Clinton Adviser Sees Science, Technology as Key to Growth
SCIENCE and technology will now take center stage as the dual engine for economic growth in the United States, says John Gibbons, President Clinton's science adviser.
But he says he also realizes that getting that engine in gear and headed in the direction the administration wants requires facing some tough challenges.
* Hard choices have to be made about support for fund-hogging projects such as the space station and the supercollider project in Texas.
* Ways must be found to gain more practical benefit from basic scientific research without limiting its creativity. He says what he envisions is a better flow of ideas and knowledge from the laboratory to industry.
* The US must learn to be a true international partner, not just the dominant leader of projects it initiates. "We cannot proceed separately" toward some goals such as space exploration or curbing global warming "because they really are beyond our means," Dr. Gibbons says.
Outlining these points at a press conference at the recent annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Gibbons said he is involved in many aspects of administration policy discussions. He takes this as evidence that President Clinton considers science and technology policy to be "a keystone" in planning. Allocating funds
This makes the allocation of federal research funding a key issue. The space station is a case in point. It illustrates the strain that big-ticket items put on constrained resources.
Gibbons notes that the amount of resources needed to cover the program's projected future costs "simply is not realistic." He says that to proceed as now planned would "rob NASA's ability to do space science, aeronautics, and other things that are important to the mission of NASA." Yet to kill the project would break faith with its international partners - Canada, the European Space Agency, and Japan.
Gibbons says the final resolution of this problem is not yet in hand. But he did suggest that the space-station project will be rethought. NASA, he says, is being challenged to study the station's missions and see if they can be carried out less ambitiously and still maintain the agreements with the international partners.
Asked by a European journalist if the United States should cooperate with Europe "on equal terms" instead of dominating a partnership, Gibbons replied: "absolutely." Big science, he said, "forces humankind to come to grips with the fact that we can proceed together on great and noble ventures."
This has become a major point in the international diplomacy of science. Europe and Japan, especially, have been concerned that the fruitage from their billion-dollar investments in the space station, for example, depends heavily on what the United States unilaterally decides to do with the program.
Gibbons points out another field where he considers partnership to be paramount - curbing global warming.
He notes that the administration will promote energy efficiency to restrain release of heat-trapping CO2 (carbon dioxide) from burning fossil fuels at home. But, he says, "the situation is going to get a lot worse" as the more advanced developing countries such as India and China rapidly expand their energy use. So "it becomes our self interest" to help these nations adopt energy-efficient technology. The world arena
He observes that this "inescapably draws us, just as the supercollider and the space station does, into an international arena of activities."
The superconducting supercollider (SSC) particle accelerator now under construction in Texas also needs reconsideration in Gibbons's view.
He notes that the project has "a lot of cost uncertainty." He suggests that it would be wise to slow down the construction program to allow more time to refine cost estimates. He adds that the search for new particles "does not absolutely have to be done before the turn of the century, I believe."
He also notes that a slowdown would allow more time for the SSC to attract international partners - especially Japan, which has resisted US pressure to join the project.