Strengthening U.S. competitiveness
I very much enjoyed reading Debra van Opstal’s “The New Competitive Landscape” (Issues, Winter 1998-99). I and several of my colleagues are actively grappling with the problems of technological competitiveness, because we believe them to be so critical to our nation’s future. The issues are aptly described in van Opstal’s essay. I will discuss only two of them here: 1) How do we ensure an adequate level of national investment in R&D, for now and for the future? 2) How do we ensure that our workforce will be suitably educated for jobs in a globally competitive, technologically intensive world?
For national investment in R&D, there are two complementary solutions on the congressional table. The first is to increase federal funding of R&D. The Senate vehicle for this effort is the Federal Research Investment Act, of which I am an original cosponsor and a strong advocate. Colloquially referred to as the “R&D doubling bill,” this legislation would authorize steady increases in federal spending on R&D so that our total investment would double over the next 12 years. As proof of the substantial bipartisan support for R&D in the Senate, the Federal Research Investment Act garnered 36 cosponsors (18 Democrats and 18 Republicans) before being passed in the Senate without dissent in the closing days of the 105th Congress. In the 106th Congress, we hope the bill will not only pass the Senate again but will also pass the House and become law. Whether it will do so depends largely on whether individual House members perceive strong constituent support for the bill.
The second source of R&D funding is the private sector. However, as van Opstal points out, our current system of on-again off-again R&D tax credits is dysfunctional. My office has been working with Senators Pete Domenici (R-NM) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) to create an R&D tax credit that is, first and foremost, permanent, but that also enfranchises groups left out of the traditional R&D tax credit, such as startup companies and industry-university-national laboratory research consortia.
As indicated by van Opstal, a major challenge to our success as a competitor nation is the education of our workforce. If there is one issue about which I hear repeatedly from representatives of companies that visit my office and from my constituents in Connecticut, this is it. Personally, I have long advocated charter schools as a way of strengthening our public school system. In return for reprieve from state and local regulations, the charter between the school and the local authority requires that the school meet certain performance goals or be discontinued. Giving public schools both the authority and the responsibility for their own success is a win-win situation for teachers, students, and governments. Legislation to greatly expand federal funding for charter schools passed last year. This year’s reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will be another venue for creative thinking about the problem of K-12 education. I encourage the technical community to become engaged in this debate, particularly as it relates to science and math education.
I speak not just for myself but for a number of my colleagues when I say that the Senate has a strong interest in laying the foundations for technological competitiveness in the 21st century. Articles such as van Opstal’s help us to form our ideas and frame the debate. Continued input from the science and technology community-a community too often silent-will always be appreciated.
Boosting the service sector
Stephen A. Hertzenberg, John A. Alic, and Howard Wial’s “Toward a Learning Economy” (Issues, Winter 1998-99) gives long-overdue attention to the 75 percent of our economy made up by the service sector. They document that virtually all of the productivity slowdown of the past two decades has occurred in services. In analyzing solutions to low productivity in the sector, they focus on three kinds of technology: hardware, software, and what they call humanware-the skills and organization of work. Tthey give the most attention to the latter component, arguing that the service sector needs to capitalize on economies of depth (for example, copier technicians being able to rely on their own expert knowledge and problem solving) and economies of coordination (for example, flight attendants, gate agents, baggage handlers, and pilots working together to prepare an airline for takeoff).
Given the significant performance improvements that some firms have achieved from relatively simple movements in this direction, there is no question that the U.S. economy would be more productive if firms worked to enrich many currently low-skill jobs. Yet the authors do not give technology, particularly information technology, enough credit for its potential to boost service sector productivity. They argue that service firms can seldom gain competitive advantage from hardware because other firms can copy it. For example, they say that “home banking will do little to set a bank apart or improve its productivity.” Although the former may be true, the latter certainly is not. Electronic banking from home reduces the costs of a transaction from $1.07 with a bank teller to 1 cent over the Internet. The solution to lagging productivity in services will have to come from all three kinds of technology, not just humanware.
