What's in the name? The NAS at 150

please join me in welcoming dr. Peter westwick to the distinctive voices podium thank you Ken for the very kind introduction very generous thank the Academy and the Beckman Center for hosting this great event and thank all of you for coming out this evening to learn about the history of the Academy there is more than popular interest usual popular interest these days in President Lincoln propellant part by steven spielberg’s film I haven’t seen the movie but I suspect it does not include one of Lincoln’s many accomplishments one may excuse this oversight since it occurred amid events than shaking the very foundation of our union it also concerned to subject not always seen at the time as central to the American Enterprise but 150 years later as setting her surrounded by the fruits of modern science and technology we may better appreciate Lincoln’s wisdom in creating the National Academy of Sciences and here’s a the famous painting by Elbert her this scene in fact never happened this is a reconstruction after the fact in the artists imagination in 1924 to portray the Academy’s founders from left to right that’s Harvard mathematician Benjamin Pierce Alexander Dallas beige in the back from the coast survey physicist Joseph Henry let’s see who’s next that’s Louis Agassiz standing this Lincoln the harbor geologist Lincoln of course senator henry wilson on the other side massachusetts republican Charles Davis a naval officer in the Bureau of navigation and at the end there is the astronomer Benjamin Gould now these people came together the American scientists for years had flooded flooded the notion of an academy to recognize and promote American science the Civil War had added a new angle the government was flooded by proposals for new weapons as sent in by enthusiastic inventors the Smithsonian our self a relatively recent creation reviewed a few of them but could not study them all so a few of these scientists combined their idea of an academy to promote a science with one that could serve the national government that is the Academy in a sense would have two masters science and government the Assumption being that the two would naturally align the Academy’s history would test that assumption so trell’s Davis of a naval officer and Louie Agassiz the zoologist drafted a bill and submitted to the Senate through senator Wilson from Massachusetts the bill was a model of consent about in his introduction after giving the Academy to power to elect members and set its own rules described the main function the Academy in about 50 words basically to render scientific advice to the government whenever called upon without compensation that unfunded mandate many years later in nineteen forty seven Academy President Frank Jewett called this act of incorporation an astounding document it is one of the most if not the most sweeping delegations of power coupled with obligation of service to the nation which the sovereign Authority has ever made to a group of citizens completely outside the control of political government Jewett also noted that the Act did not shackle the Academy to the problems or philosophy of 1863 and instead gave it the freedom to adapt to changing times but lose language as any lawyer might tell you may also lead to confusion down the road anyway the bill breezed through Congress without much debate thanks to Senator Wilson and President Lincoln signed it into law on march three 1863 the same day he signed the conscription act requiring every male between the age of 20 and 45 to register for the draft unlike the conscription act the creation of the Academy did not spark riots in the streets but it did arouse misgivings among some scientists including Joseph Henry he protested the backdoor way the Academy was created Henry says that Congress would have opposed the Academy as he put it as something at variance with our democratic institutions and that it might be perverted to the advancement of personal interest or the support of partisan politics the Academy he sensed is a private organization with public response bilities is a group of elite unelected unaccountable scientist directed to

shape federal policies at the very least Henry intimated this would expose the Academy to criticism and Henry was right such suspicions have indeed spark two debates over the last 150 years both inside and outside the Academy over its proper role and function but the other academy founders were also right the Academy has fulfilled its original purpose probably far beyond what these founders dreamed of the food we the roads we drive on our healthcare the education our children receive there are a few areas of American life untouched by the Academy the Academy 150th anniversary gives us a good reason to reflect on its history now it’ll be hard to cover 150 years of history in an entire book let alone might talk here tonight and the story is not just about this one institution rather it is a story about American science and technology and the role in American history writ large westward expansion and settlement the ship from agricultural to industrial and then information economies the rise of the u.s. from strategic backwater to global superpower the national security challenges of two world wars the cold war and terrorism the growth of the regulatory state and the domestic reach of the American government and the expansion of social and political rights to women and ethnic minorities among many other stories just a few of those will touch on this evening first as the title suggested what’s in a name the Academy’s founders picked a rather generic name but the three big words in the title beg for definition now they could have