The 2nd bridges Lecture Series Event at the Embassy of Austria in Washington, DC:

Norman Neureiter on the Future of US S&T Policy

bridges vol. 20, December 2008 / News from the Network: Austrian Researchers Abroad

By Juliet M. Beverly


Over one hundred people gathered on the evening of December 15, 2008, at the Embassy of Austria for a conversation with Norman Neureiter, bridges columnist and director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy.

Organized as an event in which audience participation would be encouraged throughout the whole evening, an informed audience from institutions such as the Department of State, science offices from other embassies, US agencies such as the National Science Foundation, or the National Institutes of Health engaged in a lively discussion that was skillfully moderated by Warren E. Leary, an award-winning Washington, DC-based science writer and former science correspondent for the New York Times.

The event entitled "The Internationalization of Science - What's in the Future for US Science and Science Policy?" was hosted by the Office of Science

Warren Leary (left) with
Norman Neureiter (right).

The discussion was followed
by a reception with Austrian
foods and wines.

& Technology (OST) as the second in a series of discussions that feature columnists and other expert contributors to its online magazine. "Since bridges is a pure online magazine," said Philipp Marxgut, Austrian science attaché to the United States and director of the OST, in his opening remarks, "the OST believes it's important to bring the "virtual" bridges community together once in a while to meet and greet in person and to exchange opinions face to face on the topics discussed in the magazine."

The evening discussion quickly turned to issues that Neureiter often advocates for in his bridges columns , such as science as a "soft power tool" for foreign relations, as well as an issue that now occupies the minds of many: What will happen to federal - and public - support for science in a tough economy?

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"The economy is bad in most areas of the world," said Neureiter, addressing audience questions regarding the worldwide economic crisis and what effect it will have on science cooperation in the next 5 or 10 years. "But to put the best possible spin on it [the economic crisis], it could open the door for more cooperations and cost sharing, if we all understand and continue to believe that we must invest in science for our future and for solutions of the big global problems. We have to remember that investing in science now will pay off in future economic growth and progress."

With the US economy in poor shape, many advocates have pointed to science as one of the answers to the current crisis. However, there was concern that coming up with solutions based on sound science won't be given the time it would need, and more importantly, the funding it deserves.

Expectations for the new US administration

Boris Turk,
Jožef Stefan Institute

Lary Weber,
National Science
Rhonda Lizewski,
Johns Hopkins School
of Public Health

"We hope that he will bring a stronger international perspective into the Oval Office that will promote international science cooperation. We also hope that he will build a stronger relationship between the National Security Council and his chief science advisor," Neureiter stated of US President-elect Barack Obama - echoing the Obama's "Hope" campaign from a scientist's point of view. "The exciting element of the new [Obama] administration is that it will not be driven by ideology, but rather driven by logical, pragmatic thinking to solve problems. The downside to Obama's administration will be the legacy it has inherited financially from the current administration, namely, a massive deficit this year of almost $500 billion could rise to a trillion dollars by next year."

Obama has announced plans for a stimulus package to get the US economy out of recession, a package that could reach an estimated $1 trillion over the next years. (click here to read about the Obama-Biden Plan to revitalize the economy). Some in the audience feared that, despite all good intentions, science will receive only a breadcrust once those policy proposals go through the tough appropriation process in Congress to obtain the needed funding.

Neureiter stated that, in general, if Congress is faced with a decision between favoring job creation to avoid massive job cuts or investing in science, jobs will always win. There is some indication that S&T could get its fair share of funding, for example, with bill S. 3689 : Economic Recovery Act of 2008, aimed at job creation and economic revival. Introduced in mid-November, the bill calls for some science-related spending (click here to read a detailed AIP article on the stimulus bill that includes science funding).

In the final comment of the evening, audience member Rhonda Lizewski, a preventive medicine resident affiliated with Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, referred back to Neureiter's statement on jobs, saying, "I think it is important to underscore that cutting science funding is equal to cutting jobs. If Congress has to make the choice between cutting science funding and cutting jobs, they're the same thing."

"So what can the science community do to make sure their voices are heard when the stimulus package is being put together?" asks Warren Leary.

Neureiter suggests, "Work with your congressional representatives. Talk to them. We need to keep reminding Congress of the importance of science for the well-being of our country."

The author, Juliet M. Beverly, has been a member of the bridges editorial team since January 2007.