The policy solutions they call for are good ones: boosting formal and lifelong learning, expansion and modification of the Baldridge Quality award to recognize more service firms and multiemployment learning networks, expansion of R&D in services, and seed fund support for collaborative industry sector and regional alliances for modernization and training. The latter proposal is consistent with the Progressive Policy Institute’s recent proposal and subsequent bipartisan legislation and support by Vice President Gore for the establishment of a Regional Skills Alliance initiative. But clearly a critical policy area for boosting productivity in services is to establish the right policies to facilitate and speed up the emerging digitization of the economy. Getting the policies right so that U.S. households have access to broadband high-speed communication networks in the home, can easily use legally recognized digital signatures to sign digital contracts and other documents, and feel secure when providing information online will be key to making this technology ubiquitous. Taken together, all of these policies can help us regain the high-growth path.
The statistics validating the erosion of engineering degree enrollments, particularly among our minority communities, are indeed staggering (William A. Wulf, “The Image of Engineering,” Issues, Winter 1998-99). Consider these equally alarming facts: African Americans, Hispanic, and Native Americans today make up nearly 30 percent of America’s college-age population and represent 33 percent of the birth rate. Yet minorities receive just 10 percent of the undergraduate engineering degrees and fewer than three percent of the engineering doctorates. African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans also account for 25 percent of the U.S. workforce but only six percent of our two million engineers.
Although the forces contributing to minority underrepresentation in engineering may be debated, the fact is that U.S. industry is being deprived of a tremendous wealth of talent. Three other facts are painfully clear: First, our K-12 education system is ineffective in identifying the potential of minority students and preparing them for intensive math and science study. Second, affirmative action-an essential catalyst for diversity in engineering-is under legal and legislative attack, fundamentally because people misinterpret its intent. And third, a technology gender gap continues to plague our schools at all levels, thwarting the interest and motivation of talented young women in their pursuit of technical careers.
As part of the remedy, it’s time for the private sector to take these issues personally and to act. To attract more diverse engineers, we must encourage our technical professionals to visit local schools, particularly grades five through seven, where they can share their passion, showcase their work and experiences, serve as role models, and demonstrate that science and technology are indeed interesting, enriching, and rewarding pursuits. We also should be supporting the admirable work of not-for-profit organizations such as the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME), whcih is the nation’s largest privately funded source of scholarships for minority students in engineering. It develops innovative programs in partnership with high schools, universities, and corporations that expand opportunities for skilled minority students and prepare them for the competitive technical jobs of the 21st century.
As Wulf so aptly points out, a nation diverse in people is also a nation diverse in thought. That’s a requirement essential to our nation’s competitiveness. We must make a personal investment in diversity, and we must do it now. If we don’t, America’s ability to compete will be severely diminished and our economy simply will not grow.
Although we might wish otherwise, image matters. This may be especially true with regard to young people’s perceptions of the nature and value of various occupations. Thus I was pleased to see William A. Wulf speak out so forcefully on the unacceptable-and surely unnecessary-mismatch between the central importance of engineering in our lives and its prevailing lackluster (or worse) public image.
As Wulf rightly points out, undergraduate engineering education bears much of the responsibility for this state of affairs, and much can be done to make the undergraduate engineering education experience more appealing to a wider range of students, even while maintaining high academic standards. But I do not believe, as he says, that the problem starts in college with the treatment of engineering students. It begins, rather, in the schools.
For one thing, there are few advocates for engineering careers among teachers in the elementary, middle, and secondary schools of this country. In the lower grades, technology education is simply absent in any shape or form. One might think, however, that it would have a substantial presence in the upper grades, because at least two years of science are required in most high schools. The reality is otherwise. Science courses-including chemistry, physics, and advanced placement science courses in the 11th and 12th grades, no less than the 9th- and 10th-grade offerings of earth science and biology-are construed so narrowly that engineering and technology are typically nowhere in sight. No wonder so few students ever have a chance to consider engineering as a life possibility.
But that can change. A major shift is taking place in the scientific community about what constitutes science literacy. The National Science Education Standards, developed under the leadership of the National Research Council, and Science for All Americans and Benchmarks for Science Literacy, produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, have spelled out reforms in K-12 science education calling for all students to learn about the nature of technology and the designed world. Slowly but perceptibly that view is finding its way into educational discourse and action.