followed the example of the first scientific Academy the Academy didn’t say founded in 1603 what would become Galileo’s intellectual home was now Italy translated this means Academy of the link side which is certainly more poetic than national academy of sciences maybe they should have called ours the Academy of the eagle-eyed but let’s start with the sciences what does this mean sciences as Ken pointed out the Congressional Charter directed the Academy to advise the government on any subject of science or art unquote which leaves a fairly wide open door and practice the Academy has interpreted this fairly narrowly although this changed over time reinforced by the natural tendency of members to elect like-minded colleagues thus it is not for instance followed the lead of some science academies abroad and stooped so low as to let historians in its original 50 members came mostly from natural history the earth sciences and astronomy the fields of most American scientists at the time today it has over 2,000 members across the physical and life sciences and including engineering medicine agricultural and the Social and Behavioral Sciences now this disciplinary broadening took much time and some effort for example the Academy long grappled with the relation between science and technology or between scientists and engineers and trust me historians are also grappling with this relationship President Kennedy reminded the Academy on the occasion of its centennial the Tocqueville had a chapter titled why the Americans are more addicted to practical than to theoretical science the government naturally tended toward this practical point of view which I think was Kennedy’s point to the Academy at the time but as American science found its footing in the 19th century as some scientists had sought to elevate abstract research beyond what they saw as mirror tinkering or inventing tainted by the profit motive Academy member henry roland gave a celebrated speech in 1883 titled a plea for pure science rejecting the tendency as he put it to call Telegraph’s electric lights and such conveniences by the name of sciences now on the other hand that same year the Academy had admitted Alexander Graham Bell as a member and just a few years before that it had invited Thomas Edison to demonstrate his new phonograph but it took another 50 years for Edison to be nominated for membership and even then he was rejected at first by physicists before finally making the cut now this issue contributed to the first edition to the Academy structure during World War one and once again war increased the federal appetite for science beyond what the Academy could provide to bring more of America’s growing central scientific enterprise to bear on military problems astronomer George Ellery Hale and physicist robert millikan pushed for the creation of a National Research Council which President Wilson called into being with an executive order in 1918 here is Milliken and a few others in front of the new offices of what they call the NRC that is Milliken second from left in military uniform he was actually commissioned into the Army at the time the NRC like the Academy brought scientists from universities industry

and government on to advisory committees with no compensation the twist here being that NRC committee members need not be members of the Academy the NRC does tapped the great and growing bulk of American science the NRC at the time expressed Sciences long-standing tension with engineering in part because Edison had created a competing board of inventors for the Navy and there’s a great story there about the competition between these two groups and things like submarine detection but the NRC by reaching beyond the small number of scientists in the Academy itself greatly expanded the Academy’s access to engineering expertise now that did not satisfy the engineers in the long run the Academy’s membership criteria stressed original research and publication which tended to exclude engineers from industry after World War two with engineer’s playing key roles in the Atomic Age and space race their limited presidents and the Academy rankled and a group of them agitated for an independent academy of engineering Academy scientists resisted on several grounds for starters were to draw the boundary between science and engineering a separate Academy would also perhaps lead only to fragmentation on greater unity of science and technology was what was needed finally an Academy of Engineering they prophesied might lead to similar calls for academies of medicine agriculture and so on now in 1964 the engineers indeed formed the National Academy of Engineering integrated with the NRC and sure enough medical doctors is similarly limited in the Academy membership and similarly spurred by growing social influence in this case attention to public health issues in the 1960s soon pushed for and got an institute of medicine so together the Naas national academy of sciences and RC nae national academy of engineering and iõm institute of medicine together these four form what is what some call the national academies complex with the National Academy of Sciences I think first among equals in this group in the governor governance the 1960s context also led to calls for a greater representation of social science the Academy had included ethnology as one of its original fields and then anthropology and psychology in the early 20th century and the early 60s these expanded into a broader division of behavioral sciences some Academy members in the Natural Sciences viewed the social sciences as sought unworthy of inclusion and there was a substantial disagreement about further expansion but as environmental pollution