaging was founded on basic research in atomic and nuclear physics -- but it could not have been put to practical use in medical diagnostics without the separate but parallel development of a number of sophisticated technologies, especially the microprocessor, the "computer-on-a-chip" that could be built directly into the instrument. The cancer treatment drug taxol is derived from the yew tree of the Pacific Northwest, and without the research to classify and study the natural plants and animals it might never have been found. Most of today's experimental science has been enormously enhanced by state-of-the-art technology.

The search for something practical often forces a new look at the scientific principles that underlie new phenomena; the prepared mind is ready to take a leap into the practical application. The transistor was invented in a lab program to develop better switches -- but the scientific work of previous decades on solid state physics and quantum mechanics was absolutely essential to this invention.

The blending of discovery and application is repeated across virtually all science and engineering -- from biomedicine to environment to space exploration and aeronautics to materials and manufacturing. Basic research on materials results in stronger, long lasting roads and bridges and lighter, but safer airplanes and cars. Today's wonder drugs and tomorrow's bioremediation of chemical wastes are direct products of our continuing investments in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and earth science.

The fundamental point is that basic science, applied science, and technology, though different in approach, motivation, and scale, are profoundly interdependent.

Public and private partnership. The accelerating pace of technological advance, ever shorter product cycles, and rapid worldwide diffusion of technologies mean that many companies are finding investment in risky or lower yield research and development less attractive than in the past. This means that government research and development partnerships with industry in growth-enhancing technologies are more important than ever. Without government to share the risk at the pre-commercial stage, individual companies are reluctant to take the plunge, especially when a substantial fraction of the total return may not be captured by the individual investing company.

The problem of capturing private returns on pre-commercial research and development investments is especially great in widely dispersed and fragmented industries such as agriculture or building and construction. If government fails to support technology advances in these industries, at least on a cost-shared basis, it will not get done . . . or it will be done by international competitors. Government support of research and development is an American tradition. For example, the Morrill Act of 1862, which founded the land grant colleges across the nation, was aimed at nurturing agriculture and the mechanical arts and helped build some of our top research universities.

In general, where there is technological uncertainty, research and development projects with a strong combination of potential public and commercial benefits merit a mix of government, academic, and industry support. For example, education and training technologies that challenge and reward our children and bring lifelong learning within reach of everyone have multiple public and private benefits: a better educated citizenry, a world-class work force, opportunities for people to retrain themselves in response to changing technologies and jobs, and a rich commercial market for the learning technologies. Government's role in facilitating the National Information Infrastructure and the emerging Global Information Infrastructure is not only to share the costs of research and development, but also to assure access to all Americans and compatibility with other nations' information highways.

Box: Partnership Programs: Linking High-Tech Industry and Government

Advanced Technology Program (ATP). The National Institute for Standards and Technology's ATP works with industry to promote the development of high risk but highly promising technologies to enable novel or greatly improved products and services for the world market. Government provides the catalyst, but industry conceives, partially funds, and executes ATP projects. On average, ATP award recipients pay more than half the total costs of the research and development, and all awards are made through a competitive merit-based selection process. Cost sharing helps ensure that companies have a vested interest in the success of the project and timely commercialization, and competitive selection guards against political interference.

Technology Reinvestment Project (TRP). This Nation cannot maintain separate military and civilian industrial bases and keep the technological advantage that has been the mainstay of our defense. The dual use technology strategy is a fundamentally new way of doing business designed to break down barriers created over decades between defense and commercial sectors. The TRP, a multiagency effort, is the largest and most visible dual use initiative. The TRP has completed 2 major competitions in which federal matching funds totaling $805 million were awarded to 251 projects involving 1,900 firms, universities, and others, leveraging a total of $2 billion.

Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs). CRADAs are cost-shared projects between industry and government laboratories. The federal labs contribute expertise and technology but do not provide funds to the non-federal party. By the end of 1994, agencies had a total of more than 5,000 CRADAs valued at over $3.8 billion.

Today many in industry are taking a new, results-oriented view of their research and development programs. Corporate cost-cutting drives have led to focusing in-house research and development on technologies that are close to commercialization, at the expense of more basic, longer term, or riskier research. The new model of best practice that is taking form is to create partnerships for riskier, generic, pre-commercial research and development -- teaming with other companies, with universities, and with the government.