Progress will be faster, however, to the degree that engineering joins forces with science in influencing the direction and substance of educational reform in the schools. It is especially encouraging, therefore, that under the leadership of its president, the National Academy of Engineering is assisting the International Technology Education Association in defining technological literacy. There is every reason to believe that their forthcoming Technology for All Americans will strengthen the hand of both science and engineering and in due course contribute to a brighter public image for engineering and to more engineering majors in the bargain.
William Wulf’s lament regarding the parlous condition of the engineering community these days is symptomatic of our times. He looks at the problem of the low number of students entering engineering profession as one of image. The image is not the problem. The proper question might be, “Why did those in engineering today choose it as a vocation?” I’ve asked hundreds of electronics engineers that question, face to face as well as in surveys of readers. The answer is usually a childhood experience, often with an older mentor, of building some kind of electronic device.
A prominent Danish loudspeaker manufacturer tells me that the company still provides plans for six loudspeaker designs that can be built by teenagers. Although the company never makes any money on these, it continues to offer them because it discovered that all its customers who buy its speaker components for use in their products are headed or managed by people who built loudspeakers as a teenage hobby.
Since World War II, the academic communities of the United States and Great Britain have downplayed and dismissed hands-on experience as a valid part of education. This is not the case on the continent, where engineering candidates start life as apprentices and gain hands-on experience building devices.
It may be that a student will be attracted to engineering by a better “image,” but I think that the excitement of building something with his or her own hands is a far better bet for bringing new blood into the profession. What’s missing in engineering today is passion. Image may inspire ideas of prestige or money, but those are not the most powerful human motives.
Wulf may be right that something needs to be done about engineering’s image. But if young people are given a chance in their educational experiences to discover the joy of making things with their hands, we’ll have a lot more people studying engineering in college. He is right that engineering at its best has much in common with art, but I doubt that artists choose art for reasons of image. Every artist I know or have read about chose that career because of a passion for creativity. When U.S. engineering gets reconnected to its creative roots, the youngsters will flock to it.
Deputy Secretary of Commerce Robert L. Mallett’s “Why Standards Matter” (Issues, Winter 1998-99) fails to tell your readers the whole story. Mallett is correct in saying that the United States leads the world in innovation. He is also right to point out that the U.S. standards system is unique in the world and has many valuable characteristics. But his assertion that the United States is going to cede its leadership on standards because it does not have a single national approach to standards is simply off base.
Our standards system is so unique because we realize that there are very few standards that apply to all sectors of our economy. What Mallett fails to point out in his article is that standard setting needs to discussed in the context of what sector is being affected. Different sectors need different standards, and those standards need to be set by those who are most familiar with a particular industry.
The information technology (IT) industry is a classic example. Our industry is focused on developing market-relevant global standards, through the International Organization of Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission, that will make our products compatible around the world.
That is why at the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) we have chosen to work through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to help develop the international standards that are so important to the IT industry and our consumers. ITI also sponsors the National Committee for Information Technology Standards (NCITS) to help develop national standards. NCITS provides technical experts who participate on behalf of the United States in the international standards activities of the International Organization for Standardization/International Electrotechnical Commission JTC 1.
In addition to ANSI, our industry is active in other formal standard-setting organizations and in many consortia, taking advantage of all the different benefits these various groups have to offer. Many of these groups produce specifications used by hardware and software producers worldwide.
Why not streamline the number of standard-setting bodies so that the United States has one national approach? It’s true we might gain some marginal advantage from having one voice representing the United States around the world, but the cost of such a move far outweighs the benefits both domestically and internationally. Having one standard-setting body would create a bureaucratic system that would automatically be out of touch with the needs of our diverse U.S. industries and the needs of our consumers. We simply can’t afford to stifle innovation by restricting ourselves to one centralized institution. The process of coordinating the U.S. system is complex, but in our experience the results are worth the cost.
In the telecommunications sector, which I represent, standards do matter! Some sectors may be able to prosper without standards, but without standards in telecommunications, we cannot communicate and interoperate. The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to generate standards for our sector. Our standards load is increasing, and our participants want them finished faster than ever. In reviewing TIA’s operations to prepare for the new millennium, standards were rated as the number-one priority by our board of directors.
