Raising above the Gathering Storm, revisited

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In 2005, in the context of rapid global changes at the time, Congress asked the National Academies to answer this:

  • What are the top 10 actions, in priority order, that federal policymakers could take to enhance the science and technology enterprise so that the United States can successfully compete, prosper, and be secure in the global community of the 21st century?
  • What implementation strategy, with several concrete steps, could be used to implement each of those actions?

The Academies make independent, objective, and nonpartisan advice with high standards of scientific and technical quality. It stands on the credibility of more than 900 reports, many times biting the hand that feeds them. Sure enough they came up with these top action and reccomendations , together with an excelent +500 pages report with a very strong rational and the though challenges ahead if not followed:

“Without a renewed effort to bolster the foundations of our competitiveness, we can expect to lose our privileged position.” [Last phrase of the Executive summary]

This was in 2005. So, what happened?

This post is about what the NAS did 5 years later in lieu of the recommendations it produced, and what was done with them.

The government, and the public, had the informed fact-based advice for what should be done after 2005. Yet, the report could not predict the global crises that affected soon after it was released, which further poses more pressure on enforcing the right policies or face a future of social and economic decline. Feeling the right response was not properly taken, the presidents decided to engage the same team to review the response to the report, and how to best move forward. They created the revised version of the book. The image of the top of this post is the cover of that report.

For what they explain, the original report and its recommendations had a profound impact and it was widely considered and, in many cases, was converted into real changes. Not only in the USA, but also abroad where even some recommendation where followed more strongly than in the USA. But it was clearly not enough:

  • Thirty years ago, ten percent of California’s general fund went to higher education and three percent to prisons. Today, nearly eleven percent goes to prisons and eight percent to higher education.
  • China is now second in the world in its publication of biomedical research articles, having recently surpassed Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, France, Canada and Spain.
  • Eight of the ten global companies with the largest R&D budgets have established R&D facilities in China, India or both.
  • China has a $196 billion positive trade balance. The United States’ balance is negative $379 billion.
  • Sixty-nine percent of United States public school students in fifth through eighth grade are taught mathematics by a teacher without adegree or certificate in mathematics.
  • Forty-nine percent of United States adults do not know how long ittakes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.
  • All the National Academies GatheringStorm committee’s recommendations could have been fully implemented with the sum America spends on cigarettes each year—with $60 billion left over.
[Some Factoids from pages 6-11 ]

To quote their Executive Summary:

“The unanimous view of the committee members participating in the preparation of this report is that our nation’s outlook has worsened.[…] In spite of the efforts of both those in government and the private sector, the outlook for America to compete for quality jobs has further deteriorated over the past five years.” [. Page 4-5]

The message can’t be clearer. And their recommendations still hold as valid as ever. I hope we will see a re-review in 5 years. And I hope it won’t be a reprint of this one.

My personal credo is fact-based government and common sense. The facts, regarding science, engineering, technology, innovation, education, immigration, …  are all here, with its rationale, for all of us to see. The future is our responsibility.

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