The University Record, November 12, 1997

Rowena Matthews participating in development of national science policy

By Kerry Colligan

Development of a national policy on science and technology intensified in late October when federal legislators, leaders of industry, heads of scientific associations, and scientists from public and private universities gathered in Washington, D.C., to discuss a new direction for science policy.

Arising in part from discussions held at the U-M during the 1996 Wiesner Symposium, a panel including Rowena Matthews, the G. Robert Greenberg Distinguished University Professor of Biological Chemistry; former presidential science adviser D. Allan Bromley; Rep. Vernon Ehlers and 26 others, was charged with articulating this new policy. The panel is attempting to form a response to the changing environment of research and education in the wake of diminishing public resources.

For many years, science policy was guided largely by ideas articulated in Vannevar Bush's book Science: The Endless Frontier, in which he argues development of a government-university partnership to foster growth in research and technology is strategically advantageous to American industry and thus to America's position in the race for economic superiority. Current revision of science policy will address how to compensate for changes in global economies, political alliances (specifically the end of the Cold War) and the like.

Some members of the University community may recall the involvement of Homer Neal, then vice president for research, in organizing the Wiesner Symposium. Neal sought to develop a general set of principles that could guide science and research policy. The principles that began to be articulated at the Symposium highlighted the need to consider how research is viewed by society. According to "Principles of the Partnership," a document developed for the Symposium, a summary of which was distributed to panel members prior to the Oct. 23 meeting, "It is essential that (universities) systematically endeavor to improve their accountability for the public investment in research." In other words, "The challenge to the panel," Matthews said, "is to highlight what public funding of science gets for American society."

Though details will not be made public until Ehlers releases a summary expected in December, Matthews did say the panel discussed the distinction between basic and applied research, and the overall scope of the policy.

It is unclear, she said, whether things like Defense Department funding of basic research would fall under the influence of the policy.

"This policy," Matthews said, "has very broad implications for the future relationship between the federal government and the research universities."