As Robert L. Mallett notes: “For small- and medium-sized businesses, trade barriers raised by unanticipated regulatory and standards-related developments can be insurmountable. Many lack the resources needed to stay abreast of these developments and satisfy new testing and certification requirements that raise the ante for securing access to export markets.” At TIA, nearly 90 percent of our 950 members are small- and medium-sized businesses, and thus we devote a lot of resources to member education, testing and certification programs, mutual recognition agreements, and public policy efforts to open markets and promote trade. When resources are applied consistently, the results in increased trade are obvious.
I also strongly support Mallett’s statement that “U.S. industry leaders should have more than a passing interest in the development of global standards, because they will dictate our access to global markets and our relationship with foreign suppliers and customers.” At TIA we are increasing our involvement with international standardization in the region through the North American Free Trade Agreement Consultative Committee on Telecommunications (NAFTA CCT); in the Western Hemisphere, as an associate member of the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (CITEL); and at the global level through the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and other international groups such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). TIA also participates with colleagues worldwide in Global Standard Collaboration and Radio Standardization (GSC/ RAST) activities. TIA will be co-hosting GSC5/RAST8 with Committee T1, sponsored by the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions, in August 1999. Such cooperative activities among the world’s standardizers are a clear path forward to create global standards.
Finally, I agree with Mallett’s point that “Under the ANSI umbrella, U.S. industry, SDOs, and government must act collectively to shape the international standards framework and level the international playing field for all.” We must act “determinedly” and “intelligently” to advance U.S. technologies and concepts as the basis for international standards. At TIA, we are eager to join the government-private sector team and continue to increase our current efforts to promote U.S. standards.
Questioning collaborative R&D
David Mowery’s “Collaborative R&D: How Effective Is It?” (Issues, Fall 1998) provides a needed overview and assessment of the various forms of collaborative R&D programs that involve industry, universities, and the federal government. His statement that there has been surprisingly little evaluation of any of the legislative or administrative initiatives that have fostered such arrangements is on target. The longevity of the current U.S. economic expansion or the U.S. resurgence to technological leadership in this decade’s critical industries should not be interpreted as evidence of the efficacy or efficiency of the R&D collaborative model, either as a whole or in any of its specific variants. That argument overlooks the many specific issues concerning costs, socially inefficient side effects, and recurrent tensions cited by Mowery. As he aptly notes, several features of the collaborative R&D model, such as the goals of reducing duplication in R&D efforts, run counter to the economics of R&D, such as the efficiency of parallel R&D strategies in minimizing technical risks during the early stages of the development of major technological systems. Recent U.S. successes in spawning new industries also are based in part on the proliferation of competing variants of a technology.
The linkages between first- and second-order policies and impacts subsumed within collaborative R&D programs also need to be kept in mind. For example, the proliferation of the estimated 500 university-industry research centers during the 1980s noted by Mowery is based in large part on the prior and concurrent set of federal investments in the generic research capabilities of universities. Specific initiatives, such as the National Science Foundation’s University-Industry Cooperative Research and Engineering Research Centers program, in effect leverage these investments. Without them, universities lose their comparative advantages in the performance of research, both basic and applied, and more important (from the perspective of industry as well as others), their ability to couple the conduct of research with the education and training of graduate students.
One can only add an “amen” to Mowery’s admonition that universities should focus more on strengthening research relationships with firms rather than attempting to maximize licensing and royalty income.
Sandia as science park?
Kenneth M. Brown raises a number of issues in “Sandia’s Science Park: A New Concept in Technology Transfer” (Issues, Winter 1998-99). The fundamental issues is the obvious one: Will Sandia’s science park be successful? Although Brown carefully notes a number of factors in Sandia’s favor, one should, I think, reserve judgment and see if and how Sandia learns from the experience of parks that have been successful.
One of the most successful parks is North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park (RTP). Factors related to its success should not be overlooked by Sandia’s planners. RTP is a triangle of 6,900 acres whose corners consist of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University in Raleigh, and Duke University in Durham. The early planners (in mid-1950s) created a for-profit infrastructure called Pinelands Company to acquire land and then resell it to research organizations, emphasizing to them not only the benefits of proximity to graduate students from the three eminent institutions but also the quality of life in the region. Pinelands nearly failed, not because it was not a good idea but because self-interest overshadowed what potentially was for the good of the state.
