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Policy Perspectives

MAA Science & Technology Policy Report

Policy Perspectives

Dr. John Marburger, Director, OSTP and Science Advisor to the President, delivered a highly significant policy address at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston on February, 15, 2002. He asserted, "Science has its own intrinsic imperative and this nation will continue to pursue it."

Dr. Marburger elaborated on the intrinsic imperative of science by referring to Galileo and Hooke as launchers of the first generation of instruments for extending our senses to perceive the very large and the very small - respectively, turning the telescope and microscope into research tools. Based also on emerging "powerful conceptual tools of theory and analysis" (as exemplified, for example by the work of Isaac Newton), the frontiers of discovery have been defined by the limits of technology.

This is the basis for the priority given to three interagency initiatives for Networking and Information Technology, Nanotechnology, and Biotechnology (the last thorough suppot focused on NIH). He recognized the frontiers of astronomy and particle physics that remain unconquered. But argued that they have receded so far from the world of human action that the details of their phenomena are no longer very relevant to practical affairs. Not by accident, the instrumentation required to explore them (i.e. new and more powerful space telescopes and particle accelerators) has become expensive. The justification for funding these fields does not have high priority in public support at this time.

From the "intrinsic imperatives," Dr. Marburger turned to other areas of science funding and argued that priorities for how the money is to be spent is far more important than funding levels as such. This perspective is being pursued through management initiatives and accountability measures. The full text of Dr. Marburger's policy address can be found at:

Dr. William E. Kirwan, President of the Ohio State University delivered the The James Leitzel Memorial Lecture at MathFest, University of California, Los Angeles, August 4, 2000. The citation for the written version is W. E. Kirwan. Mathematics Departments in the 21st Century: Role, Relevance, and Responsibility, in the January 2001 issue of the American Mathematical Monthly.

In this address Dr. Kirwan discussed the productivity issues of mathematics programs (e.g. enrollments and degrees) discussed under Topic B: Higher Education, Employment, and Workforce, and noted that the consequent decline in support (e.g. loss of positions) was a n expected consequence. He then noted assets the profession holds and tured to:

"The question we face is how to draw upon these assets:

Following which, he called for an enhanced commitment to undergraduate education and presented this five-point agenda:

What would this commitment to undergraduate education entail?

The emphasis on connections to other disciplines and joint majors with other departments is particularly noteworthy, in light of the many recent reports that have characterized mathematics departments as insular with respect to mainstream concerns.

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News Date: 
Friday, February 15, 2002