Science Board Calls For Systematic R&D Priority-Setting

December 04, 1997

The National Science Board (NSB), concerned about the future state of scientific research in the U.S., is calling for further study on how to set priorities. In a working paper titled Government Funding of Scientific Research, the Board calls for "high-level coordination" of federally financed scientific research, leading toward "systematic ways to reach and prioritize decisions."

"With today's scarce resources, it is even more important than ever that we reaffirm the validity of our Federal science base, and act responsibly and intelligently to direct it where it will do the most good," said NSB Chairman Dick Zare. He emphasized that the working paper "is not the final word, nor the end product, of this process. It is meant to encourage much-needed dialogue among appropriate stakeholders."

The paper points out that "there is no widely accepted way for the Federal government in conjunction with the scientific community to make priority decisions about the allocation of resources in and across scientific disciplines." It acknowledges previous studies and discussions on the need to prioritize Federal R&D, but points out that "no agreed upon method exists for carrying out this task."

"Sometimes important decisions about the allocation of limited resources happen by default, without explicitly weighing of alternatives," the paper states. It adds, however, that "further study is needed before a particular methodology for setting priorities is adopted."

The board paper acknowledges the difficulty of the task. "Although many scientists believe the task both undesirable and undoable, the NSB believes that this difficult task will become increasingly important and must be faced over the next few years," it states.

The release of the working paper follows a resolution in May in which the Board affirmed its support of a balanced, integrated and coordinated Federal budget for science and engineering research and education. The Board is charged specifically to oversee the National Science Foundation, and more generally to monitor the health of science in the nation. The paper reflects the Board's desire to engage more directly in the second charge.

"We are asking difficult questions about a thorny and controversial issue -- questions the Board believes we must confront if we hope to achieve and follow a coherent national science policy within the context of constrained resources," said Zare.


Editors: The working paper is available at:

The National Science Board (NSB) was established by Congress in 1950 to serve both as an independent national science policy body, and to oversee and guide the activities of the National Science Foundation.

National Science Foundation

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