In 1958, Governor Luther B. Hodges asked Archie K. Davis, state senator and chairman of Wachovia Bank and Trust Company, to intervene and sell stock in the waning company because, if successful, it could have long-term economic benefits for many. Davis understood the merits of the park idea; however, he had the courage not to act on the governor’s request but to take what he perceived to be a better course of action.
Davis agreed to solicit contributions to liquidate Pinelands and create a not-for-profit foundation. The universities would support such an entity, and with them taking an active role, research organizations would be more likely to relocate. Davis’ fundraising was successful. The Research Triangle Foundation was formed, and Davis remained active in ensuring that its mission was to serve the universities and the state through economic development.
Is such an entrepreneurial spirit alive in the Sandia venture? Time will tell, but if the lessons of history are accurate, the likes of an Archie Davis (or a Frederick Terman at the Stanford complex) will need to step forward and raise the visibility of the Sandia park. If this happens, then Brown’s insights are absolutely correct: The success of Sandia’s efforts must be measured in terms of its contribution to the nation’s science enterprise.
Kenneth M. Brown raises several questions: Do we need another science and technology (S&T) park? Is an S&T park really part of the core mission of Sandia National Laboratory?
There are three levels of success for S&T parks. First, they can be a location for firms and jobs-the local economic development impact mentioned by Brown. More significant is the second effect: that an S&T park can be a seedbed for new firms and spinoff development. The third and highest-level effect is for a park to become the center of a milieu for innovation, as at Stanford.
It is easiest to attain the first level of success and for local boosters to cite real estate success (such as high occupancy rates) as enough. The second level is more difficult to reach and occurs in less than one-quarter of all S&T parks. Spinoffs are uncommon in most places and are less likely to come from a federal laboratory than from industry or universities. Recent research in New Mexico by Everett Rogers and his colleagues turned up a surprising number of small spinoffs, but each firm had great difficulty in finding venture capital.
The most significant type of technology transfer is the spinoff of new firms, a process that Brown recognizes merely as an indirect effect of the Sandia S&T park. Seen in this context, it is not clear that Sandia management is willing or able to really take on its “new mission.” Rogers and his colleagues highlight industry complaints about the complicated government administrative procedures of federal labs as opposed to those in industry. This different culture makes government laboratories unlikely bases for regional development, as Helen Lawton Smith has found in several studies in Europe. The weapons lab culture dies slowly, and open doors and corridors like those found at universities are not yet common there.
An innovative milieu-the highest form of regional development-is centered on the small firms of a region, not on its large ones, especially those based elsewhere. The Sandia experience thus far has been oriented toward the bigger firms, such as Intel, rather than the smaller firms that are the next Intels.
A key finding of Michael Crow and Barry Bozeman in their recent book Limited by Design is that the national labs are very uneven in their success at technology transfer, but the successes are more likely to occur among small firms, not the large ones to which Sandia devotes most of its time and effort.
Given the weapons lab history and culture, I am pessimistic that the necessary role models, risk capital, and institutions are present to make the Sandia S&T park a success. The national labs, including Sandia, are doing what organizations do when their justification (in this case, the Cold War) is threatened: They try to survive in new ways. In the post-Cold War context, it is a leap of faith to maintain that an S&T park is part of Sandia’s core mission.
Fortunately, federal officials seem to be aware of the opportunities and risks of the Sandia science park, and they are willing to accept the risks because they believe that they are offset by the potential long-term benefits for the laboratory’s mission, for its ability to attract first-rate scientists and engineers, and for the economic well-being of the nation. What is most encouraging is that the Sandia officials responsible for this undertaking have reached out to STEP and to individual experts and policymakers for advice. With the care they have shown so far, there are grounds for confidence that the Sandia science park will be a success at many levels.
A permanent research credit
Intel appreciates this opportunity to comment on “Fixing the Research Credit” by Kenneth C. Whang (Issues, Winter 1998-99). We recently provided comments to Senator Jeff Bingaman relative to his proposed research tax credit legislation and would like to paraphrase some of the points made in that letter.
