Jemison Institute hosts first event on science funding
The "S.E.E.ing the Future Conference" held a community forum in Cook Auditorium Tuesday to discuss how public funds should be distributed in the fields of science, engineering and education.
The conference, sponsored by the Jemison Institute and the Thayer School of Engineering, celebrated 50 years of National Science Foundation funding and consisted of speeches by a variety of award-winning scientists, engineers, ethicists, teachers and industry leaders.
Mae Jemison, director of the Jemison Institute for Advancing Technology in Developing Countries, as well as a professor of environmental studies at the College, served as the moderator of the event.
The purpose of the conference was to think about questions such as "What do we have to look forward to?" and "What do we want to do with science and technology?" in the new millennium.
The conference brought together a variety of fields and allowed discussion across several disciplines.
One of Jemison's goals, she said, was to bring together a diverse group of people -- those who "do science" -- not just the policymakers, in order to discuss whether more government funding for science and technology is necessary, and where government funding should be applied in general.
The first to speak was Steve Nelson, associate director of Science and Policy Programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Nelson stressed that the American people should understand the growing importance of globalization as the country becomes more reliant upon other nations.
Linda Nozick, a civil and environmental professor at Cornell University, emphasized that it is absolutely critical the United States maintain leadership in the field of science and technology.
In order to keep up with the ongoing competition, she said, it is necessary to encourage a balance between research, industry and government while also providing funding to programs offering scientific skill-centered education for people employed in a variety of industries.
Wah Lim, vice president of Hughes Electronics Corporation, discussed funding for research and development in industry. He stated that, in the future, the United States will have trouble finding resources if it does not begin researching alternative options now. Currently, the United States allocates most scientific funding to development rather than to research.
Mario Affatigato, professor of physics at Coe College in Iowa, stressed that "science does not happen in a vacuum." He said that the physical structures and resources should be spread out more evenly because, "we don't know where the next great scientists will arise."
Affatigato also emphasized the importance of educating America's youth on scientific skills and concepts, advocating continued interest in science and technology be encouraged from kindergarten through graduate school.
Concluding the forum, Robert Franklin Jr., president of the Interdenominational Theological Center, spoke about the ethics of science and technology as well as about the optimal distribution of the resources.
Franklin indicated that there should not be more funding for science and technology until it is proven that it benefits the lower rungs of society as well as the rest of the globe. He also said that currently science is moving into areas where lay people lack the education to make ethical decisions. Therefore, he said, there is a need for more ethical and scientific literacy.
When the panel was opened up to discussion and questions, the idea of a "crack pot" fund -- money to fund research in areas not formally identified -- was proposed.
Howard Pearlman from the NASA research center believes "there should be a certain base level of funding" to look at new ideas or disciplines, possible cooperation among existing disciplines or otherwise "seemingly crazy" ideas.
Lim supported the need to explore new areas. "Today's crack pot is tomorrow's money maker," he said.