The Administration has re-invented government partnership programs to make sure that they are:

With the assistance of progressive government policies, U.S. companies have recently regained a competitive edge in critical technologies, such as semiconductors, once thought lost to Japanese and other competitors. We must guard against a scenario in which American scientists and inventors make breakthroughs, only to see the jobs and profits growing out of U.S. discoveries and inventions flow to overseas competitors.

Federal Priorities in Science and Technology

Effective governance requires transforming our broad goal -- enhancing the general welfare with advances in science and technology -- into concrete, manageable objectives. We have focused federal efforts in priority areas that envelop what America values most. These priorities were established under the auspices of the National Science and Technology Council.

The following text describes federal investments in these areas, highlighting a small cross-section of our research and development programs. These research and development initiatives generally serve more than one objective -- a salutary effect of the effort to stretch taxpayer dollars and optimize each investment in the future. Many of our efforts, for example, in environment, health, and basic research benefit from international cooperation while advancing our interests in international stability and economic progress.

Health. Good health and long life are goals of every American. A strong biomedical research base, an accessible, efficient health care system, and a safe and affordable food supply are prerequisites to these goals. Federal investments in these areas have direct and immediate impacts on quality of life, and they make good economic sense as well. For example, each year vaccinations of infants to prevent haemophilus influenzae type b saves our nation approximately 20 times the total cost of the research leading to the vaccine's development.

We have witnessed vast improvements in health and longevity in recent decades, but enormous challenges still exist. For example:

Box: New Advance in Treating Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle cell disease (SCD) affects 1 in 500 African Americans. Painful crisis, the most common manifestation of SCD, impairs the quality of life and productivity of affected individuals and frequently requires emergency room treatment or hospitalization. Sickle cell patients often require chronic transfusion therapy, which puts them at risk for disease transmission and other problems.

NIH has completed a clinical trial of the drug hydroxyurea, the first therapeutic agent for patients with SCD to show promise of clinical efficacy without life-threatening toxicity. The trial was deemed successful when interim analysis of data indicated that daily administration of hydroxyurea reduced the frequency of painful episodes and associated hospital admissions by about 50 percent. Hydroxyurea therapy also reduced by half the frequency of acute chest syndrome, a life-threatening complication of SCD. Patients receiving hydroxyurea required 50 percent fewer units of transfused blood than patients who took a placebo, a finding with important public health implications. The results of this trial are expected to improve the quality of life for SCD patients and reduce the costs associated with their care.

To address the range of problems these examples represent, the Administration has established scientific goals and research priorities in 5 main areas. Biomedical, socio-cultural, and behavioral research and development will reveal the fundamental processes of human biology and provide insight into risk factors for disease and injury. Health systems and services research and development will improve access to the benefits of one of the world's most sophisticated health systems. This type of research recently led to two clinical practice guidelines -- one on low back pain and one on fluid in the inner ear of children -- that could reduce health care expenditures by more than $5 billion. Health promotion and disease and injury prevention research and development offer the most direct means to reduce the enormous personal, social, and economic toll from premature birth, childhood illness, cancer, obesity, heart disease, disabilities, infectious disease, drug abuse, and tobacco use. will ensure we meet the food needs of the United States and the world in the year 2100. We intend to harness the genetic resources of plants and animals and combine that potential with improved food safety technologies. Human nutrition research and development will help us reduce the risk of diet- related disease -- the largest controllable factor in long-term health for Americans who do not smoke, drink to excess, or work in hazardous environs.

Health, safety, and food are global concerns, and research and development in these areas has significant international dimensions. For example, bilateral and multilateral research programs are providing international research experience to the next generation of health and agriculture scientists during the early stages of their careers. International data standards are being developed to facilitate future international collaborative research efforts, particularly comparative studies in epidemiology and health systems and services. Emerging infectious disease threats are a reminder that no nation can be complacent regarding human vulnerability to microorganisms, and emphasize the continued need for collaborative surveillance systems and research on disease prevention and treatment. Such collaborative programs encourage continued cooperation and mutually beneficial partnerships between the United States and other countries.

Box: Long Term Ecological Research and the Hantavirus

Mice and other rodents are important, often abundant inhabitants of arid environments. They are a food source for predators and directly affect plant communities by consuming and spreading plant seeds. Thus, rodents have been studied by scientists at the Sevilleta Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site since it was established in 1988 as part of a research program to understand the dynamic processes that shape and change ecosystems.