Intel believes that because its continued existence is uncertain, the current research credit has not been totally effective in achieving its purpose of optimizing U.S. R&D. In our view, the foremost goal of research credit legislation must be permanence, so that it can more effectively stimulate increased research. Intel supports the Alternative Incremental Research Credit (AIRC) and agrees that the AIRC should be increased, as its rate schedule was set initially not on the basis of policy but on the basis of revenue.
Senator Bingaman’s proposed legislation includes a provision to improve the basic research credit so that all dollars that fund university research would qualify for the credit. We agree that aiding basic research to a greater degree is worthwhile, given the importance of building our nation’s research base. The legislation also promotes a change that will aid small businesses in the use of the research credit. We support this effort as well, as it could help produce the Intels of the future.
Once again, let me emphasize that permanence should be the primary goal in reforming the R&D tax credit and that it is the essential base for support of any other reform.
Kenneth C. Whang delivers some compelling reasons for modifying the research and experimentation (R&E) tax credit and making it permanent. After almost two decades of use, it is time to review the tax credit as an instrument of R&D policy. Both in scope and effect, the tax credit, although important, is a limited policy tool.
Whang acknowledges the central argument for subsidizing R&D: Because firms cannot appropriate all of the benefits from R&D they conduct, they will invest at a level below that which is optimal for society and the economy as a whole. The purpose of the R&E tax credit has never been to subsidize all R&D performed by U.S. firms but to promote R&D with a relatively high potential for spillover benefits, which is the type of R&D that firms would not pursue without additional incentives.
To avoid subsidizing research that would take place anyway, the credit is designed to reward only increases in R&D spending. Those increases can and often do have the same composition as a company’s existing R&D, which typically generates modest spillovers. To promote research with higher spillover potential, the credit is targeted at earlier or experimental phases of research that entail higher levels of risk (hence R&E, not R&D). It is supposed to provide an investment incentive for research and experimentation that would not take place without a policy stimulus.
Generally, the more targeted the area of R&D investment, the more difficult it is to construct an effective tax mechanism. Defining the scope of coverage will always be a problem, but the difficulty increases the more the incentive is targeted at particular types of R&D. Indeed, interview and survey evidence (from the Industrial Research Institutex and the Office of Technology Assesment) suggests that the tax credit does not stimulate firms to alter the type of R&D they conduct. It appears to be most effective at stimulating private firms to do a little more of what they already are doing.
Although increasing the level of industrial R&D spending is a worthwhile policy goal, it is not the same as changing the composition of that spending. Total industrial R&D spending has been growing strongly in recent years (despite the lack of a permanent R&E tax credit), but certain types of R&D are receding from the corporate R&D arena, such as pure basic research and R&D in generic and/or infrastructural technologies.
Tax incentives cannot be tailored to efficiently address the development and utilization barriers that are unique to specific types of technologies. Nor can they be altered easily over time to meet the policy requirements of specific technological life cycles. For instance, the R&E tax credit cannot effectively respond to market failures associated either with proving generic concepts underlying emerging technologies or with the development of “infratechnologies” that provide the basis for industry standards.
In fact, if the sole purpose of the policy were to stimulate additional R&D of any type, then a more efficient tax mechanism would be a flat credit for any R&D performed in a given year. This option has never been selected, first because the objective of the credit is to provide an incentive for experimental research, and second because it would probably cost a great deal (particularly if the credit were set at a high enough rate to carry real incentive value). But on logical grounds alone, a flat credit would be the most efficient policy, given the inherent limitations of targeted tax instruments.
By comparison, direct government funding can more efficiently leverage private sector investment in certain types of technologies or in early phases of a specific technological life cycle. To remedy underinvestment in generic technology and infratechnology research, government funding as well as multisector R&D partnerships can support different technologies at appropriate points in their evolution. Starting and stopping research incentives based on the evolutionary pattern of a particular emerging technology is not a feasible objective for tax policy. Attempts to focus tax policy on emerging technology research will leak, as does the current R&E tax credit, into conventional applied R&D, a substantial portion of which needs no incentive. Moreover, it is virtually impossible to turn tax incentives on and off as different market failures emerge and recede.
