Washington Update

National Science Board Meets to Discuss Policy Matters

By: Benjamin Krinsky
Thursday, May 10, 2018

On May 2-3, the National Science Board (NSB) met at National Science Foundation (NSF) headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. NSB members discussed a wide range of science policy issues, including NSF’s Big Ideas and the future of the Science and Engineering Indicators (SEI) report. The Board also heard presentations from scientific community members who had recently received NSB and NSF recognition for their service and scientific achievements.

The Big Ideas are 10 long-term initiatives meant to support important new scientific directions, infrastructure, and convergent research across the agency. Though Big Ideas are primarily housed within a particular NSF directorate, staff outlined how each would be managed via a “stewardship model” to foster interdisciplinary collaboration.

For example, while the BIO Directorate would be the primary steward of the Rules of Life Big Idea, projects would also fund collaborations with the geosciences, physical sciences, and social sciences. To foster these interactions and fund multidisciplinary proposals, NSF will utilize working groups and committees comprised of NSF Assistant Directors, Program Directors, and other experts.

At the meeting, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES) staff presented changes to the next SEI report, due in 2020. Under the new production plan, NCSES will produce a concise document on the overall state of U.S. science and engineering by January 15, 2020, in order to meet NSB’s statutory requirement. This document will be similar to the current SEI digest/overview materials. Subsequently, NCSES will release thematic reports on other aspects of the science and engineering enterprise. These additional reports are analogous to the topical chapters that now comprise the bulk of SEI.

In addition, with guidance from NSB, NCSES could produce additional documents on other science policy areas to supplement the core SEI findings. Advantages of the re-imagined SEI report include reduced workload on NSF staff, the ability to include up-to-date data in the thematic reports, and enhanced SEI visibility by releasing materials over several months.

The NSB Committee on Science and Engineering Policy is also producing a companion statement to the SEI report on the internationalization of science. Motivated by the rise in R&D investments abroad, Board members engaged in a lively conversation about the need for a thoughtful, nuanced document that describes both the challenges to the U.S. from underinvestment in research and education, and collaboration and coordination opportunities with the growing global scientific community.

In addition to its policy work, the Board heard presentations from recent recipients of NSB and NSF awards. Jane Lubchenco, PhD, professor at Oregon State University and former administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, received the 2018 Vannevar Bush Award, recognizing lifelong leadership in science and technology. In her remarks, Dr. Lubchenco described the need for scientists to engage more directly with the public to improve scientific understanding and the overall state of public discourse. Kristina Olson, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington, received the Alan T. Waterman Award, recognizing early-career scientists. Dr. Olson described her innovative research program, which explores the ways that children identify themselves and others as members of particular social groups.

Two other public service awardees gave presentations. Deborah Wince-Smith, CEO of the Council on Competitiveness, accepted a public service award on behalf of her organization, remarking on the import of science and technology for the U.S. economy’s future. In accepting his award, engineer Dean Kamen, founder of DEKA Research and Development Corporation, outlined his various inventions and described For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), an organization that promotes science and engineering education among young students through a global robotics competition and other activities.

The NSB meeting marked a number of leadership changes for the Board and agencyEight Board members complete their terms May 10, including Chair Maria Zuber, PhD. Diane Souvaine, PhD, professor of computer science and former Vice Provost for Research at Tufts University, will become the new NSB Chair. Ellen Ochoa, PhD, director of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, will become Vice Chair. NSF Chief Operating Officer Joan Ferrini-Mundy, PhD, will become president of the University of Maine effective July 1.