In 1993 the rodent research took on a new importance when physicians in northern New Mexico and Arizona reported a high number of deaths from an unusual respiratory disease caused by a previously-unknown species of Hantavirus. Hantaviruses were known to be transmitted by rodents, and anecdotal information from residents in the afflicted area suggested that rodents were exceptionally abundant in the winter of 1992-93. This led health officials to speculate that, if true, the increased potential for human contact with rodents might have led to the sudden epidemic.

The Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta enlisted Sevilleta LTER scientists to provide ecological information on the deer mouse and other native rodent species. The LTER database showed a ten-fold population increase in various field mouse and wood rat populations during the spring of 1993, thus confirming the likely connection between the Hantavirus epidemic and rodent population increases. The ecological and climatological data from the LTER research will be important in formulating models that predict future rodent population increase and allow improved disease prevention strategies. Thus, research initially conducted to understand the role of rodents in natural habitats is playing a key role in safeguarding human health.

Environmental Quality. A fundamental challenge facing our society is sustainable development: development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Protecting our environment and natural resource base while enhancing economic growth requires knowledge of many complex natural phenomena, their interrelationships, and the effects of human activities. We are developing a research program that will provide this knowledge and enable us to anticipate future environmental problems and prevent them, rather than respond to them after the fact. The benefits of such an approach are a cleaner environment at lower cost, an increase in U.S. economic competitiveness, and improved quality of life for all Americans.

The range of environmental and natural resource issues related to sustainable development is diverse: it encompasses both urban and rural issues at the local, regional, and global scales, affecting human health and the quality of both aquatic and terrestrial ecological systems. These issues include pesticides, toxic substances, hazardous and solid waste, water quality, air pollution, and natural disasters. Other important local-to-regional concerns include improving resource use by addressing such problems as inadequate water supplies, the loss of wetlands, soil erosion, and the extraction and use of energy resources. Other critical problems have international and global implications: deforestation, loss of biological diversity, stratospheric ozone depletion, and climate change.

We have made significant progress in learning how to manage our environment and natural resources effectively and to repair damage from past practices, largely because of our improved understanding of complex natural systems. Yet with our growing knowledge has come recognition of our vast ignorance about many facets of environmental issues and the need to develop the information and data to manage and avert future threats more effectively and efficiently. No longer can we repeat the mistakes of the past that now pose huge burdens on our society and require amelioration.

Box: Scientific Research Protects Human Health

Twenty years ago we determined a need to understand the impacts of emissions of synthetic chemicals containing chlorine, bromine, and fluorine on stratospheric ozone. Today we know unequivocally that the ozone layer is being depleted because of human activities and that loss of the ozone layer threatens human health by increasing the ground-level UV-B radiation that causes skin cancers. This knowledge has led to international agreements that limit the production and use of ozone-depleting chemicals, and advances in technology have resulted in industrial and manufacturing use of cost-effective substitutes that do not degrade the ozone layer. Because of the research and early detection of stratospheric ozone depletion, technological response has enabled us to largely avert a major global environmental problem while still providing the benefits of air conditioning, refrigeration, and other necessities and amenities that once depended on ozone-destroying chemicals.

Faced with inadequate information, we often either fail to capture opportunities to avoid significant problems with reasonable solutions or overcompensate with overly strict controls and limits, wasting resources on the wrong problems or responses. In contrast, balanced and informed public policy must be based upon a sound understanding of problems and potential solutions; this is an important role of federal scientific research. Scientific research should provide unbiased knowledge relevant to critical policy questions. Effective decisions regarding the environment and natural resources must be informed by integrated knowledge from the natural, social, and economic sciences.

An improved understanding of the environment will contribute to a healthier, safer America, enhanced national security, and a stronger economy. Environmental research and development contributes to public health and well being by increasing our understanding of the changes in environmental conditions that can threaten health and safety. We know that changes in climate can increase the loss of life from heat-related mortality and severe storms and increase the range of diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and cholera. Increases in urban and rural ozone and airborne particles can increase the incidence of respiratory ailments such as asthma, and exposure to toxic materials can lead to cancer, birth defects, and other health problems. Further research is needed to address and prevent environmentally-related health problems.

Environmental research and development contributes to our national security by improving management of ecosystems and natural resources. We have witnessed instances of environmental degradation, ecological damage, and depletion of natural resources creating confrontations between nations. Predicting, preventing, and/or remediating potentially destabilizing environmental problems, coupled with the development of long-term sources of food, water, and energy, are essential to global stability and U.S. national security.

Box: Timely Hurricane Warnings Save Lives, Property