Another Japanese Target
In this new, hybrid field, called bioelectronics, Japan boasts of a lead in moving from lab to market. "Japan is ahead, without a doubt," says Isao Karube, biotechnology professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology.
A big part of that lead is a tiny device created by fusing organic matter to electrodes. Called a biosensor, the device converts natural chemical reactions into electric current to measure blood-sugar levels, monitor the brewing of beer, sniff out pollution, pick the freshest fish in the market or become a robot's "nose."
"It's the same old story," says Christopher Lowe, director of the biotechnology center at Britain's Cambridge University. Biosensors "have been targeted in the usual, thorough way." The West still leads in basic biosensor studies…. But the Japanese "will walk away with the commercial applications in this area," he says.
NSF Director Speaks Out
Accepting foreign students is an American tradition that we must continue, in part because science and scientists are a uniquely good communication link in a troubled world. But it would be a serious mistake to rely too heavily on foreign sources for one of our most valuable assets for the future: scientific and engineering talent. Recruiting more of our own women and minorities into science and engineening careers is a good place to start.
The Big Question
Advocates of the space station argue that a manned laboratory in outer space will open a new scientific frontier. David Black, NASA's chief space-station scientist, believes basic research in life sciences and materials research will be important, especially research into basic phenomena involving gravity…. Like any pioneering scientific effort, the results may not always be predictable. "The real benefits come not from what you knew would happen but from the discoveries and capabilities you run into when you open the new horizon," says Black. "If we do our job well and attract the right people, a Nobel Prize should come from working in this environment."
Slicing the Cake
A perennial problem for scientists is that their pay increases come out of the same pot as money for actual research. The bigger the salary increase, the smaller the cake is for the rest of science, and so the fewer the jobs there are in the long term.
If trade unions want to put the case for science to the government then they must address not just the problem of a shortage of money, but the central issue of how Britain pays not only for research but also its researchers.
Our Only Hope
Coverage in the Classroom
"Most high school science courses are watered-down versions of introductory college courses," says Bill G. Aldridge, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association. "This makes life easier for college professors, since they are teaching less new information, but it doesn't help the 93 percent of students who will never take a college science course and really need something else at the high school level."
... "Science is not a list of facts and principles to learn by rote; it is a way of looking at the world and asking questions," says James Rutherford of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "How often do you see elementary school kids outside collecting leaves and bugs and then doing something with them?"
High school textbooks, he observes, are replete with "Latin names that kids learn and immediately forget," while labs have little to do with the way scientists work. "Kids go in, set up some equipment, gather data and verify a predetermined conclusion—all in 45 minutes," he says. "And verifying what Newton did 300 years ago is hardly science. Does anyone ever ask whether Newton might have got it wrong?"
Don't Close the Doors
"For example, the best Japanese scientific and technological research takes place in federally supported institutes and industrial cooperative ventures that have not, in the past, been readily accessible to American researchers," he said. "In contrast, much of our forefront high technology research takes place in association with open research universities and is published in widely read journals. The answer is not to limit access to U.S. facilities, but to get symmetrical access to the best Japanese research results."
The Increase That Wasn't
When the White House's Office of Management and Budget unknowingly uses figures that were simply "made up" to prepare the President's budget.
That statistical gaffe was discovered last week, soon after White House officials said Mr. Reagan was proposing a big increase for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's basic-research activities.
William Graham, Mr. Reagan's science adviser, even highlighted the increase in a news conference as an example of the Administration's commitment to basic research.
NASA's puzzled budget officers, who had not calculated any increases, wondered what could have gone wrong.
What they found, said one budget official, was that numbers that were supposed to be used only as place holders on magnetic tape— until the Administration agreed on its final request—were never replaced with the actual figures.
"This year has been so rushed," she said, "that all of this got overlooked. It's wrong, it's just wrong. There's no increase from '87 to '88."
This case study suggests that problem-identification and selection in science have features deserving further analysis. First, the solutions to two classes of problems are apt to be postmature: those which do not survive competition for scientists' attention when they first appear because they seem insignificant, unfeasible or both and those which are obscured by prevailing cognitively defined disciplinary home. Second, in calculating the probable returns on selecting problems for investigation, scientists assess the likelihood of error and this contributes to the continuing neglect of certain problems that have a history of being error-prone. Third, the feasibility of addressing high-risk problems in science and so of making major advances in this way is not equal for all investigators; they are left largely to the well-established who can afford them and to others who have a smaller stake, for structural reasons, in their immediate record of publication. What scientists define as problematic and worthy of investigation are the products of interactions between cognitive and social processes.