and military arms races among other things drove increasing and concern with the social implications of science in the 60s the Academy approved an expanded Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences and that’s kind of how we got to where we are today with this broad disciplinary representation in the Academy across engineering medicine and social sciences and so on okay so much for the definition of Sciences what about Academy what should an Academy do although the Charter stipulated that it would provide expert advice to the government the Academy also pursued the founders other primary goal the promotion of American science now this was this function was partly served by the honorary character of the Academy which provided prestige to members and elevated the status of science but the Academy is also more directly boosted science through several avenues one is by organizing and supporting conferences and there are many examples of this just to give you a couple examples one example is the shelter island conference in theoretical physics in 1947 probably one of the most conferences in physics in the 20th century reuniting the International physics community after World War Two and also laying the foundation for quantum electrodynamics this is a great photo from the conference the will across the back it’s willis lamb curled Darrow Vicki weisskopf leaning over george uhlenbeck robert Marshak julian schwinger and david bomb on the far right Oppenheimer of course resting on the arm of the couch and then Brom pais and Richard Feynman and Fishbach I think Herman Fishbach sitting next to find in there on the couch Oppenheimer later called this the most successful scientific meeting he ever attended times have changed a little bit the conference was pulled off for a grand total of eight hundred and fifty dollars times change another prominent conference the asilomar conference of 1975 on recombinant DNA milestone for bioethics the guidelines promulgated by this conference I think have shaped genomics and biotech research ever since here is a slide Maxine singer Morton Zender Sydney Brenner and organizer Paul

Byrd on the right from asilomar that’s Brenner again and of course James Watson and Joseph sambrook and David Baltimore and if you molecular bhalla might recognize some of these people so sell more shelter island and you could multiply those examples many fold so conferences the Academy also publishes research in particular the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences PNAS first published in 1915 the pnas has long been one of the most cited scientific journals in any field and it has published many seminal articles Edwin Hubble on the expansion of the universe Barbara McClintock on the chromosomes of maize meselson and stahl on DNA replication John Nash on game theory john s jr on game theory so on the academy is also encouraged the production of new scientists most notably through fellowships to many generations of a young undergraduate and grad students in American universities before World War two and our sea fellowships to such budding scientists as Oppenheimer and it’s Lawrence helped underpin the Foundation’s actually underwrite literally underwrote the American contributions to quantum mechanics and nuclear physics in the 20s and 30s and then after the war NRC fellows included such future luminaries as murray gell-mann richard garwin john nash daniel koshland james watson was actually on an NRC fellowship when he worked with creek and discovered the double helix the Academy has also shaped science training for younger students through teaching standards for physics and biology in the 50s and 60s and more recent efforts to boost science in k-12 curriculum finally the Academy represents the United States in the international scientific community it provides a connection to science academies abroad to international science unions to UNESCO it sends American scientists to international conferences or for extended research visits and laboratories abroad and it invites foreign scientists on comparable visits to the United States there’s also organized international research projects most notably the International polar years the most noted of which is probably better known as the international geophysical year igy in the late 1950s the IgY of course helped launch the space age this is a famous photograph from the evening of when the first American satellite explorer built in part by our friends across the way not across the way but across town at JPL this is William Pickering from JPL james Van Allen the Van Allen belts xplory helped discover those and Verner von Braun actually in a press conference in some of you may recognize the hall at the National Academy building on Constitution Avenue in Washington DC that’s where this impromptu press conference held a kind of interesting story there they were driving into DC in the middle of the night like three in the morning it’s driving a rainstorm they don’t expect to find anybody there because it’s the middle of the night they pull into the Academy and walk into the hall and there’s this jubilant throng there to greet them and this photograph was the spontaneous reaction to the three of them they kind of said what do we do now this huge crowd there and they held this thing up the engineers at JPL call this the deodorant shot but why do they hold this press conference at the National Academy instead of at the White House or some other DC location the answer I think is because the Academy automatically ethic or naturally means to most people confer a scientific legitimacy and I think that’s why they held it there instead of at the White House or say the Pentagon because