Friday, May 16, 1997
1. NEW STUDY DOCUMENTS LINK BETWEEN SCIENCE AND INNOVATION.
It hardly needs proving to most scientists, but it's nice to see the numbers fit the theory. A study prepared for NSF found that 73% of the papers cited by industry patents are "public science." The cited papers are from the mainstream of modern science; they are overwhelmingly basic, they come from the top university and government labs, they have been published in the most prestigious peer-reviewed journals and were supported by NSF, NIH and other federal agencies. Even at IBM, which has maintained one of the top industrial research labs, 80% of the papers cited in patents were public science. And the linkage is growing; links between U.S. technology and U.S. science have tripled in just six years.
2. ANOTHER STUDY FINDS A LINK BETWEEN BASIC RESEARCH AND JOBS.
A report prepared by BankBoston provides additional evidence that basic research in universities creates jobs -- at least if the university is MIT. The report, "MIT: The Impact of Innovation," concludes that if the companies founded by MIT graduates and faculty formed an independent nation, that nation would have the 24th largest economy in the world. Direct links between industry and universities, however, in contrast to industry use of public science, raises serious ethical concerns. Recently, cases have come to light in which results unfavorable to the company funding the research were suppressed -- in one case for seven years.
3. THE FY 98 BUDGET: THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION GETS A BOOST.
Even as a coalition of scientific societies continues to press the case for a 7% across-the-board increase in science funding (WN 18 Apr 97), a David Gergen editorial in U.S. News (May 19) picked up the cause, declaring that "serious funding for science is a vital national investment." The emphasis on economic return, however, carries a serious risk. Scientists must stress that pure research having no identifiable link to commerce is a vital part of the intellectual ferment that creates progress.
4. BOOK REVIEWING: POSTMODERNIST ASSAILS "RABID RATIONALISTS."
Two years ago, the New York Academy of Sciences held a conference on "The Flight from Science and Reason" (WN 2 Jun 95). A group of distinguished scientists examined the embrace of antiscience by postmodern academics. Who did Science magazine pick to review the conference proceedings? One of the leaders of postmodern silliness, Paul Forman, who proceeds to write a confused 3-page diatribe, not only against the "rabid rationalists" who spoke at the conference, but against all science. Forman, a Smithsonian curator, was the spiritual force behind the ugly antiscience exhibit, Science in American Life (WN 18 Nov 94). He concludes with a sneering account of the inability of physicists and chemists to effect significant change in the exhibit. In that at least he is right (WN 15 Mar 96). The exhibit remains a disaster.