Taking an Active Role in Promoting American Science

Here is a list of organizations that take an active role in promoting American science. The data presented here show how they are similar, as well as how they differ.

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is a corporation in the U.S. whose members serve pro bono as “advisers to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine.” NAS as of spring 2003 had about 1,900 members and employed about 1,100 staff. Election to membership recognizes scientists who have made distinguished achievements in original research. It has two sister organizations: the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. In addition to hundreds of reports per year, these organizations publish several respected journals, the Proceedings of the NAS, Issues in S&T, and the Bridge. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Academy_of_Sciences

NAS mostly does studies for Executive Branch agencies, which are sometimes required by Congressional earmarks. There are 3000 of these reports posted, covering a wide variety of science policy issues. Study methodologies vary somewhat, but are usually characterized by forming a expert committee, whose members serve free, supported by a small staff of NAS employees. (Obviously, the prospect of becoming an academician makes it easier to recruit distinguished members as volunteers.) The committee gathers information from one or more workshops (usually partially public, if you can find out about them), library and web research, plus the expertise of the committee and staff, of course. Often the staff draft the report, and the committee edits it, after discussion. There is a careful editing and review process, which takes some time. The NAS tries to keep drafts secret until public release, since findings are often controversial. NAS makes the full text of all final reports available on the Web for free, and publishes hard copies as well. Academy reports are usually of very high quality and often have considerable impact. However, Executive Branch agencies often complain that they are expensive and take years to do, and perhaps didn’t come up with the “right” answer, because of the Academy’s independence. http://nas.edu (Someone beat them to nas.org!)

The World Technology Evaluation Center, Inc. (WTEC) is a non-profit corporation in the U.S. incorporated to perform scientific research for Federal clients. WTEC as of spring 2007 had about 30 experts serving on its panels and employed about 14 staff. (Over 400 experts are “alumni,” who have served on WTEC panels.) It has one miniscule sister organization, ScienceUS, charged with promoting American science leadership. In addition to a dozen reports per year and a few books, WTEC publishes this modest blog.

WTEC mostly does studies for Executive Branch agencies. There are about 60 of these reports posted, assessing various fields of science and technology; policy issues are only a part of findings. Study methodologies vary somewhat, but are usually characterized by forming a expert committee, whose members are employed as paid consultants under contract, supported by a small staff of WTEC employees. The committee gathers information from one or more workshops (public, if you can find out about them), library and web research, plus the expertise of the committee and staff, of course. WTEC also usually sends these peer review teams abroad to visit the world’s leading labs and researchers. The experts draft the report, and the staff edits it. There is a careful editing and review process, which takes some time, but less than the NAS. WTEC does not embargo findings while reports are in the review phase; most results are released at an earlier final workshop, advertised to the public. WTEC makes the full text of all reports available on the Web for free, and publishes hard copies as well–some reports are published as books by Springer. WTEC reports are usually of very high quality and sometimes have considerable impact. Executive Branch agencies seem to be pretty satisfied with the quality, although they sometimes complain that they would like the final reports sooner. http://wtec.org

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