they were trying to avoid military associations for the early space program so the Academy was a natural spot for the press conference any great photo okay these works of the Academy I think are fairly well-known conferences international representation fellowships and so on the Academy has had a tremendous but less recognized influence on what we might call the nation’s infrastructure the things that support the everyday lives of Americans and let’s consider just two examples and World War two the Academy troubled by how poor nutrition might be undermining national defense created a food and nutrition board the board came up with what it called recommended dietary allowances or RDAs at which the board then consistently updated over the years now these are the RDAs familiar to all of us I thank from cereal boxes and other food labels and they have determined what Americans eat ever since a second example is transportation which has long been one of the Academy’s biggest efforts whether measured in terms of people or funding we all know that President Eisenhower created the

interstate highway system in the 1950s in part to address the proliferation of automobiles in American life and in part to ensure military transport and the Cold War what you probably don’t know is that the academy’s highway research board had independently anticipated the need for new highways for both Commerce and national security and ran a multi-year 20 million dollar test of pavements in the late 1950s the results of these tests literally undergirded the interstate highways and defined highway construction for the next 50 years the Academy in short played a central role in the paving of America and this is the test the Asha road test the american association of state highway officials i think is the acronym and they built several tests segments out in the plains of illinois this was just one of them you can get a sense of the scale of this project thousands of people again many millions of dollars spent on this over several years and they would have they’d have these tests loops and they had all kinds of different sizes of trucks and cars that would just sit there and drive 24-7 four months and eventually years to try to wear down the pavement I think part of the straight part is now part of i-80 in Illinois okay one could multiply such examples from nutrition transportation multiply them through health care telecommunications education sex and birth control and so on the Academy has had profound influence on these most basic aspects of American life and very few people know about it usually the Academy’s main function advising the government is more visible how it works is agency of the federal government usually the executive branch sometimes Congress has a question or problem examples might be should we send the next robotic spacecraft to Venus or Mars or Jupiter what are acceptable levels of automobile emissions do computer exports cause a threat to national security what should we do about stem cells and so on the government turns to the Academy for an answer or at least an analysis the Academy hands the questions the appropriate academy or NRC committee to study the issue and prepare a report the agency pays for it but here is the key point as Ken pointed out the committee members are all volunteers they get reimbursed for travel expenses but the government otherwise gets their advice for free and this is pretty remarkable if you think about it some of the country’s best informed experts on a subject who might otherwise command large malting fees provide their advice for free out of a sense of public and scientific service now these are very busy people and studies are often time consuming much travel across the country to these meetings drafting and editing reports and the Academy is really a bargain for the American people seen in this light an outstanding question is whether the Academy is proactive or reactive does it just wait to respond to federal requests or does it anticipate them doesn’t wait for an issue to reach a crisis point at which point it might be too late to do something about it in other words does it drive policy or does it follow it there are several examples where the Academy has been ahead of the curve one is computers the NRC had a committee on calculating tables in World War two and another on computers in 1946 when the first digital electronic computers were actually just emerging by 1967 an academy board was already contemplating what it called the public responsibility aspect of computers that is how vast databases raised troubling implications for personal privacy and information security how large computer systems for say traffic control required stronger assurance of reliability how computers had potentially nefarious social uses such as for gambling they even noted the potential since realized alas for what they called premature election predictions about a decade later the Academy warned about the effects of electronic mail on the US Postal Service this was in 1979 1979 effects of email on postal service this is when the internet was barely a gleam in allegories I speaking of the Internet a subsequent 1988 Academy study toward a national research network led to the 1991 legislation yes written by gore on high-performance computing and communication what became known as the information superhighway that indeed fueled the 1990s Internet boom okay another issue of long-standing interest where the Academy was ahead of the curve i think is pollution as far back as 1919 the NRC created a committee on sewage disposal although as proposals at the time found no audience and no sponsors the Academy found greater traction with the later concern over DDT and other pesticides in 1959 which is actually well before Rachel Carson published sign of spring it

