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A more global tech view

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It is time we shed our parochial attitudes toward science and technology if we expect to remain the world's foremost technological nation. That seems paradoxical, but in fact, the spread of competence in science and technology now requires different attitudes toward international cooperation and interaction with others than are reflected in our current policies.

We have come to assume that the long postwar dominance of the United States in science and technology is a natural consequence of our basic intelligence, or ingenuity, or unique economic system, or other flattering characteristic. Ironically, we continue to hold that view even while in some arenas we wonder how to confront the technological competition from abroad, and particularly from Japan. Policies and programs of the government, notably those involving control of export of technology, are debated as though other nations can do little in science and technology unless they learn it from us.

In fact, the situation is different. Although the US still has the broadest and deepest capability in science and technology we now face at least equal competition in most fields, and are in danger of falling behind in many. Nor is this new. The rise in competence in Europe, Japan, and the Soviet Union has been evident for years.

The US is poorly placed to do what other countries have long since learned is necessary: tapping the knowledge and experience of other countries through cooperative projects, student exchanges, science attaches, and similar measures, as a complement to domestic research and development (R&D). Many countries have large cadres deployed in the US and elsewhere, primarily to stay abreast of rapidly moving technical fields. Funds for travel and study abroad for scientists and engineers are assumed by other countries to be natural components of R&D policy. International industrial cooperation and interaction are actively stimulated and supported.

In the US, policies are almost reversed. Many programs for international cooperation in science and technology with industrialized nations that did exist before 1981 were canceled by this administration (in some cases raising questions of bad faith). International travel for scientists and engineers has been cut out or placed under even more scrutiny than normal in a government that tends to be prudishly skeptical of foreign travel by those not associated with a foreign-affairs agency.

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