The National Academy of Sciences, including the Academy of. Engineering and the Institute of Medicine, has had a banner year in Congress. The 100th Congress, whose two-year life ended in October, asked the academies to conduct 20 separate studies, a record number that is double the average for the previous five Congresses. The planned studies, which will examine everything from AIDS to export controls, suggest both a growing faith by Congress in the ability of academy panels to deal comprehensively and fairly with some of the nation’s thorniest technical issues—and an increased awareness in Congress that these issues are important.

“The academy has been more willing to talk to the Hill in recent years about how it can help Congress deal with some of the country’s problems,” says Patrick Windham, an aide to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. And as a result, Congress is regularly soliciting the academy’s...

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