created a committee on pest control and wildlife relationships including a much attention to DDT although not without controversy as we shall see in a minute now pollution suggests perhaps the most potent example of current Academy influence climate change the Academy in fact engaged this topic back in the 19th century in 1878 1878 Congress called on the Academy to assess the various Western surveys than underway and the plans for settling the frontier territories this is one of Western surveys at the time the US Geological and geographical survey under Ferdinand Hayden surveying the Wyoming territories in 1870 Hayden is the one this guy is sitting at the head of the table the photographer is William Henry Jackson he has snuck himself into the photograph at the far right the painter Thomas Moran was also on this survey and some of his famous paintings came out of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone later was later painted but based on his experience here anyway at the time the Department of the Interior allocated homesteads in 160 acre plots but settlers were pushing past the hundredth meridian from the Fertile Mississippi Valley into the arid Great Plains some current theories held that planting crops and trees would encourage rainfall hence the common saying rain follows the plow the geologists John Wesley Powell veteran of several Western surveys dismissed such notions and argued that small homesteads would fail in the dryer plains and that only plots large enough for ranching or organized irrigation would survive the Academy convened this study and eventually cited with Powell against the 160-acre homestead western congressman lamb basted the ivory tower academic Colorado congressman Thomas Patterson argued that the Academy had never published but one work and that was a very thin volume of amours of its departed members and if they are to continue to engage in practical legislation it would have been very well for the country if that volume had been much thicker Kansas congressman Dudley Haskell declared now if you want to geographical survey if you want a lot of astronomical figures if you want a lot of scientific material then organize your geographical surveys and authorize them to get out there and dig and hunt bugs and investigate fossils and discover the rotundity of the earth and take astronomical observations but if you please while you were there acting in the interest of science and in the interest of professional bug hunting leave the settlers upon our frontier alone in this first encounter of climate science and politics politics thus seemed to win Congress kept the hundred sixty acre land allotments but Congress also followed the Academy’s advice and combined the several of Western surveys into a new US Geological Survey the USGS which became a powerful source for science in the federal government and time would prove the Academy right rain did not follow the plow in the 1880s many farmers failed on the great plans and only large irrigated loss survived as Powell had predicted and Academy these concerns continued into the 20th century the first report of a new committee on atmospheric sciences in 1958 raised the issue of climate change from atmospheric pollution and it continued to engage the topic encouraged in the 1960s by the budding environmental movement debates of a cloud seeding in Vietnam by the US military the debate over supersonic commercial jets the SST and their effects on atmospheric ozone and of course since then the Academy has been a consistent and leading voice on the dangers of global warming I think that story is more or less familiar to the public but there have also been cases where the Academy was behind the curve and more reactive than proactive I think 911 was one of them although there it certainly had plenty of company and other cases where it was ously absent now for instance in the decisions to commit the United States two intercontinental ballistic missiles in 1950s the Atlas missile and then to the Strategic Defense Initiative better known as Star Wars for missile defense in the 1980s now I think it’s no coincidence that the Atlas missile and SDI were both defense programs the Academy of course has long had extensive interaction with the military the Academy of course being spawned during the Civil War the NRC during World War one both played key roles in World War two but sciences increasing role in modern warfare ironically diluted perhaps the Academy’s influence heading from World War two and the Cold War the federal government created a vast establishment to incorporate science new agencies like the Atomic Energy Commission the Department of Defense

itself the Office of Naval Research the National Science Foundation later NASA with proliferating science advisory committees for each of these agencies for each of the military services eventually for the President himself PSAC and Congress was knows OTA office of Technology Assessment later on in the 70s and the Academy at times struggled to find its place among this sprawling apparatus for federal science now that brings up the definition of national and this is perhaps the most problematic word in the name what does it mean to be a national academy on a basic level national might mean that it represents or reflects the American people that is if we ask who is the National Academy of Sciences we might expect it to represent the people but for much of its history that we ask who the Academy was the answer was white men consider this photo of the annual meeting of 1874 Joseph Henry presiding there at the back there