Ultimately, the nation’s future competitiveness and standard of living will be shaped by the breadth and depth of R&D investments made today. The R&E tax credit may raise private sector R&D spending in general and would probably work better if it were restructured and made permanent. However, certain types of research-particularly on next-generation technologies and infratechnologies-have characteristics that are strongly at odds with corporate investment criteria. This fact, coupled with the varying life cycles of emerging technologies, argues for a policy approach to R&D that consciously balances broad incentives such as the tax credit with direct government funding, including funding of collaborative R&D, that can be structured and timed to support the unique needs of specific technologies and R&D life cycles.
Stopping family violence
“Facing Up to Family Violence” by Rosemary Chalk and Patricia A. King (Issues, Winter 1998-99), which is drawn from the larger report Violence in Families: Assessing Prevention and Treatment Programs, discusses what we know about three major forms of family violence: child abuse, spouse assault, and elder abuse. A section on preliminary lessons provides an array of promising ideas, and the article directs us toward methods for improving and increasing the rigor of our approaches for evaluating programs to stop and prevent family violence.
The highlight on the first page of the article reads: “A concerted effort to understand the complexities of abuse and the effectiveness of treatments is essential to making homes safe.” This is a welcome and needed call, and it also suggests how far we have come in the past several decades. Not so long ago, a domestic call to the police was taken seriously only if those outside the family were disturbed or if a homicide was committed.
Recognizing the need for intolerance of violence in families is only a first step. Developing effective responses to family violence is the critical next step. Chalk and King note that there are “few well-defined and rigorous studies aimed at understanding the causes of family violence and evaluating the effectiveness of interventions…” Thus, it could be said that we are in the early stages of developing a significant and useful body of knowledge about family violence prevention and intervention. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) has taken the report of the panel headed by Chalk and King and developed a plan for the start of a program targeted at family violence interventions. We remain optimistic regarding congressional funding for this new initiative in the next fiscal year, and we see our role in addressing these issues to be that of a collaborator with relevant federal agencies and private funders.
Chalk and King note the importance of building partnerships between research and practice and the need to integrate health care, social services, and law enforcement. NIJ is several years into developmental efforts regarding the former issue, although researcher-practitioner partnerships clearly need to be promoted and developed further. Perhaps an even greater challenge is the integration of services. This will require concerted efforts from various disciplines and at various levels of government.
When we can more effectively deal with violence in our families, the elimination of violence in our society will be within our reach.
The review by Jack Mendelsohn of Atomic Audit: the Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940 (Issues, Winter 1998-99) provides a good summary of the facts about the cost of nuclear weapons but draws the unjustified conclusion that it was not worth the expense. Wasn’t it worth 29 percent of our military spending to deter the Soviet Union’s expansion ambitions? Even the Strategic Defense Initiative did what we needed: The possibility that it might further reduce Soviet confidence in a pre-emptive nuclear strike brought the Soviets to the threshold of bankruptcy and persuaded them to negotiate instead of escalate.
Of course there were dumb ideas, poorly managed programs, and other inefficiencies exacerbated by the sense of urgency. However, the nuclear capability was so revolutionary that many novel applications had to be explored; we couldn’t afford for the Soviets to develop a breakthrough capability first. Those of us working in the field believed that our nation’s survival might depend on our diligence. Of course, some ideas persisted too long and received too much funding. For example, the nuclear-propelled airplane was technically feasible, but it posed serious safety problem and had no particular mission. Mendelsohn satirizes the idea of air-to-air bombing and the need for a study to conclude that it was not effecive. Perhaps most of us would conclude that without study, but my experience is that a careful quantitative analysis of concepts that appear dumb does sometimes uncover a few that hold promise. A quick subjective judgment would probably reject those together with the unpromising ones. Studying dumb ideas is not bad; spending billions to develop them is.
The review concludes that the book provides “great ammunition for the never-ending battle with the forces of nuclear darkness.” I resent that characterization of those of us who believe nuclear energy in many forms is a blessing to mankind. This attitude prevents objective analysis of issues such as energy, global warming, and disposal of low-level isotopic waste, which are crucial to our nation’s future well-being. Why can we not debate these substantive issues using reasonable risk-benefit analyses with criteria we are willing to apply universally rather than starting with the conclusion that nuclear energy and nuclear advocates are automatically bad?