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Former presidential advisor talks of disconnect between science, policy and politics

At a time in which people increasingly depend on science and technology, the majority of lawmakers and others need to know and understand far more than they currently do, former presidential advisor Neal F. Lane said.

"There is increasing awareness among policy makers and the general public that public policy depends on science and technology," Lane said Nov. 7 in a speech that was part of the Jerome B. Wiesner Science, Technology and Policy Lecture Series at the Alumni Center. "But most people, including politicians, feel they don't know much about science and technology. ... People have to be better informed about the issues."

Lane talked about his experience as director of the National Science Foundation and later as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy under President Clinton. During his time in Washington, he learned it can be difficult to keep elected officials focused on scientific issues.

But if the issues can be tied to public policy concerns, he said, it becomes easier to attract their attention. He listed global warming, pollution and infectious diseases as some examples of science-related policy issues. "Washington is about what's hot today," he said.

Lane also noted that universities are a major part of science and technology progress, and he said institutions of higher learning should be more involved in assisting K-12 education. U.S. students continue to lag behind those in many other coun tries in their knowledge of science, he noted.

He challenged scientists to help reverse the trend by talking with groups such as the Rotary Club about science, and by finding other ways to raise public awareness and understanding. "Scientists need to be more involved," said Lane, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and senior fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. "The public has to invite the scientists in."

Fawwaz Ulaby, vice president for research, introduced the lecture series named for Jerome B. Wiesner, an alumnus whose prestigious scientific career included service as a presidential advisor and president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. President Mary Sue Coleman gave opening remarks, and Homer Neal, the Samuel A. Goudsmit Professor of Physics, introduced Lane.

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