is Henry meeting was held at the Smithsonian there are 48 pictured 48 people in the picture with five women one of them if I can find her marry Henry is somewhere I think he’s over here I can’t really see from this angle marry Henry is one of them anyway the point is that none of the women were members the Academy did not elect its first female member until 1924 Florence Sabin at johns hopkins medical scientists psychologists margot Washburn followed in 1932 barbara mcclintock was a third woman elected in 1944 at the time of course in that period women were not well represented in American science in general three more women were elected the next 15 years that by 1960 the number had held steady at three female members out of 600 total the Academy elected is first african american scientists in 1965 at the briefly mathematician david blackwell as american society at large expanded the opportunities for women and minorities so has the Academy which today has about ten percent i think female membership give or take although some and women scientists would say that proportion still lags the presence of women in American science the Academy has also worried about the age of his membership especially in mid the 1960s upheaval as the baby boom swelled the ranks of American science with young PhDs Academy leaders worried that they’re losing touch with the younger generation at the time the median members age was 62 of course there’s good reasons you have to attain systemic stature before election and so on but with only seven members under the age of 40 at a time when hippies didn’t trust anyone over the age of 30 the Academy risked a reputation as a bunch of fuddy-duddies or as one member put it more charitably the Academy was venerable finally in the Federalist American system the Academy had to pay attention to Geographic read presentation balanced with this desire to represent the elite of American science who were disproportionately concentrated in a handful of top schools especially in the Northeast maybe across the top of the Upper Midwest and the west coast the fact that were gathered here this evening reflects these concerns back in the 19th century Ivy League scientists had worried that the Academy thanks to his location was dominated by government scientists and an inside Washington worldview this is before the Beltway but kind of inside the beltway worldview in the 1980’s the Academy had created the Beckman center here in irvine to address this East Coast imbalance the fears were that the u.s. the Academy’s view of the US was sort of like that famous saul steinberg cover the new yorker who are looking west from New York there’s basically nothing but a vast wasteland beyond the Hudson for the case the Academy would be looking past the Potomac there’s nothing out there so that was the goal of basically the reason we’re here tonight is that they’re trying to redress this balance of course there’s another local connection with the Academy which I can’t resist mentioning and the person of its current president Ralph’s this around the former UCI Chancellor who’s probably many of you know in the audience here he may be best known around here not for his research on climate change or his scientific leadership but for bringing back baseball to UCI which is now played across the way here on yes cicerone field that’s not bad you know he is a he is a baseball bat I think that’s fair to say yeah but I digress the basic point here the Academy was an unabashedly elitist body within a democratic system when a former government lawyer called for public access to economy deliberations in the 1970s Academy

president Philip handler responded we choose the members of our committees with extreme care we have no sense of participatory democracy this is an elitist organization sir on an equally fundamental level a National Academy should serve national interests although the Academy from the outset enjoyed a degree of autonomy it has not been insulated from the larger sweep of events nor should it be its function after all is to advise the government on pressing issues of the day the price for engaging major policy issues is exposure to the buffeting winds of democratic politics let us take a whirlwind tour through the last hundred fifty years the initial years reflected the Civil War context among the first requests for advice were two from the Navy concerning the new ironclad ships than revolutionising naval warfare essentially one was how to get magnetic compasses to work amidst all this iron and the second was how to keep the iron from busting in sea water salt water but the first couple decades of the Academy were not distinguished at the time only the Coast Survey Naval Observatory maybe the Army Corps of Engineers maybe the Patent Office had any interest in science there was otherwise little federal interest in science and hence federal interest and the Academy so after a flurry of initial requests during the war for advice the Academy waited for a quests and waited and waited as the Academy approached his 25th anniversary it seemed destined to become a moribund honorary society barely able to afford publication of obituaries for deceased members let alone encourage research or advise the government but the Academy even then was finding its feet as we know the Academy was already deploying the earth sciences to shape federal policies for westward expansion in the late 19th century and early 20th century it helps develop physical and chemical standards for the Second Industrial Revolution that is the emergence of science-based electrical and chemical chemical industries on the new frontier of the laboratory in world where one NRC panels took on projects as such as artillery location through sound and flash ranging u-boat detection submarine detection intelligence testing and a host of other military problems this is a number of army recruits taking an intelligence test developed by an NRC committee led by Robert yerkes the what became lender known as the IQ tests provide a wealth of data for not only social scientists but also for the janux movement this is an acoustic airplane detector so you can hear airplanes coming before you can see them there were all kinds of ingenious schemes tried out during the war for submarine detection not so much on the American side more on the British side they tried to train train seals to follow submarines they also tried ejecting bread out of submarine periscopes to train seagulls to flock to submarine periscopes so you could detect them there was another form of acoustic detection for locating artillery which is basically a system of microphones on the Western Front you detect the passage of cells of shells over these microphones and triangulate to find locate the artillery the record from these microphones by the way provide one of the most chilling Testaments to the senselessness of the war this is the sound record from November 11th 1918 at eleven o’clock in the morning the left side this is 11am right there armistice the moment of the armistice the guns are firing full bore right up to the eleven o’clock and then they fall silent ok that’s World War one in the 1920s the Academy helped restore the international system after the war while engaging issues such as intelligent intelligence testing and sexual reproduction in connection with the acceptance of evolution the eugenics movement and feminism in the 1930s it brought science and technology to bear upon the problems of economic recovery World War 2 a tree mobilized for war playing key roles in the atomic bomb medical research by warfare and many other programs and so on through the early Cold War including by the way several brushes with McCarthyism the social upheaval of the 1960’s the energy crisis the 70s in the 1980s things like arms control also the AIDS crisis biotech and the internet and

the 1990s and on through 911 climate change and other issues in the last decade now the Academy has weighed in on these and many other pressing pressing issues in each period and that’s one of the reasons I think why this history is the history the Academy is so interesting and I think important for American history there are a few topics of the Academy did not engage and telling a story really means learning about the entire sweep of the history of American science technology now at times the Academy has clearly shaped public debate but at other times it is struggle against powerful political interests or wielded little influence thanks to the frequent tension between disinterested technical advice and the dynamics of the American political system let’s just briefly consider one example from the 1960s in the Vietnam War when american society increasingly challenged all sorts of authority but especially scientific Authority science became associated with environmental pollution and also the US military and arms races and corporate industry at the start of the 60s ecologists have slammed an NRC report on pesticides as extremely disappointing completely inadequate and a whitewash that with one reviewer accusing the committee of being in the pocket of the chemical industry the ensuing decade dragged the Academy further into debates over science and power in 1970s Stewart Udall who had been Secretary of the Interior under Kennedy and Johnson charged that the Academy was all too often a virtual puppet of government rather than independent critical voice the Science reporter daniel greenberg followed up in the journal science as he put at the national academy of sciences has become a tool of vested interests a subsequent book by philip bafi and association with Ralph Nader examined Academy studies of radioactive waste herb in Vietnam the SST food supply pesticides and similarly concluded that the Academy was an instrument of the prevailing power structure these charges were not just made by outside critics a few Academy members resigned in this period amid tumultuous meetings to protest the Academy’s advice to the military during the Vietnam War the most prominent was the biologist Richard lewontin who argued eloquently and passionately against military associations at one point asking is the Academy really just another RAND Corporation now there was a basic principle at stake here what should Academy members do when they disagree with the policies of the government they are directed to serve what does a national academy do in such situations should it stand on principle and refuse to serve which would thereby violate its charter or compromise the ideals and work within the system to put it another way should the Academy exercise moral and political as well as technical leadership can one separate technical issues from moral and political considerations some Academy members recognize that refusal to get involved in charged issues or take strong stands might relegate the Academy to the sidelines James van niel expressed as he put it the frustration many of us feel and getting the Academy to where the action is as an alternative to going the way of the French Academy at the Paris academy of science is being seen in this view as just a strictly honorary society this I think was implied in handlers response to eat all the Academy handler pointed out had submitted reports on the environment to udall secretary Department of Interior but the Interior Department had ignored them although in retrospect this might sound dangerous as close to a plea of not guilty by virtue of irrelevance handler in fact though agreed with Udall in a larger respect Udall had called scientists political eunuchs robots indifferent to the human consequences of their work handler to thought that scientists ought to engage the issues of the day handler maintained that since the Academy was neither a private corporate body nor an agency of government as he put it we are free to be both servants and critic of government and he argued him fat agree that the Academy indeed had moral responsibilities and he persuaded the Academy’s Council to begin setting up a committee on what it called moral leadership now this episode highlights that the Academy is by the government and for the government but not of the government it is a private agency with a public purpose this gives it the particular advantage of Independence Academy’s integrity stems from not being associated with a particular agency of government or a particular branch so it is not seen as representing a particular interest but as handler perceived public advocacy on pressing social issues could undermine the Academy’s independent image which is the very source of I think its strength so this precarious position between private and public and between neutral

expertise and political engagement has required constant balancing so here we are 150 years after Lincoln created the Academy what if he hadn’t signed the bill or the Senate hadn’t approved it if the National Academy did not exist today would we want to create it some of Joseph Henry’s initial misgivings still stand how to justify an elite institution in a Democratic Society how ensure objective technical advice untainted by particular political interests and we live in different times the two original purposes serving american science and serving the American government appear much differently today than they did in 1863 American science for starters is no longer a backwater on the contrary the u.s. is now a scientific powerhouse thanks in part to the Academy itself and the challenge is to remain on top not to get there and unlike in 1863 the federal government now makes abundant provision for science with multiple funding streams many agencies with extensive scientific staffs and advisory committees and a science advisor for the President himself so why do we need one more scientific body advising the government but one can turn this around all this federal science only makes it more urgent to have a source of independent objective advice from outside the government not representing the bureaucratic interests of a particular agency or branch of government and controversial issues from climate change and creationism to stem cells continue to call for credible expert judgment one may also ask whether a deliberative body like the Academy has the time to deliberate in today’s instant reaction world now people were complaining about the increasing pace of modern society 150 years ago when the Academy was created but the communications and information revolutions products of science and technology have indeed collapsed time and space and Cicerone and other Academy leaders have noted that it usually takes one or two years for the Academy to complete a study by which time the issues may have changed but again you can turn this one around to in a sped up world deliberation may be a virtue it is good i think to have someone taking the time to think deeply about some of these problems answering such questions ultimately requires a value judgment has the Academy been a good thing providing objective advice to the government at very little cost or is it just another tool of powerful political interests as critics have occasionally charged of course there is the third possibility that the Academy really hasn’t mattered that it assembles scientists for these various studies releases their reports with great fanfare and then the reports get filed away unread at least until historians dig them out decades later and that is the challenge for us historians when we come across these reports and these studies and the committee’s and the work they do and that is to gauge the impact of them what impact did they have did they nudge the vector of policy one way or the other as well cicerone might put it what is the Academy’s batting average so what difference has the Academy made would 20th century science or American society difference without it I think the Academy is certainly shaped the landscape of science by legitimizing particular disciplines and perhaps neglecting others at boosted fields such as quantum physics through the NRC fellowships in the 1920s it’s boosted molecular biology biochemistry more recently through the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which a very important forum for these publications there are other fields where Academy influences clear I think though perhaps not always publicly visible in things like science training international science science conferences and what I call it infrastructure that is the more mundane aspects of daily life such as transportation nutrition health care education standards and the Academy has provided valuable judgment on pressing issues in times of peace and war and times of bounty and scarcity from the frontier of the American West to the frontiers of cyberspace and genomics so did Lincoln get it right the fact that the Academy has survived for 150 years suggests that the American polity still sees a reason to sustain it and the fact that all of you came out this evening to learn about this history further suggests that the idea of the Academy continues to engage the American public maybe we should make a movie about it thank you you